Tag Archives: Pat McDonald

Grassroots support for Philly’s embattled cops

 

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.

Bright sunshine of the morning that day combined with the lesser light inside the business made it impossible for Cassidy to see inside the establishment.

Little did he know as he pulled open the door to that innocent coffee and donut shop, one that Cassidy 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 – again.

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, Simpson 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 Skate Zone facility in Northeast Philadelphia and proceeding around the Northeast Airport to the home of Philly’s 8th police district at Academy & Red Lion Roads.

Agger 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 Agger 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 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.

Numb…Again

Another Philadelphia police officer lies dead this morning. He was only 25 years old. His young wife is now a widow as she carries their first and only child in her womb, a child that won’t be born until the coming summer is almost over. A child that will never know it’s father, never even get to meet him.

He is John Pawlowski of the PPD’s 35th district, and he is the 7th Philly cop to be killed in the line of duty in the past 33 months. I remember a time when it seemed that we lost a brother or sister officer every few years. Now we don’t even get six months, and often it’s been much less.

There was a time when it made me sad and angry. But the wave of murders of our officers over the past couple years has simply left me numb. I can’t even watch the stories on TV anymore beyond the headlines to get the basic facts. I am well aware that the danger is part of the job for which we have all signed up, but I want it to just all stop, even if just for a couple years.

Part of the problem for cops is that we do a job that few others could ever possibly relate to, but we can all relate to one another. No matter what our current responsibilities in this career that we have chosen, we were all John Pawlowski at some point.

We all put on the uniform and the badge, strapped the gun to our hip, slid behind the wheel of a marked police car, and slipped out into the night to patrol the streets of Philadelphia. It is alternately thrilling and dangerous, exciting and deadly. It is sometimes slow, but rarely boring. And always, always, there is the next corner to turn, around which may lie one of the funniest things that you’ve ever seen, or the end of your life.

You work those streets as a cop in a squad of men and women who become your extended family. You are with them almost every day or night in those circumstances and situations. Especially as a young person in your early years on the job, you form a bond in that squad that will never leave you.

My squad was special to me, and always will be. It included my own brother, Mike Veasey, with whom I had the absolute pleasure to work with as a partner for a few years.

Our squad in the early years of the 1990’s also included others who I will also always carry in my heart: Dave Lee, Juan Perez, Lisa Collins, Tom McComesky, Bob Donahue, Joe Kramer, Tommy DiFlorio, Aaron Horn, Chris Faber, Kevin Bethel, Thom Hoban, Stevie Susson, Denise McDonough, Nick Campolongo, Herbie Felder, Kevin Wong, Charlie Kelly, Ray Plymouth, Anne Klineburger, Eddie Blunt, Patti Parks, Bobby Bonds, Dominic Tursi, Dennis Andraczak, Tommy Key, Gary Burrell, Louie & Stephanie Velazquez, and many others.

There are so many people that touch you on this job, that you lean on to get you through the tough times, that you laugh with during the good times. Not only those folks in your own squad, but also those in the other squads within your district, and other cops all over the city, and the many business and community people that become a part of our everyday lives.

Working the streets is addictive. It is an experience that is difficult to describe. Having that kind of respect from most people, experiencing that affection from folks you don’t even know, and carrying the burden of the power that the people have bestowed on you that includes taking away someones freedom and even their life. Only police officers who have worn that uniform and stepped out on those patrols will ever know that feeling.

This was the life that young John Pawlowski was living, the same one that I lived, that my brother lived, that our father lived. The same one that every street cop has lived. It is what makes losing John, and all the others in recent months and years, so very difficult.

It is always worth mentioning them all by name, because what has happened recently will forever link them: Gary Skerski, Chuck Cassidy, Steve Liczbinski, Isabel Nazario, Pat McDonald, Tim Simpson and now John Pawlowski.

We are them. They are us. It is Valentine’s Day, and a young woman carrying a baby should be waking up to her young husband and thinking about things like cards and flowers and candy and dinner. Instead she has to plan a funeral. I am numb…again.

What Lies Ahead in 2009?

