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My family spent last weekend at the New Jersey Special Olympics, where my son competed in track events. This was the first time back after COVID, and more importantly for this post, the first time back after George Floyd and Defund the Police and a general societal narrative in which cops are either evil or inept. It’s not been what you would call a real feel-good time for law enforcement.
Yet our state Special Olympics has always been a sort of relentlessly law-enforcement-positive event. I wondered if that would change in the current climate—on a college campus, near a major city, in a blue state. Would someone decide that an overwhelming police presence at a sporting event was threatening? oppressive? dangerous? It seemed impossible, based on never leaving my house and only knowing what I read on the Internet, that they would not.
And yet, I’m happy to report that nothing has changed, at least not in any way that I could see. If there was festering resentment or BLM protests or T-shirts with anti-cop messaging, I didn’t see ’em. What I did see, every day in every way, was uniformed officers interacting joyously with people with disabilities and their families.
It starts with a torch run that I believe traverses the entire state, though I only see the part that goes by the rec center where my son’s team gathers for their bus to the games. Each year, one of our athletes gets to run for a few blocks with the local officers who are participating, followed by a team photo op.
Then there’s the opening ceremony at the College of New Jersey. This year, it started with a police pipe and drum corps, then a parade of police. This led to my favorite part of the ceremony—where the athletes come in, county by county, and walk through a gauntlet of officers who give them high-fives and fist-bumps all along the way.
The athletes then line up on the football field in a rainbow of colored T-shirts for, among other things, the end of the torch relay. This involves a series of police participants running from the top of metal bleachers to the bottom holding a flaming torch. (I guess if you’re in a line of work where there’s a decent chance you’ll get shot at, you’re a little less afraid of stuff. But as someone who has to take the steps two feet at a time when going down bleachers and without open flame involved, I find it impressive, and also scary. I don’t sit on the aisle.)
That’s Friday night. Throughout the events, the medals and accompanying high-fives are bestowed by uniformed officers, who are just generally everywhere, doing everything. I don’t know if this is true of every state, or what sort of incentives are offered the officers to participate, but it’s something I value and enjoy every year when we make our way to Trenton. These days, it also kind of feels like a trip back to a different world.Published in