On Halloween morning in 2007, police officer Chuck Cassidy of the city’s 35th district pulled up to a local Dunkin’ Donuts to perform a routine security check and perhaps grab a fresh cup of joe to begin his work day. The bright sunshine of the morning combined with the lesser light inside the shop made it impossible for him to see inside the establishment.
Little did he know as he pulled open the door to that innocent coffee and donut shop, one that he had entered many times before, that it would be the last door he would ever open. Inside was an armed robber who turned and fired a gunshot into Cassidy before the officer ever knew what hit him.
Thus began the most deadly string of murders of Philly’s Finest in decades. Just seven months after Cassidy’s murder, in May of 2008, Sergeant Steve Liczbinski responded to a robbery in progress taking place at a bank branch inside a supermarket of his 24th police district. It would be the final call of his career, as Liczbinski was also gunned down in cold blood by the robbers.
Philly cops and their supporters mourned the loss of these two popular officers throughout the summer of 2008. Little did they know it was not over yet. Not nearly. In early September the city’s police were again driven to shock when officer Isabel ‘Izzie’ Nazario was killed. She and her partner were involved in a vehicular pursuit of a stolen car, though not in direct pursuit, when the driver suddenly emerged from a blind intersection and slammed into their cruiser at full speed.
The loss of a third officer in less than a year seemed like dirt being rubbed into an already open wound. Then the unthinkable happened. Just a couple of weeks later, still in September, officer Pat McDonald pulled over a vehicle for a simple traffic violation, something that many of the city’s police officers do every single day, something that I did hundreds of times. Only this would be Pat’s final car stop. This time the driver was a wanted man, and he decided to shoot and kill Pat McDonald rather than risk returning to jail.
It was official, Philly’s cops were under siege.
People were taking shots at us, running from us, physically challenging us like never before. The thug mentality had overcome the city, and race became a part of the issue as each of the cop-killers faces flashed across television screens. Former Mayor John Street’s notorious statement that “the brothers and sisters are running this town now” seemed to be taking on a gangsta tone.
Something was seriously wrong here in Philly, and many of our citizens stepped forward with words of condolence and togetherness, some even with anger at what was happening. But did they then go back to their communities, to their families, and begin to make real changes that would back up their words?
Less than two months later, Sergeant Tim Simpson, a fellow supervisor in the exact same squad of officers in which Steve Lisczbinski had worked at the time of his murder, responded to yet another robbery call. Like Lisczbinski, it would be Simpson’s final call. As he responded to the robbery he entered the intersection of Aramingo and Allegheny Avenues. Here a drunk driver in a speeding Camaro slammed into Simpson’s cruiser. The 24th district had lost their 2nd Sergeant in six months, and Philly’s cops had lost their fifth officer in under a year.
A long, cold winter of grieving got underway, and in the middle of it just about two weeks ago, young 25-year old father-to-be John Pawlowski and his partner pulled up on a disturbance on the highway involving an argument between two men. When Pawlowski confronted the aggressor, this male pulled the trigger on a gun which he had concealed in the pocket of his jacket. As officer Pawlowski’s partner drew his gun and killed the assailant, John fell to the ground, the sixth Philly cop killed in the line of duty in less than a year and a half.
There have been seven Philadelphia police officers killed in the line of duty stretching to the robbery-murder of officer Gary Skerski in May of 2006.
The violence against the police officers who are trying their best to protect the citizens of an increasingly hostile city was just too much for a young woman by the name of Courtney Agger. Not the wife or family member of an officer, Courtney was just a young woman in her twenties who was among the many who were sick and tired of all of the attacks on cops. She wanted to do something, and in the spirit of the 21st century she took to the internet.
A member of the ‘Facebook’ community that is perhaps today’s most popular internet gathering place, Courtney started a grass-roots effort to organize a march in support of Philly cops. In remembrance of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, both in recent years and throughout the past.
Her little Facebook group advertised a march to take place on Sunday, March 1st, 2009 beginning near the Skatezone facility in Northeast Philadelphia and proceeding around the Northeast Airport to the home of Philly’s 8th police district at Academy & Red Lion Roads. She likely envisioned dozens, perhaps hundreds if it went well, of her friends and other sympathizers marching in support. Little did she know the power of both the internet and of her cause.
At yesterdays march, thousands turned out in an overwhelming outpouring of emotion and support for Philadelphia’s embattled police force. There were a number of police brass and union officials on hand, regular officers like myself, as well as numerous friends and family members. T-shirts, sweatshirts, wristbands, flags and other items were sold.
In the week leading up to the march, Philadelphia police detective Al Ford was attempting to serve a warrant when he was shot in the leg. Another officer returned fire and killed Ford’s assailant. Ford was taken to the hospital and is going to be okay, but his shooting highlights that this is far from over.
As a color guard led Sunday’s procession, Courtney had to allow herself to feel just a little pride for what she had accomplished. It was completely justified. Grass-roots support from the community such as that showed by Courtney Agger is absolutely appreciated and even needed by the Philadelphia Police Department.
We have been seriously demoralized by what has happened in recent months, and outreach such as this sincerely touches us all and reminds us of why we do what we do, that it is important to continue, and that it actually affects peoples lives.