When the calendar turned from 2007 into 2008 a year ago, how many would have been able to envision so many of the events that would transpire in the new year. Pretty much everyone knew that there was going to be a tough, divisive political race in the Presidential election campaign. But how many just one year ago would have given Barack Obama much of a chance against Hillary Clinton? Not many. Clinton had been the ‘presumptive nominee’ of the Democratic Party for a couple of years leading into 2008. And how many of you had ever heard of Sarah Palin, let alone knew that she was the governor of Alaska? The media-driven Obamamania of the past year showed that the man can campaign. But can he lead a nation? We will begin to find that out as certainly one of the biggest stories of the year unfolds. In just a couple of weeks Obama will be sworn in as the first half African-American President in U.S. history. That will indeed be one of the biggest moments of 2009, but the real stories will be how the new Obama administration handles domestic and world events during the year. From Iraq to Israel, Afghanistan to India, Pakistan to Iran, the Middle East will remain a cauldron bubbling with potential Islamism-inspired disasters. The U.S. economy continues to struggle thanks to the short-sightedness of government bailouts of failing businesses, a situation that is only likely to worsen in the new year. The new President may need to make a Supreme Court nomination in 2009. SCOTUS Justice John Paul Stevens will turn 89 years old in April, and likely only held on to his court seat hoping to be replaced by a similarly liberal thinker, now more likely with the Obama election. Who will be among the famous deaths in 2009? In the last year we lost silver screen legend Charlton Heston, director Sydney Pollack, politician Jesse Helms, and musicians Bo Diddley & Levi Stubbs among many others. Closer to home our Philadelphia police department had lost officer Chuck Cassidy at Halloween in 2007, that coming on the heels of having lost officer Gary Skerski who was similarly shot and killed by a robber in spring of 2006. Who could have imagined that 2008, rather than offering a quiet respite from those tragedies, would heep on even more with the murders of four officers in the line of duty: Steve Liczbinski, Isabel Nazario, Pat McDonald, and Tim Simpson. We can only hope and pray that 2009 is a quiet, safe year for our police officers and fire fighters in Philly. We certainly deserve that much. On a lighter, brighter note, who could have foreseen the stunning, thrilling rise of the Philadelphia Phillies to a World Series championship. The antics of Charlie Manuel, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Brad Lidge, Brett Myers, Shane Victorino and company brought sports excitement that the city had not seen for a long time, and finally ended our quarter-century title drought. Can any other Philly team step up and take us on a similar ride in 2009? Across the country, around the world, and right at home in our own families 2009 will likely prove to be a year of changes, challenges, and highlights. There is no such thing as a true crystal ball. There is no one who can foresee the events of the coming year. We just have to let them play out while working them to the best for ourselves and our families when possible. Remember that through it all, God has a plan, both for humanity overall and for you in particular. Stay strong, keep a positive attitude, and always remember to turn to Him for help in times of struggle and in thanks during the good times.

Another Auld Lang Syne

In 1788, 29-year old Scottish poet Robert Burns sat himself down and wrote a poem that he titled ‘Auld Lang Syne’, which would literally translate today into “old long since”, “long long ago”, or even “days gone by.”

 It was similar in phrasing and verse to a 1711 work by James Watson, and Burns himself stated that his work was based on an older one.

The song that is traditionally sang today as we ring out an old year and ring in a new one, as we will tonight at midnight, is attributed to Burns and includes the spirit of the older Watson work with Burns own work blended into it.

In this spirit of celebrating another ‘auld lang syne’ we are remembering days or times that have gone before us. People in our lives, events, places that have been important to us. This has been the practice stretching back for a couple of hundred years now.

The Scots celebrated a new year with the song and spread this custom into England, then further on into America and around the world. It became a true New Year’s Eve staple when in 1929 band leader Guy Lombardo began to use it in his radio and later his television broadcasts as his signature song to ring in the new year.

In modern times we take the song to be a last look back at what has happened in our lives and in our world over the past year, and then look forward to a new start in a new year.

In 1981, pop singer Dan Fogelberg released the song ‘Same Old Lang Syne’, which has become a popular radio staple here in America during the Christmas holidays. In the hauntingly melancholy Fogelberg song, the main character has a chance encounter in a grocery store on Christmas Eve with an old lover.

