Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dallas Police Chief's Personal Agony

Police officer Craig Shaw of Lancaster, Texas, about 20 miles south of Dallas, was shot and killed on Sunday while responding to a shooting at a local housing complex.  Another officer returned fire, killing the suspect, who had, in turn, shot Jeremy McMillan.  The shooter turns out to be the son of Dallas Police Chief David Brown, and McMillan appears to have been targeted at random.  His two young children were in the car with him when he was shot, and emerged covered in their father's blood but unhurt.

We know that the death of a police officer in the line of duty represents a major and complicated critical incident.  Even for those in law enforcement in other jurisdictions, line of duty deaths can be very personal and very traumatic.  The death of Officer Shaw would probably have an impact -- possibly a big one -- on Chief Brown by itself.  The death of his son obviously would, by itself, as well.  And the notion that his son killed someone, too, would be a big deal.  Now Chief Brown has all of these things to contend with at once.

Last week, I spent some of this space trying to get inside the mind of a mother whose daughter killed her son.  While Chief Brown's situation isn't exactly the same, it's not far off.  When someone you love commits murder, it severely tests what you believe about family loyalty.  It's hard to be "loyal" to a family member who has done something so awful, but it takes a big person to reach out to the family of the victim in this situation.  When the victim is themselves someone you care deeply about, your loyalties are torn even further.  And when your loved one, the one who committed murder, is dead themselves, it's hard to know which way to turn.

It's both important and very difficult to remember that, while Chief Brown's son may be at fault for this entire situation, Chief Brown himself is not, nor is his family.  People never know what to say when tragedy strikes a family.  That is only compounded many times over in this situation.  The tendency will be for people to put their energies elsewhere, figuring that comforting the Shaws and the McMillans are much more important than comforting the family of a murderer.  However, this is as much of a tragedy for the Browns as for the two other families. 

We don't like morally ambiguous situations.  We want it to be the case that either we are glad that the shooter is dead or we're not.  If we're reflective in this situation, however, most people will come to the conclusion that there are two conflicting truths in this situation.  The first is that the shooter's death was necessary to prevent further violence (and some of us might say he got what he deserved).  The second is that the death of Chief Brown's son is a terrible loss to his family.  It's hard to hold those two things in our minds at the same time.  I hope enough people close to the Chief can do so to provide comfort and support following this awful incident.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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