The American Dream?
During the last few weeks, our country has experienced unprecedented violence and discord in many of our cities, where many demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd turned violent, with large scale looting and violent attacks on Police Officers. As the violence continues sadly, elected officials are silent, both Democrats and Republicans. In fact, many engaged in rhetoric that gave clear signals that all cops are racists, corrupt, and brutal. Cops heard that loud and clear, and so did people who would commit crimes.
In the last couple of weeks shootings, homicides, and other forms of violence and disorder have risen to levels not seen in 30 years. As I write this, the number of children shot, murdered, or seriously injured are too many to count. It is absolutely heartbreaking. The law enforcement profession, active members and retirees, cannot believe they are watching decades of work seemingly wiped away. Their hearts are breaking. However, there is a group of people who are suffering, even more, watching this unfold. They are the children, the spouses, and the mothers and fathers of hero Police Officers who have died in the line of duty.
Today we remember Russel Timoshenko, NYPD. On July 9, 2007, a couple of hours after midnight Russel and his partner Herman Yan stopped three men in a stolen BMW. As Russel approached from the passenger side, Dexter Bostic laid aim on Russel and fired from the passenger seat of the car, striking him in the head and throat. Russel fell to the ground. As the driver, Lee Woods drove off, Robert Ellis fired at Herman from the backseat, striking him in the arm and his chest, thankfully hitting his bulletproof vest. After a four-day manhunt, all three, who each had extensive violent criminal histories, were arrested. Herman Yan made a full recovery but sadly, Russel Timoshenko died five days later, on July 14.
At the time I was the Chief of Brooklyn South. Russel was the seventh member taken from us on my watch, in seven years. During those five days, from the moment he was shot until we wheeled him out of the hospital, that floor of Kings County Hospital was flooded with cops, on duty and off duty, all hours of the day and night. I will never forget his final moments when he passed away in that hospital room. As his Mom Tatyana and his Dad Leonid stood by his side, cops lined up in the hallway outside his room and came in one by one to pay their respects. Then, Tatyana and Leonid and the rest of the family left the hospital room to join them waiting in the hallway. The nurses disconnected Russel from the equipment that had been keeping him alive and covered him in a white sheet. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Russel’s CO, now NYPD Chief Frank Vega, a couple of other executives and I wheeled him out of that hospital room, through the hallway of the intensive care unit, and out into the main area of that floor.
Police Officers lined the entire area, shoulder to shoulder in solemn silence. But the first people I saw when we went through the doors of the ICU was Russel’s Mom and Dad, and his family, Tatyana on her knees, facing us, crying. We continued through the long hallway to the elevator to bring Russel down and into an ambulance to take him to the morgue. From that moment, through the processing in the morgue, the transport to the funeral home, and then Russel being brought to the cemetery, he was never alone. Cops stood with him in each of those places, as they did in spirit all throughout New York City, and as cops throughout our country did as well, feeling the pain of his sacrifice and vowing to never forget him.
I’d like to share a little more background on Russel and his family. In 1993, Tatyana and Leonid came with their only child Russel, who was 10 years old at the time, and seven other family members, all on the same plane, to America from Belarus. They came to our country for a better life, better in so many ways, including leaving behind their homeland Police Department, known for brutality and corruption.
While his family came to this country for a better life, Russel was committed to making this country even greater, and his city even better. He told his parents that he wanted to become a New York City Police Officer. Tatyana was so upset because she was afraid of the danger and she let him know that. He never spoke of it again, until months later after he had been sworn in during his first day at the Police Academy. Russel certainly made a difference in his life, and the immeasurable impact he made in his nine years of service did not die with him.Tatyana and Leonid took Russel and their family here for a better life, but they will go to their graves having experienced a pain that most of us can’t even imagine, losing their only child.
Back to the pain and shock so many Americans are experiencing watching our country and many of our cities ripped apart, I can only imagine the outrage and the sadness of Russel’s family, and the families who have lost so much because of the violence that is directed toward cops every year, now seeing their loved ones’ calling, their profession, the nobility of policing, trashed and maligned as if it’s an organized criminal group.
We are certainly going through very difficult days, worse than I have ever seen for sure. In these last few years, whenever I try to lift up the hearts of police officers, I kind of compare our profession to the Stock Market. I say that the Stock Market has bad days, bad months, and sometimes it crashes. But it always comes back up, it always does. However, keeping to that analogy, it seems like we are now going through a Great Depression. It’s bad, it’s painful, it’s frightening and it’s going to take a while to get through it. But I believe, I know, we will recover.
Meanwhile, pray for our brothers and sisters who are still wearing our uniforms. Support them and encourage them however we can. Remind them not only to be safe but to be careful, very careful. Pray for the families of our loved ones who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Call them, check in on them. Remind them that we are there for them, and will never forget. Take care of ourselves, even seeking the help of professionals to deal with the rage that we are feeling. Speak about this. Share our feelings – usually with each other, which can be very helpful. Be mindful and strategic not to overexpose ourselves to the idiocy and hypocrisy that our newsfeeds and social media feeds are flooded with.
And remember, we will get through this. God bless our heroes, and God bless America
July 9, 2020