The two then embark on a brief reunion that afternoon over a few drinks and shared memories. But in the end, each realizes that they must move away from that moment’s reflection on ‘the good old days’ and back into the reality of their lives and their futures, which do not include one another.

As I look back on my life, there are many similar people as in the Fogelberg song. People who still hold a solid place in my heart, who in fact will always hold that place.

I look back on them in fondness from time to time, but then move forward again with my life as it is today. That those former friends and lovers are no longer an active part of that life makes most of them no less special to me.

So as I look back on 2008 tonight, there are many people and events that I will remember with fondness that are particular to this past year.

At the top of the list is a welcome to the world to my new grandson, Reznor Lydon Lloyd.

Then there are the new co-workers whom I got to know in my first year at the police department’s Advanced Training Unit. The classmates and teachers that I met during my final year at St. Joseph’s University added to my year.

On the big stage of local and world events there was the incredible World Series run of my beloved Philadelphia Phillies. In politics the emergence of a strong conservative woman in Sarah Palin was a bright spot.

Those were the “hello’s”, there are always the goodbyes. This past year, fortunately for me, there were few family members in that category. However, four of my fellow Philly cops lost their lives this year in the line of duty. My ‘auld lang syne’ will thus include Steve Liczbinski, Isabel Nazario, Pat McDonald, and Tim Simpson.

I look forward to 2009 with hope for better times for my children and grandchildren, and hope for continued health and happiness for myself and my wife Debbie.

The new year will ultimately bring incredible drama across the world, stories that we cannot envision at this moment. I hope and pray that, for the most part, they bring positive developments for most of the world’s inhabitants.

Tonight as the ball drops and the countdown ends, we will celebrate another auld lang syne. I wish you all and all of your family members a very happy, healthy, safe, fun, prosperous New Year in 2009.

Goodbye, Tim Simpson

I didn’t find out until about five minutes ago. Last night, I went to bed at around 11pm, so I missed the news at that time. Just waking up this morning, I poured myself the first cup of coffee of the day, and fired up the computer. Then a local news anchor said those words on TV:

“Our top story, the Philadelphia Police Department is again in mourning this morning…”

My head whipped around to the TV screen. Sergeant Tim Simpson of the 24th district was dead, killed in a horrific car crash at approximately 10:45pm last night. He was killed at Aramingo & Allegheny while responding to a robbery call, possibly by a drunk driver who was speeding.

This is the second officer killed in an auto accident in the last few months, with Izzy Nazario killed back in the late summer. It is the fourth Philly cop killed this calendar year, the fifth in the last year, the sixth on-duty in two and a half years stretching back to Gary Skerski’s murder in spring of 2006.

With Walter Barclay’s death from wounds that he received decades ago in a shooting, it marks the seventh Philly cop to die of an on-duty incident in that time period.

My stomach flips again, and I say a prayer for the officer, his family and friends, his co-workers, and all police officers. It’s beyond ridiculous now. We got almost, almost, a two month break this time. We deserve years without such tragedy at this point.

They all need to be remembered as a group: Walt Barclay, Gary Skerski, Chuck Cassidy, Steve Liczbinski, Isabel Nazario, Pat McDonald, and now Tim Simpson.

Ironically, it was Simpson who had worked closely with Liczbinski, and was the officer given the responsibility of cuffing the murderer of his fellow Sergeant and former partner just this past spring.

We will again cover our badges with mourning crepes, again put on our blouse coats, again make funeral arrangements, again bury a fellow officer. This time it will be a brother with a wife and children who we will bury during a season when we are normally supposed to be giving thanks.

To make matters possibly worse to me, I saw a picture of the officer. He looked a lot like an officer who I served with in the 6th district, Terry Simpson, and I wonder if they are related, possibly brothers.

That would make an already intolerable situation even more personal, with my own brother also on the job and both of us knowing Terry. We will find out more of these details in the coming hours and days, but there is one thing that we already know.

The Philadelphia Police Department has a very dark cloud hanging over it right now. The winter cold has settled over the area this morning, the first real morning of frost. It feels even colder now. This has to end. Doesn’t it?