YORK, Maine – Amanda Berger said when she learned Friday morning of the deaths of five Dallas, Texas police officers, “I felt sick to my stomach. Both my parents are retired police officers. My little brother wants to become an officer. I just knew I wanted to do something.”
She and her husband Eric were already asking people to perform a “random act of kindness” instead of giving gifts to their 1-year-old daughter on her birthday this past weekend, so she decided that her act would be to show York police officers how much they are appreciated. That morning, she drove to the station with breakfast and coffee.
“It was just a small gesture to tell them that we support them. They put their lives on the line to protect us, and we want them all to be safe,” said Berger, a longtime summer resident of York whose parents retired here.
That’s just one of many acts of kindness that people have performed for York police in recent days, since the news of the officers’ deaths in Texas. “We’ve received flowers, and all kinds of food, and people have just stopped by,” said Police Chief Douglas Bracy. On Monday morning, for instance, officers arrived to coffee and donuts from the American Legion.
“We thank everyone for their support. There isn’t always a lot of thanks for the work we do. Usually, we have people complaining. It can seem pretty lonely at times,” said Bracy.
He said it’s helpful to see that people in town appreciate the officers, especially at a time of high unrest in the country.
“Not that I don’t get emails on almost a daily basis about something involving an officer that’s happened somewhere in the country – but I don’t think we’ve seen this number of officers being killed in any one incident since 9/11,” he said.
Bracy said he’s concerned about the overall climate of distrust in America right now, and possible escalation of tensions in some parts of the country.
“I think perceptions can be as dangerous as the acts themselves,” he said. “The public perceives something to be a problem. We’re trying people on TV, and that’s not a good platform to do that. The whole truth doesn’t come out. We’re handcuffed by the law from saying anything, so it seems like we’re hiding something when we’re not.”
In his mind, no one group of citizens is more or less important than any other. “The point is, every life matters. I don’t like the fact that one group or another is highlighted. The mentally ill matter. People with substance abuse matter. All these lives matter,” he said.
And while most people “respect police and know we have a job to do, society is uncomfortable with what is going on. They distrust politicians, and they don’t think things are fair and impartial. That’s when these issues start to happen,” he said.
Marcia Hartwell, the president of the York Diversity Forum and a former civilian advisor embedded with U.S. Army troops in Iraq, agreed. She said it’s important for people to listen to the experiences of others at this critical time.
“You need to learn to build trust, which is really hard,” she said. “Nothing is clear-cut here. But unfortunately, Americans have a very difficult time with ambiguity – so because of that, they tend to lean one way or the other. But there’s a lot of areas that fluctuate. That’s where we need to go, recognizing multiplicity of experiences.”
Bracy said, for instance, that many of the foreign students here in the summer come from countries where police are not trusted.
“They have a real fear of us. We try to go out and meet them, and tell them ‘We’re your friend. You can trust us. You don’t have to fear us,’” he said. “That’s the conversation that needs to be had. It seems that if we don’t follow the common principles of decency, that’s what’s going to lead us into something.”
“This is a time to dig deep,” said Hartwell, “to acknowledge the humanity and respect the experience of everyone. You may not like it or necessarily agree with it, but it’s important to acknowledge it and move on from there.”
Amanda Berger said she is trying to teach her young daughter to embrace the virtues of fairness and respect for all. “The best gift we can give her is to instill kindness and humility in her. It’s so important,” she said.
She calls York “a little bit of paradise,” a place a bit apart from the travails of life – and Bracy agrees.
“I’m thankful I live in a small town. My job gives me great pride,” he said. “We don’t do this for the money. We truly believe in what we took on as an occupation and in our vows to abide by the law and to treat people fairly.”