2007 American of the Year: Chuck Cassidy

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Folks outside of the Philadelphia, PA area might be saying “What? Who?” right about now. But bear with me and you will understand. For those in the area, it’s likely that you know the name, and if so then you know the reason.

Let’s start off with the briefest of updates for those who don’t know the reason. Charles “Chuck” Cassidy was a Philadelphia police officer who gave his life in the line of duty on Halloween morning, basically ambushed by a robber whom he likely never saw coming.

It was the sunny morning of October 31st, 2007, and 54-year old Chuck Cassidy eased his marked Philadelphia police department SUV into a parking space directly in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts business in the West Oak Lane section of the city.

No one can speak for officer Cassidy as to what was running through his mind at that moment. From being in his situation on thousands of occasions over a seventeen-year career, I can probably paint you a fair picture.

First, it was a beautiful day outside and Chuck, a veteran of a quarter-century policing the streets of Philadelphia, was likely basking in it. Perhaps on the drive to the donut shop he had music playing in his patrol vehicle. He certainly had his police radio on, listening to the scattered broadcasts coming over on a typical bustling day in the busy 35th police district which he served for two decades.

Nearby that morning there was scheduled to be a memorial service for a long-ago fallen officer. A plaque would be placed near the location of that heroic officer’s ultimate sacrifice, and it is entirely plausible that Chuck had plans to attend that service along with dozens, if not hundreds, of fellow officers, friends, and family members of the officer. He would certainly have known of the service, and was factoring it into his morning plans in some way.

Also, it was Halloween, and Chuck Cassidy was a family man in the best sense of that word. He was married to his high school sweetheart, Judy, for over 26 years, and they had been raising three great kids: Katie, Colby, and John.

Along with this immediate family there were numerous nieces and nephews, and some would be getting ready for the annual “trick or treat” rituals. This kid-friendly holiday and his own family’s plans to handle that evening’s anticipated rush of candy-craving kids was surely on his mind.

At that early part of the morning, this was probably not just another day to Chuck Cassidy; it was probably one of the good days. Sunny and pleasant, a family-type fun holiday, a remembrance scheduled for a fallen brother officer. Chuck headed out on patrol with his mind likely at ease, but he was also most certainly at some level of extra awareness and attentiveness due to recent events both in his patrol area and in the city.

In his area, there had been a string of robberies, and these Dunkin’ Donuts establishments had been particularly targeted a few times. Chuck had established an ongoing friendly relationship with the management and employees of this particular venue, as all of us who have ever patrolled the streets have done with many of the business people in our assigned areas. Chuck made it a habit to particularly stop by and ensure that all was well at this location.

Over the past four weeks, the city had been rocked by the shooting of three other Philadelphia police officers in separate incidents, including two in just the past three days. And it was just over a year ago that the city had been rocked by the death of another popular family man officer, Gary Skerski, a friend and work colleague of mine from my own days patrolling the 6th district in the early 1990’s, who was shot by a robber exiting the scene of his crime.

Shootings have been out of control in our town for some time now, and local cops and other law enforcement officers have not escaped becoming victims of the epidemic of violence.

So as he exited his SUV, Chuck Cassidy was likely in good spirits, looking forward to the day, possibly even to enjoying that “first cup of coffee” that is one of the small things so important to so many of us.

As he exited, someone outside of the shop told him that something suspicious was going on inside, and with that information and all of the previous knowledge of robberies and shootings, Chuck likely opened that shop door with a heightened sense of awareness and apprehension.

There is no way that I can say this for a fact, but having viewed the news videos from outside the shop, and having seen the surveillance video from inside, there is likely another crucial factor that contributed to what happened next. As anyone who has ever stood outside on a bright, sunny day knows, it is very difficult to see into the windows of a small business. The glare from the sun simply overtakes the situation. My bet is that Chuck was walking in “blind”, perhaps believing that he might be walking in on an argument that the establishment was having with a customer.

