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What a tragic month our nation endured as we closed out 2012. A crazed man with a semi-automatic rifle and other guns entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, and murdered 26 people. Twenty of them were small, young, innocent children. The other six were teachers and administrators at the school. Three others were wounded inside the school and the shooter also murdered his mother at a separate location.
Later in the same month, another crazed man with a similar semi-automatic rifle and other guns positioned himself across from a house he had set on fire and proceeded to shoot the first four firefighters who arrived on the scene to battle the blaze. Two firefighters were killed and two others were critically wounded. These were West Webster, NY, volunteer firefighters, and at least two of them were also full-time public employees.
Our nation has endured many tragic events over the years, and these two December tragedies should not in any way overshadow the others, past or future. But these two incidents, happening in such close timeframes to each other, clearly bring out the best in public employees who have been on the receiving end of some disrespectful and mean-spirited comments and actions by some elected officials.
The public reality
Following the two December events, the words and actions of the public showed a distinct contrast with the way some elected officials described public employees. In addition to honoring the children, memorials were established on behalf of the teachers and administrators in Connecticut, as well as the firefighters in New York.
All of the funeral services were well attended and the communities could not have been more supportive in their displays of love, appreciation and respect. It was obvious to everyone that had it not been for the actions of brave people at both of the scenes (Connecticut and New York), more people would surely have been injured and killed.
A couple of takeaways
It should be clear to any observer that the public does not necessarily buy into the contentious relationships some elected officials have established with teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees over the past few years. In Newtown, the teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary School displayed incredible desire, courage and will to protect their children and colleagues. Perhaps elected officials at all levels of government should take a lesson from them in an effort to civilly and/or criminally deal with those who are actually responsible for causing our “great recession.”
Desire, courage and will are wonderful personal attributes. The people served by the West Webster Volunteer Fire Department would say that those attributes are present in their public employees and their volunteers, who often are the same people.
I have been asked by several of my friends whether we should not just let this issue go, and my response is emphatically “no.” These contentious debates and attacks continue to move from state to state and are not over. In politics, an issue is not over until both sides decide it is over. One side does not get to decide for the other to end a political dispute.
Frankly, the elected officials who have been making (and continue to make) negative and untrue assertions about public employees and the true causes of the “great recession” need to be publicly challenged. Public employees should not be unfairly punished or singled out by elected officials who are acting out long-held political biases.
December 2012 was a difficult month, but it should also serve as a reminder to all of us to be respectful and appreciative of our career and volunteer firefighters, teachers, police officers and other public employees. They have earned it. n