Last week gave everyone stark reminders of the harsh jobs we ask of those who wear the badge.
Blake Snyder, 33, was an Alton native who played high school football, was married, raising a 2-year-old son and worked as a St. Louis County police officer. Early Thursday morning he responded to a disturbance in south St. Louis, was shot in the face by a teenager and died.
You are doing your job and without warning someone shoots at you.
William Owen was a social worker. He decided to become an Illinois State Police trooper.
Late on June 23, 2015, he saw a drunk driver and pulled him over on the Interstate 255 ramp at State Street in East St. Louis. The driver stalked towards Owen and shot at his head.
Fortunately, he missed. Owen shot back 12 times, also missing. Depending on your perspective, those misses were also fortunate.
The drunk driver who fired first, Gregory K. Nelson, 54, of East St. Louis, is fortunate to be alive. Owen is fortunate that he doesn’t have to live with having taken a life, no matter how justified he would have been.
“Not only did he try to take my life, he put me in a position of taking his life,” Owen testified.
Nelson ran and went into hiding, meaning Owen and his wife, also a social worker, were afraid for their family’s safety. They were afraid for the fellow officers then forced to track down an armed and dangerous fugitive. Owen was afraid to continue doing his job, saying those first traffic stops were the most stressful of his life.
Nelson was full of excuses for his actions, but in his 54 years he compiled 10 felonies and three convictions for illegally carrying a gun. He said guns have always been his downfall, but in reality he has been his own downfall.
If he lives, he will be in prison almost to age 97 with lots of time to ponder his belated epiphany: “Black lives matter to me. Blue lives matter to me. All lives matter to me. Police officers are necessary because it’s a crazy world out there.”
Officer Snyder, Trooper Owen, their families and their peers are owed a deep debt for agreeing to live in that crazy world.