We certainly know what happened next. 21-year old John Lewis, a young black male, a high school dropout, a repeat offender with a lengthy criminal past already, had been inside holding up the business at the point of a handgun.

It was not his first time, as he would later be named as the robber in the other recent Dunkin’ Donuts robberies. He had been an employee at one of the businesses in the past, knew their routines, and thus felt the store was an easy mark. What he didn’t count on was a police officer pulling up just at the moment that he was robbing the shop.

Lewis had just a couple of seconds to decide what he was going to do next. Since he could see out the windows much better than Chuck could see inside, Lewis knew that he was about to be confronted, and thus he had a serious advantage. Chuck only knew that there might be some type of problem inside, nothing more.

As Philadelphia Police Officer Chuck Cassidy pulled open the handle of the door and stepped into the doorway, Lewis had made his decision. He was not going to be arrested on this day, he was going to try to get away, and there was only one way that was likely to happen.

At 10:30 am on Halloween morning 2007, John Lewis pointed his gun and shot Chuck Cassidy at point-blank range in the head as the officer took the final steps of his life into the doorway of that small Dunkin’ Donuts shop on Broad Street in Philadelphia.

He never saw it coming, at least not until it was entirely too late. Chuck was kept alive by artificial means until he died the following morning. The killer made his getaway, and eventually fled to Florida with the help of a family member. But outstanding police work by Chuck’s fellow officers led to his capture.

At this point, I would like to apologize to the family and his fellow officers in the 35th district for any liberties that I may have taken here in describing Chuck’s thoughts and actions. They are in no way meant to speak for what absolutely happened; they are just the ruminations of a fellow officer who has been in similar situations on similar days, albeit without a tragic ending to this point.

Also my apologies to the department, particularly the hard-working investigators on the case, for any slight errors in describing the incident. The details have been gleaned from press reports and conversations with fellow officers. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Chuck, as is obvious with the announcement of what I hope is the honor being bestowed herein.

An outsider might argue that I am being partial to law enforcement officers, Philly cops in particular, in naming Chuck as this year’s honoree. After all, cops are killed all across the country, every year. And last year saw the murder under very similar circumstances of Gary Skerski, whom I personally knew and worked with. Was there some reason he was not named, and Chuck suddenly was this year? And there will be some who say, in all due respect to the fallen officer, weren’t there Americans this year whose contributions were more vital in the bigger picture?

I always feel the need to defend the choices that I make for this honor each year. There have been three previous recipients, all of a higher national awareness level than Chuck.

In 2004, Pat Tillman was named for sacrificing his life in the War on Terror, particularly since he gave up stardom in the NFL to defend his country. In 2005 it was pundit Bill O’Reilly, who put the heat on both the political right and left in his “No Spin Zone” every night during a time of political partisanship, and who had become an outspoken champion of children’s causes. In 2006 it was the preacher to the country, Billy Graham, a man whose is certainly a modern-day apostle.

In choosing Chuck Cassidy, it is for both his own personal sacrifice, because after all he gave of himself fully by giving his life. He paid the ultimate price in the service to his community, and after all what is more important to the nation?

It is also representative for the sacrifices in the past of Gary Skerski, Danny Faulkner, and the thousands of other law enforcement officers across the country who have likewise given their lives in service to their communities. The men and women of law enforcement put on a uniform, strap on a gun, and step out each day on some level to serve their fellow Americans.

The sacrifice of Chuck Cassidy raised him above some of the other very worthy nominees this year. I want to thank those who submitted the names of First Lady Laura Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, economist Thomas Sowell, author Dinesh D’Souza, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, TV personality Oprah Winfrey, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, former Senator Rick Santorum, local war hero Dell Dailey, and Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

There was another consideration this year as well. It was most certainly the year of the “Pop Tart”, and I wrote an article about this back in June of this year. The embarrassing public and private exploits of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, and Tara Reid, among others, took over the headlines many nights. This was all highlighted by the death of Anna Nicole Smith.

