We all know where we were on 9/11. It truly is etched in our minds and is somewhat surreal. As I watched the events unfold with my son, who is also a policeman, we wondered what this meant for our chosen profession. We focused on short-term impacts for us as we prepared to go to work. When the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I knew we were at war and that our world had changed forever.
Everything that I learned about terrorism at the FBI Academy was in question. Never had a significant terrorist attack occurred on American soil. I watched America’s innocence disappear. We had been in denial in this country and never feared this could happen. Not only was it happening, but it was live for us to see. We were all riveted by our televisions. I saw the looks on the faces of first responders that so resembled the looks I had seen in Vietnam. I saw fear, dead faces, lost faces and faces that almost couldn’t comprehend what was occurring. Chaos was ensuing.
We wondered if this was isolated or whether we might see more across our country. I was the night watch commander. At a briefing, the young deputies had lots of questions. I had no answers. We just went to work and really didn’t know what was going to happen. I knew many of these young employees had seen things falling off the World Trade Center only to learn that many of those were people, choosing a quicker, more humane death. We had all seen death before, but most had not seen people dying. There is a difference. I believe on this day an entire country got touched by PTSD. We all experienced what our young soldiers had experienced for generations.
Law enforcement changed that day. We became less trusting of the very people we were sworn to protect. We became less vulnerable so that we could simply do our job. In the past 20 years, we have overcome those barriers in the way we police. We transitioned from simply warriors to guardians as well. We are so much better for it. We are now hiring people who don’t know who Cassius Clay was or that he also was really Muhammad Ali. They don’t know who Patty Hearst was and in fact know very little about 9/11. But what they do know now is, there are people (groups) in our country who want to do us harm. We said we would never forget! Have we?
Donny Youngblood is the sheriff of Kern County.