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To help bring our community together in a time of extreme polarization, LebTown has invited a variety of community leaders to share columns this week on the topic of unitedness and healing.
We feel this topic is important to discuss given the unprecedented protest activity we witnessed across the nation last week, as well as the increased stress felt right now by many due to the ongoing public health and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
If you would like to submit your own column to LebTown, please start by reading our guidelines here.
When I became Lebanon’s District Attorney, by law I became the ‘chief law enforcement officer of the County.’ Despite the designation, I am humbly aware that myself and the majority of our citizens will never know the risks and dangers our police officers take on each day. They serve, they protect us, and each day they risk their lives for it. Expressing one’s views peacefully and in an orderly manner is a right guaranteed to each one of us in the Constitution. However, the violence I witnessed over the past weekend towards our police and our communities sickened me. It will never be tolerated in Lebanon County; those who break the law will face the consequences.
This is a unique time in our nation’s history. Typically, we would be attending graduation ceremonies for our high school graduates. These young men and women stand on stages, wave to their families, and stride into the world filled with hope. Hope as defined means a feeling of expectation, or a desire for things to happen. As a society, we all are at the crossroads. We either move forward, hopeful, or we allow the bitterness of late to consume us.
These past few months were marred by the ‘pandemic of 2020.’ People feared serious illness or death of themselves and their loved ones. Businesses were forced to close and countless jobs were lost. But now is the time to show how resilient our country is once again. We must do what we have done throughout history by supporting one another and rebuilding.
News coverage over the last week shifted drastically from COOVID-19 to law enforcement. Protests occurred all across the country. We watched people loot stores, throw paint and bricks on our police officers and vandalize their cruisers. We watched people burn buildings to the ground. I watched our local police wonder how so many people could hate them simply for choosing to wear a badge and taking an oath to protect our communities.
In 2020, ninety-two police officers lost their lives in the line of duty. Ninety-two. They came under gunfire and every type of assault. As a whole, our nation never reacts with the same level of outrage or passion to these killings.
There’s a senior graduating this year from Cedar Crest. I am lucky enough to call this young lady my friend. Her father was a police officer in Reading City. When she was a baby, her father was killed in the line of duty. This young woman could’ve grown up angry and blamed the world. She could have the same outrage and angst we all witnessed on the news this weekend. Instead, she is determined to honor her father’s sacrifice. She is the epitome of resilience and hope. This young lady intends to become law enforcement, and I have no doubt she will make us all proud.
As each day passes, we as a country and a community grow more divided. We lost the ability to disagree. We no longer engage in passionate dialogue about opposing views and emerge from the conversation unscathed. We don’t debate the person’s ideas; we attack the person. At all costs.
If we wish to feel hope again, if we wish our community to thrive again, we must emerge from our current state together. We must make a commitment, today and every day forward, to make our world a better for ourselves and our children and grandchildren.
Pier Hess Graf is the District Attorney of Lebanon County.