The awful negative example that these young women were giving to our youth led me on a search of young Hollywood women who might be a shining, positive example, in the hopes that highlighting one of them with the honor would serve as a counter. But the sacrifice given by Chuck overwhelmed even that idea.

Earlier in the year, back in March, Chuck and his partner had confronted a pair of armed gunmen who had just committed another robbery. The two officers confronted the men with strength, professionalism, and maturity, and were able to convince the men to lay down their weapons, taking them into custody without further incident.

That job ended far more pleasantly, and gave Chuck the opportunity to bask in being a hero to his community and fellow officers. But it was not a role he cherished. Almost to a man, it was well known that Chuck avoided the spotlight.

At his funeral services, Chuck’s brother-in-law, Tony Conti, gave a tremendously eloquent and moving eulogy that painted a wonderful, uplifting picture of Chuck’s life.

In it, Mr. Conti described all of the attention that was surrounding the aftermath of the murder: “Chuck is an unassuming man, right Mrs. Cassidy? This is a guy who avoided the spotlight. This is a man who hated to be the center of attention. Do you have any idea what he’s saying right now?”

I hope that in naming Chuck Cassidy as the website’s 2007 American of the Year, he would accept if he could on behalf of the sacrifice that all of America’s police officers and their families make every day. The battle that our troops overseas face every day is similarly fought here at home on our own streets everyday by its police officers, firefighters, and other law enforcement officers and public service professionals.

May God bless the family as they move forward. May He bless all of the police officers around the nation, and particularly here in the City of Brotherly Love, in staying safe while remaining dedicated to their communities each day.

And may God especially bless Philadelphia police officer and 2007 American of the Year Chuck Cassidy with a well-deserved eternity of peace.

NOTE: By clicking the below ‘Label’ you can link to view all of they American of the Year honorees.

Can Mike Huckabee go the distance?

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Over the past month or so the nation’s pundits, broadcasters, and editorialists have been broad-sided by the sudden rise in popularity among grass-roots Republican voters of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

Question really should be, why is this such a surprise to them? For months, Republican voters have been telling anyone who will listen to them that while President Bush was the best choice in ’00 and ’04, he has generally been a disappointment, and it is these voters who have kept the President’s approval ratings low in recent years.

Why has the President been a disappointment? Is it because of his handling of the War on Terror? Hardly. That is just one of the many reasons that Dems hate the man, but has little or nothing to do with Republican dissent. We on the right support the President’s measures in that regard, which we understand have helped to keep our nation safe since 9/11.

What we Republicans have been shouting from the mountaintops is that we are completely dissatisifed with the outrageous spending policies in Washington, which are way out of control, and which the President has done nothing to help control with vetoes or leadership.

We are disappointed with the failure to take seriously the control of our southern border, and to tighten up the problem of illegal immigration. Also, the obvious signs pointing to a North American Union that will inevitably erode our national sovereignty. Republicans are generally not stupid or naive. We know what is going on, and we don’t like it.

The one area that the President gets strong support from Republicans on besides the war handling is his Supreme Court nominees. Both John Roberts and Sam Alito were outstanding appointments, although the party base had to rise up in order to get Alito, after the President’s original poor nomination of Harriet Myers.

What Mike Huckabee represents for many Republicans is a departure from the slick, establishment, back-slapping, good ‘ol boy network. Mike Huckabee is an unashamed Christian, and if any Republican nominee fails to recognize the importance of morality to the base they will be swamped under.

It is one reason that I believe, in the end, Rudy Giuliani has no chance to win.Giuliani continues to lead in most major polls of national Republican voters. In the FoxNews polls, Rudy leads Huckabee and John McCain by a 20% to 19% margin for each of those followers.

In the Reuters/Zogby poll, it’s by a 23-22 margin over Huckabee. USA Today/Gallup have Rudy with the biggest margin by far, a 27-16 lead over Huckabee. Giuliani is tied with Mitt Romney at 20-20 in the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, with Huckabee at 17. Huckabee actually leads the Rasmussen poll at 20-17 over Rudy.

