March 27, 2009

Lessons from Oakland

Thousands attend funeral of the 4 Oakland police officers slain last week

...some 19,000 law-enforcement officers from coast to coast gathered along with grateful community members at the Oracle Arena in Oakland for a final send-off for their brothers in blue.

All four veteran officers died Saturday when a wanted parolee, 26-year-old Lovelle Mixon, opened fire in separate incidents just hours apart in East Oakland.

Police Shot Funeral Oakland.Lrg

A rumbling cortege of motorcycle officers escorted each hearse to the arena, keeping a tight and sharp formation just as Dunakin would have liked it, his colleagues said. They passed underneath a giant American flag hanging between the extended ladders of two Oakland fire trucks. Hundreds of police vehicles, from bomb-squad trucks, motorcycles, Ford Crown Victoria and Dodge Charger cruisers, filled the parking lot.

There were police cars from Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and New York and a rainbow of uniforms that filled the arena and the adjacent Oakland Coliseum, where an overflow crowd watched the service on two big screens.

Their badges wrapped with black bands of mourning, hundreds of officers in dress uniforms lined the steps outside the arena and saluted as one by one, honor guards escorted four flag-draped caskets inside, followed by the officers' families. A sign at the complex read, "Forever Heroes."

Many officers dabbed at their eyes with white gloves as the caskets were placed in front of a flower-adorned stage beside their pictures. The police motorcycles of Dunakin and Hege and two pairs of empty boots sat nearby.

After the funeral, the officers were to be honored with a 21-gun salute from a military cannon, and 20 helicopters from across the nation were to fly in a "missing man" formation. Miles-long formations of police cars, their emergency lights whirling,

The four slain

Oakland police Sgt. Mark Dunakin, or "Dunny," as everybody called him, was a big teddy bear and die-hard Ohio State Buckeyes and Pittsburgh Steelers fan who proudly patrolled the streets on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Traffic Officer John Hege was a "beer and brownie man" who combined his love for the department and the Oakland Raiders by working overtime at the Coliseum during home games.

SWAT Sgt. Ervin Romans was a former Marine Corps drill sergeant, a "tactical guru" and expert marksman who instilled the importance of safety on the hundreds of officers he trained.

Sgt. Daniel Sakai juggled the duties of being a patrol sergeant and a SWAT entry team leader, yet still insisted on working out and running with officers preparing to take a grueling physical test.

Police Shot Calif Motorcycles

8 hour caravan from Orange County.

Last Saturday, 26-year-old Lovelle Mixon shot and killed officers Erv Romans, 43, Mark Dunakin, 40, and Dan Sakai, 35. A fourth officer, John Hege, 41, was taken off live support after being declared brain dead.

Mixon was wanted for a parole violation, and opened fire during a traffic stop before heading home and opening fire on SWAT officers who were pursuing him with an AK-47, officials said.


When the caravan arrived, the cars and motorcycles drove past Oracle Arena in a singe-file line and shone their lights in a display of respect.

The Bookworm said some 80 police officers from Boston and even representatives from Scotland Yard were expected.  The Bookworm is a new blog for me that I discovered via links from the Anchoress and American Digest .  She said something at the end of her post that warmed my heart.

I always view tragedies like this as reminders — reminders not to wait until it’s too late to say how you value someone.  No matter the heart-felt outpouring at today’s memorial service, friends, family, colleagues and politicos will be saying things that Sgts. Mark Dunakin, 40, Erv Romans, 43, Daniel Sakai, 35, and Officer John Hege, 41, won’t be around to hear.

When my Mom turned 80, I temporarily stole her address book and wrote to every living person in it asking them to send a letter with a personal message and a remembrance about her.  Photos would be welcome too.  My sister, who is artistic, then assembled the dozens of responses in a beautiful album.  My mother almost cried when she got the album and (this is true) carried it with her everywhere she went for almost a year.  To know, not only that her friends loved and valued her, but why they did so, meant everything to her.

Don’t wait until those near you die before you open your mouth and say the things you should have said before.  Tell your family members you love them — and tell them why.  Give your friend a true compliment — a deep one, about his or her personality, not just the usual “great shirt,” or “nice hair” kind of thing.  Praise a colleague’s work.  These things matter, and one of the greatest regrets we always have when people die is all the things we should have said before.

Posted by Jill Fallon at March 27, 2009 8:18 PM | Permalink