Saddened for deaths, upset at officer’s insensitive comment
I am a former crime prevention specialist. The minute I learned of the tragic accident and deaths of the Westlake students, my heart sank with sadness. The first reason was because I knew there were some very devastated parents, students and staff in my community. The second reason was because my daughter graduated from Westlake High School in 2016 and I was a board member of the PTSO during her senior year. The Westlake family will always be family to me. I figured the local police would partner with Charles County Public Schools and the local state driving instructors at the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) to launch a safety tour to all of the county’s middle and high schools with a planned rally to promote safe driving. This kind of plan may, in fact, be in the making. But never would I have thought I would be reading about such insensitive and actionable comments from a seasoned police office regarding this matter.
When my 15 year-old registered for the driving program at CSM, parents were required to attend orientation. The instructor shared one tragic story after the next. In fact, it seemed like an overload of sad stories. I later realized this tactic is widely used when communicating to teen drivers. One of the main reasons is because, by nature, teenagers feel invincible. When we were teens, we too, felt invincible. In the minds of many teens, “young people don’t die.” There are plenty of us (adults), who, miraculously, lived through some pretty dangerous situations. If we were to think back, all of us could find a few acts from our own teen and young adult lives that could have easily led to tragedy.
Our responsibility, as mature and experienced members of this community, is to show empathy in ways that reflect who we are. As a parent and former PTSO member of the school, I offered my condolences and shared my mutual grief with other parents. For more than 10 years, I had the privilege of working in law enforcement and, occasionally, reading job applications for candidates wishing to become police officers. What I remember, about reading those applications, is that 100 percent of them shared a common reason for wanting to enter into the field. No one said to criticize people, to mistreat people or to show disrespect. 100 percent of the essays I read shared this common reason why candidates wanted to become police officers: “to help people.” I want to thank Sheriff Troy Berry and the friends of the officer who instantly knew that his comments were insensitive, inappropriate and irresponsible. I send my deepest condolences to the families of the victims and the Westlake community. I especially appreciate the police officers who responded to the scene to try their best to save lives, without judgment. Yvonne Smith, Waldorf