All of this strength in support for Huckabee has happened in a short time. Just a couple of months ago, Mike Huckabee was polling in the single digits across the board. So what has happened, and can Huckabee keep up and improve on this surge?

It happened because Giuliani is what he is, as is John McCain. These guys have been around in the public eye for a long time, and their base supporters are who they are. Both men are finding it very difficult to expand from that base.

Mitt Romney is solid considering he started from behind in the national consciousness, and his strong financial picture and likeability make him a real contender to rise further. None of the other candidates have gained any traction, notably conservative Fred Thompson.

Mike Huckabee has stayed on-message, that he will be a strong, morale leader in a time where many conservative Americans and Republicans in general feel their faith and their values being left behind by politicians, the media in general, and the former mainstream press.

So while many Republican pundits continue to toss bombs at him, thinking that he cannot win in the general election against powerhouse candidates like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, they may be missing the real point. There is a serious reason why Huckabee has risen as an option, and if none of the other candidates seriously show that they also meet those requirements, Huckabee may remain as a serious contender.

There is really no reason to believe that Mike Huckabee cannot be to the Republicans in 2008 what Bill Clinton was to the Dems just 15 years ago. Think back to the fall of 1991. How many folks around the country knew who in the heck the governor from Arkansas who was running for the Dem nomination was? Everyone knew as 1992 wore on.

There is no reason the same thing can’t be happening right now with Mike Huckabee. I believe that Mike Huckabee is here to stay, and that his support could rise even higher as one or two of the other leading candidates drops out after the primaries begin to unfold in the early part of 2008.

Time will tell, but the real battle may come down to Giuliani and Huckabee, with Romney becoming a veep candidate and McCain and Thompson fading out of the picture. That is what is in this man’s crystal ball. Let’s see what happens.

The Gift

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It’s Christmastime once again. More specifically it is the final weekend before Christmas Day itself. This certainly means that over the next two days there will be a mad rush by many folks to complete shopping for their gift lists.

That perfume or pajamas for your wife, a book for your pop, a couple of gift cards for aunts and uncles, one more toy for the kids. For many (from what I hear) it will be one final attempt at picking up a “Wii” gaming system.

For the next two days it will most certainly seem in many respects as if it is, as Andy Williams famously sang, “the most wonderful time of the year.” There will be house parties among friends, relatives, and neighbors, Christmas carols will be heard from homes and cars, home light displays will be sparkling for longer hours.

For many it will be a weekend of anxiety. Worrying that you simply must complete your shopping. Worrying that you won’t have enough money to buy all the presents that you want. Worrying about the limits on your credit cards, and the balances in your bank accounts.

Whether you are reading this as the weekend begins, and I can help you right now, or sometime later when you can take this to heart for next year, stay with me a minute and let me try to help you out. Let me try to calm you down, straighten you out, ease your anxiety, and vastly improve your Christmas enjoyment.

Are you ready?

Stop buying everyone gifts.
Stop trying to be all things to all people. Stop breaking the bank, running up your credit card balances. Stop taking money from your family’s bills and food tables because you feel that you need to go overboard on Christmas gift spending.

Trim the tree? How about we trim that gift-giving list down a bit?

Now, some folks are keen on saying that Christmas has become too commercialized. You know, I have been hearing that for so many decades now that it has lost all of it’s effectiveness as an argument. The fact is that gift-giving has been associated with the holiday ever since the very first one.

The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of how the Magi, three kings from the Orient, followed a star which led them to the little town of Bethlehem. There they found the newborn Jesus:

“They saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. They they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

The commercialization of Christmas is linked to all kinds of other alleged evils: consumerism, greed, jealousy, the all-consuming fundamental of the American dream to “keep up with the Jones’s.”

