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Darrell Huckaby - 08/07/09

It was just another routine news story. Law enforcement agents were answering a domestic call. A young man had a gun, as I understand it, and was holed up inside his own home, threatening to kill himself.

Heck of a thing, isn't it? When police officers take an oath to protect and serve, they even have to protect people from themselves - even people who, for whatever reason, are hell bent on destroying themselves.

So the officers had been called to the scene, a standoff had developed and the 20-year-old inside the house had apparently panicked and fired at the police. Two officers had been wounded - one shot in the back and arm, according to the news report, and one in the neck.

Unfortunately, we see these types of stories on a regular basis and normally we pay only passing interest. But I paused and watched this report a little closer because the story had a Covington dateline.

But I still pretty much dismissed the story as soon as I saw it. After all, I had more important things to worry about - like checking out my Facebook page to see who had posted what while I was at school - with kids - for the first time this school term.

As soon as my page came up I saw a frantic post from Dawn and Marshall Atha's daughter, LaTrelle Cawthon, indicating that her brother, Wesley, had been shot in the arm. She was soliciting prayer for him and his partner, James Trent, who had also been shot.

All of a sudden the news story wasn't routine at all.

I knew the officers involved. I knew their families. I wrote 75 percent of the books Wesley's father has ever read. I know his mother and his grandparents and his aunts and uncles and cousins. Our lives have intertwined for more than 40 years - and now he was lying in a hospital somewhere, having been shot twice and for a brief while, which seemed a lot longer than it was, none of us knew if he, or his partner, would be OK or not.

And the young man that shot the officers turned his .22 rifle on himself - ending his own young life for reasons that may never be fully known. And it turns out that the shooter - Thomas Powell - had been, at one time, the student of Wesley's sister, LaTrelle - who, once she learned that fact, immediately began to plead for prayers for his family.

What a sad, sad situation - and there are a lot of points to be made here. But the one I want to make is this. We should never, ever, ever take the jobs that our law enforcement officers do for granted. But we do, don't we? Not all the time, of course, but an awful lot of the time. Too much of the time.

When I was in college, some people liked to call policemen pigs. I remember a poster that was popular on college campuses that had a picture of an overweight cop, his belly hanging over his belt, with the slogan "Pride, Integrity, Guts," emblazoned above the image.

We complain when we get pulled over for speeding and wonder why the cops aren't out catching "real criminals." We make jokes about the policemen and show our contempt for their service by paying them such low salaries that most of them have to moonlight at other jobs just to make ends meet.

I have friends in law enforcement - lots of them. Many of them tell me that their jobs are really boring a lot of the time. They say that the worst part of their job, usually, is just having to deal with John Q. Public and the fact of the matter is, a lot of the time John Q. Public is just crazy. How does that country song go? "God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy."

People are. And policemen have to deal with them on a daily basis. And policemen have to wear Kevlar vests and carry billy sticks and handcuffs and Tasers and guns for a reason. They have to carry all that stuff because sometime they might run into someone who wants to do them harm - for any number of reasons or for no reason whatsoever.

Last Monday we were reminded by what happened to Wesley Atha and James Trent that our police officers put their lives on the line every day - on our behalves.

Thankfully Wesley and James will eventually be OK. Sadly, Thomas Powell was not able to overcome the demons that tormented him. I join LaTrelle in asking that you remember his family in your prayers. And I ask that we all remember to appreciate the thin blue line that protects and serves us all.

There was another poster that was popular when I was in college - a sort of counter to the "Pride, Integrity, Guts" poster. It said, "If you don't like police, the next time you're in trouble call a criminal for help."

I say "Amen" to that. Can I get a witness?

Darrell Huckaby