This BLUE 815 Thing...
Updated: Nov 16, 2019
So here we are...what a road we've traveled so far. A road I never knew was there. A road that, quite honestly, I wish I wasn't any bit familiar with. The familiarity is sometimes not a choice for law enforcement families. It's one of those things in which you'd give anything to go back to how it was, before you knew what you know now. Back to what life was before you answered that middle-of-the-night phone call that changed life as you knew it...
Before November 5, 2017, I knew of the thin blue line. By "knew of" I mean I had a general idea of what it was, what it represented. But, in the early morning hours of 11.05.2017, knowing a little bit about that thin blue line became a figment of my imagination; the after contained the actuality of what that line is. I quite literally watched this line form through my own tear-filled eyes in the midst of chaos, down the hallways of an emergency room lined with family and close friends, and next to us down the remainder of the corridor - more law enforcement officers than I'd ever been in the presence of. They stood at attention, faces most would recognize as stone, but when you looked closely you saw the redness of their eyes, and on a few of those faces I witnessed quiet tears uncontrollably escaping down their cheeks. Those few moments, which seemed never-ending at the time, held the first true understanding that came together for me about this blue line. The after contains the reality of the thoughts I had pushed to the far back corners of my mind, a shock deeper than anyone could ever imagine unless they've experienced it themselves, the response to all the fear I wouldn't allow to creep into my heart as an "LEO sister" or "LEO cousin," because you just can't think that way day in and day out.
What I didn't realize in the early hours of that horrific morning, was a passion for an understanding I still didn't quite have yet was ignited. Eleven days later I would join a community member who was in the beginning stages of petitioning for the Morgan Street Bridge - which had been so beautifully lit up blue the day after Jaimie's death - to be renamed the Police Memorial Bridge. I would eventually head up this mission, speaking to leaders in our community I had never encountered before. You see, Jaimie had brought a broken community together in a way I never would have thought possible - no one could have thought it possible. The price of that feat was far too costly for most. The community spirit our leaders had been working so hard to cultivate was handed to them overnight, at the price of the ultimate sacrifice of a brave, selfless, 30-year old guy who had so much life left to live. It was paid for by his wife, our family, his friends and co-workers. I couldn't just let it fade away, and I feared greatly if I didn't take the reins on something, Jaimie's death could likely just fade into yesterday's news. That was unacceptable for me. I knew the bridge was a long shot. I also knew I needed to find something positive to focus my energy and grief on that would make Jaimie proud. To be clear, the bridge re-naming was meant to honor our fallen officers of the departments within Winnebago County. It was never meant for just Jaimie; he would never have wanted to be the only one honored for the sacrifice when so many others gave their lives before him. His sense of citizenship far exceeded average. The Police Memorial Bridge intended to honor the fallen and support their comrades who were still holding the line day-in and day-out, standing a little closer, taller, and stronger after they, too, had been broken.
The people who stepped up to help me with the bridge petition were mostly strangers before this; they are now people I can't imagine my life without. They sat at signing events, spoke publicly at city council, went on the radio, and interviewed on the news (you'll meet them soon!). The majority of us had never spoken to large crowds - we were sick with nerves - but our purpose was bigger than our fears. We met and spoke with our city's leaders on numerous occasions. We faced our fears head on, for every single one of those officers. Unfortunately, we couldn't reach an agreement with our city leadership to rename the bridge.
So, we sat with our sorrow for a bit, contemplated the What now?, regrouped, and found a new direction for our purpose.
You see, during those days following Jaimie's death, I spoke to many officers who stood in awe over a community filled with blue lights. They saw blue ribbons tied on trees. Yard signs. Blue line flags. Streets lined with citizens of this community, standing quietly in the cold. A church full of community members who simply came out to pay respect to their brother in blue. We saw you. They saw you, too. These officers told me they had no idea there were so many people in this community who supported them. How could they not realize that? How could our officers feel this way in a community so reliant on its peacekeepers? I couldn't just sit back and hope the support they felt - an entire community, an entire country rallying around them - would just sustain itself. I never want them to feel unsupported in this community again.
So, a little over a year ago this BLUE 815 thing was named and rolled out. We've grown our members within our Facebook group significantly, and we have officially become a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. We now see our members -you- taking on the sharing of law enforcement related news, talking about it in social circles, sharing small gifts and kind words of encouragement with our officers - they're paying attention. We've seen a shift in our local news - they now share so much of the good our officers do. To be clear, our officers have always done good you just didn't hear much about it before. We've seen a shift in our community which no longer sits back and accepts the negativity thrown at our peacekeepers. The silent majority is no longer silent. They will continue to raise the volume in support of our blue. My hope is that BLUE 815 can help play a role in lifting up our officers and our community - quite possibly spreading this support with a ripple effect that reaches far and wide. It is our belief that you cannot solve hate with hate; you cannot break any stereotype by stereotyping another.
Thanks for reading, for being here, and supporting the ones behind those badges alongside us. If I've learned anything over the past 24 months, it's that you can always find light in the darkness when you're ready to see it. Thanks for being my light.
We are BLUE 815.
Andrea Cox, BLUE 815 Chair
"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." - Theodore Roosevelt