Frankly, I think that all this concern over the commercialization of Christmas is just so much “humbug!”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying your wife a new car for Christmas. There is nothing wrong with buying your husband a season ticket package to the Phillies games for Christmas.

There is nothing wrong with buying your kids a Wii system and a bunch of games to go with it. There is nothing wrong with buying a present for every relative on some massive gift list.

To that end, there is also nothing wrong with advertisers trying to sell their wares. That is what capitalism is based upon, the market economy. Capitalism is not an evil, it is the tremendous engine that has given rise to America’s greatness. I would even dare to say that capitalism itself is a gift, from our nation’s historical roots to today’s society.

The problem is not in the lights, the packages and bows, the parties and presents. The problem is within ourselves. There is a large segment of our people, and in fact people around the world, who are so quick to blame other people for their own problems. To go back to my advice: stop.

Stop buying everyone gifts. Trim that list down, both in the number of people on it to begin with, and then in the number of gifts you give as well. I suggest strongly that you only give gifts to your immediate family: children, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, spouses. One rule of thumb: if they live in your home, give them at least one gift.

One easy way to take care of everyone else is the traditional Christmas card. There are many options out there today, with boxed cards available on every level from the inexpensive to the lavish. Go with your economic situation, and every year go out and pickup a few dozen Christmas cards to send out.

A card can display your own reflection of the season. Are you more secular? Then send a general holiday card. More religious? Then send a religious-themed card. To really make your card a gift, for each one take the time to write a short note on the inside flap that is appropriate to the receiver. The cost of the card itself and the stamp to mail can usually be kept to about one dollar each. That is a pretty affordable gift.

For the folks who remain on your shopping list, narrow things down. Besides your kids and spouses, keep everyone to just one gift. These are the people closest to you in the world. You should know their likes and dislikes. Pick them up something they will really enjoy receiving.

As for the kids, make those Christmas memories special. Let them wake up to a lighted tree on Christmas morning,with wrapped gifts strewn beneath it. That’s important too, taking the time to wrap them. They key is to stay reasonably within your family’s means, and to spread gifts around evenly among multiple kids.

For your spouse there is one simple rule: make sure that whatever you do for them, large or small, that your gift or gifts reflects your appreciation for everything they are to you, for everything they do for your family.

It is a great idea for spouses to actually sit down and talk about Christmas as it approaches, and to get a plan together where perhaps limits are kept on their gifts to one another to allow more assets to reach the overall holiday experience.

The most important aspect of material gift-giving is that it must bring joy to the season. You are not bringing joy into the season for your family when you are spending money that you do not have.

Don’t give gifts beyond your means. Don’t put your family into debt that takes months to pay your way out of, year after year.

And there is another important thing to consider. Gifts do not need to actually cost you money out of your pocket.

There are three things that you can consider giving of yourself that usually won’t require a hit on your credit card. These are gifts of your time, your talent, and the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Give your time. Volunteer with a social services group that feeds the homeless. Join your church choir or volunteer to help in some other way with their preparation for the holidays. Go to the home of a relative who may be ill or who perhaps doesn’t have many close contacts, and help them out for a day, letting them know that they still have family, and that someone still cares about them.

Give your talent. Every one of us has something that we can do that is special and particular to us. If you have a professional skill, donate your skills to help an individual or group that could use them. Find a niche where you can utilize them each season as a regular gift that you give to your family and community. Draw cards for a senior citizen home, or go Christmas caroling. Everyone has talent to give.

Forgive and reconcile. I recently saw an episode of the “Dr. Phil” television show where the good doctor was trying to see if there was any way that he could help mediate a family where grown adults could not set their differences aside and simply enjoy one another’s company. In particular, in sharing the holidays together with their elderly father.

Dr. Phil’s advice in the end was to not try to force something at the holidays that was not there all year long. He said that the holidays were not the time to try to fix the problem.

I disagree with him. I think that the Christmas holiday is the exactly perfect time to forgive anyone, to set aside differences, and to celebrate those things we have in common, even if those things are few and as simple as blood relations.

