Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Looking For Votes In All The Wrong Places

Last weekend, I rode with the Patriot Guard to honor Master SGT Shawn Simmons. Read the account here. When the time came for the escort to the cemetery and burial ceremony, the PG provided the escort and cross-street blockers - because Tallahassee Police and County Sheriffs would not.

While we escorted this procession, at nearly every cross-street, motorists honked and shouted obscenities at being blocked from continuing on their way while we passed. Several blockers on motorcycles had drivers attempt to go around them and cut in anyway, endangering their lives. The obvious disrespect of all was alarming. I had no idea just how much disrespect there is in Tallahassee for our military.

I came away from this mission with a blazing outrage - twofold; 1) the Tallahassee Police and Leon County Sheriff needed to be called out, on their refusal to provide police escort, and 2) the pissant attitude of Tallahassee citizens with regard to honoring our military needs to be addressed.

So Tallahassee's Sr. Road Captain, Mike Donohoe initiated the first contact with a letter, and others followed up with theirs, which prompted the Police Chief and the Sheriff to meet and discuss the policy on no escorts. Several Leon County Commissioners threw in their support as well, though they have no jurisdiction over law enforcement policies. We finally got word that the policy had been revised and police escorts for military personnel would be provided.

The fact that we had to demand the policy be changed is an outrage in itself, but either way, it appeared we would prevail.

With victory at hand, I anxiously awaited the promised press interview that would announce the change. Then I read the
article, and sat here stunned beyond belief. Escorts would be provided, but with conditions; as long as they didn't conflict with football games!

Once again, I seriously question the integrity of Leon County Sheriff, Larry Campbell. So if I read this correctly, and based on the fact that football teams were often escorted by police prior to the policy change while soldier funerals were denied, in the event of a conflict, football games would prevail.

It could also mean that during football games, a funeral procession through town would be a nightmare, and he would choose not to provide the escort for that reason, or maybe he thinks he won't have enough officers to comply.

Now I could understand not wanting to take a funeral procession through Tallahassee during a football game. Tallahassee football fans are just as obnoxious as anywhere else. That's their prerogative. However, who says any funeral procession must go through town? There are any number of routes that can skirt the congested area. And, in the case of a conflict with a football game day, I feel certain that the family, whose son or daughter came home from Iraq in a casket, would not mind being flexible. He could also prevail upon neighboring counties for added support, couldn't he?

It's called innovation. I use it in my daily job, managers of grocery stores use it, high level executives use it, mothers of large families use it. So if Sheriff Campbell is capable of using innovation to make something work, why wouldn't he? I'd like to believe Sheriff Campbell is an innovative manager, so why would he voice this 'condition'? Was he trying to cover his ass in the event he could not provide an escort, or didn't want to?

Here's what I think. Sheriff Campbell is worried about re-election. I'd say football fans in Tallahassee outnumber those who are aware of military funerals. And I'm convinced there are many who never think about the daily lives of our military personnel so far away from home. What's a few motorcyclists, or Patriot Guard Riders, in comparison to thousands of football fans when it comes to voting?

So I question the integrity of a man, whose role is to protect and serve, but is willing to compromise the honor of the most honorable of any of us, by placing football games above the funeral procession of a fallen soldier, who is by all rights, a hero in my eyes. All in the name of votes? And, Sheriff Campbell is a Veteran. That makes his statement all the more despicable.

If anything, let's look at how this statement appears to the general public. It says that OK, he'll provide the escorts (because we pinned him down and he had no choice), but don't worry citizens of Tallahassee, they don't rank above you all, and your fanatical football games. So why in the world would the good citizens of Tallahassee care about fallen military soldiers? It doesn't appear that our Sheriff does either.

Is it any wonder that we were shouted at, cursed at, and threatened? And some of the comments written in response to the news article are even more evidence of the ignorant, and cowardly, attitude so prevalent in this city. Sure tells you where the priorities are in this town, and those priorities don't include the reverence and honor for those who fight so far from home, for those who die in the name of freedom, yours and mine.

In spite of the change in policy on escorts, Sheriff Campbell won't get my vote this year, or any other year. I like a good football game now and then, but not at the expense of those who give their lives for mine.

My prayers tonight will be for PGR missions to be few and far between. And for Sheriff Campbell to be replaced with another whose integrity is intact.

Ride free, ride loud, ride long, ride safe.

In my last post, I have printed my response to Sheriff Campbell. I encourage you to also write to him with your thoughts on this matter. His email is

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