My wife, Debbie Veasey and I were sitting around the television in the last few nights, and she turned to me and asked “Wouldn’t it be nice if we never had all of this to think about at Christmas? If people didn’t think about shopping and decorating, but just put their time and thoughts into celebrating the birth of Jesus?

She was dead-on straight in that assessment. It would be nice of more of the emphasis to the season were on “the reason”: the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The celebration of the sacrifices made by our Virgin Mother, her sainted husband Joseph, and of God Himself in becoming man. But that choice is up to each of us, individually and as a family.

Buying gifts isn’t the evil. Commercialization isn’t the evil. The evil comes in bad choices by individuals, families, and communities.

Enjoy the holidays, and giving gifts when you can, within your means. But never forget the greatest gift of all, the gift that God game of Himself to all mankind. And then give of yourself when you can.

Merry Christmas to all, and may God bless you and yours this holiday season and in the new year to come.

Joseph: A righteous man

He couldn’t have been happier with the way in which his life was finally turning out. A hard-working tradesman who plied his craft with the best of them, he had met a beautiful young girl and fallen in love at first sight.

Sure she was much younger than him, but he was determined to have her in his life. He continued to pursue her gently, and finally got up the courage to ask for her hand in marriage.

She was a very young girl, much younger than he was, yet she was in some ways wise beyond her years. She wasn’t completely sold on the man who was pursuing her affections, but her family was completely taken with him. After all, he was a hard worker who would absolutely be able to provide for their daughter. He was ruggedly handsome and possessed a maturity that told them the man would treat their daughter right.

So the young girl somewhat grudgingly entered into the engagement. The engagement period was going along smoothly until one night the young lady realized that she was pregnant.

By now you have figured out, in all likelihood, that this young woman was named Mary, and her fiancee was named Joseph. She learns of the pregnancy when an angel appears to her and announces to her that the child has been created by God through the Holy Spirit.

Now this creates many problems for the couple. How was anyone supposed to believe Mary when she revealed the news to her family that she was pregnant, and that she was to bear the Son of God from her womb?

Of course, no one would believe such an outlandish story. They would all believe that she had a secret affair going on with one of the young men from the area, or that perhaps she had been violated by a soldier.

Mary got up the courage to tell her story to her family, and almost immediately there was tremendous skepticism and antagonism. Her fiancee Joseph was crushed, though not embarrassed.

As described in the gospel of Matthew (1:19), he was “a righteous man”, and so decided to set their relationship aside in a quiet manner. He would make no accusations against her, and would bow out peacefully. Fact was, he still cared deeply for her.

That night, Joseph was awoken by the appearance of the same angel who had visited Mary. The angel said to him the following:

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph was a practical man, but this was no dream. It was not the manifestation of some meal that he had eaten that evening working on his digestive tract as he slept. It was not his conscience acting in a dream state due to his continued affections for Mary. He was very much aware that what he had experienced was real, and he was not about to question his God.

Joseph got out of bed, and began to do as the angel of the Lord had commanded. He took Mary into his home as his wife, and would forever after be a father to the Son of God in every way that is meant.

He had no relations with Mary until after she had bore the child, whom they faithfully named Jesus. He taught Jesus practical lessons in carpentry and in life, and Jesus grew up over the next couple of decades in his house.

The story of Joseph is a timeless one of commitment and sacrifice, and of faith. Joseph was under extreme pressure from the people and powers of this world to turn his back on the woman that he loved. He was considered a fool by some, a martyr by others. Yet he was actually neither of these.

What Joseph showed is that he was a man of God, a man who listened to what the Lord said and put that first in his life.We can all take a lesson from this righteous man as we move through life.

Many times we have been and will be called by God to do something, say something, act in a certain way, treat someone in some way. In responding we may be asked to make a sacrifice, or to go out on a limb, to leave our own comfort zone, perhaps even to embarrass ourselves. When that time comes, remember Joseph, the earthly father of our Lord.