I wasn’t supposed to publish this photo. I took it on May 12, when I was in Washington, D.C., working in Judiciary Square where the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial was built in 1991 — the wall now host to names of 19,298 fallen officers.
The square was packed with families and friends stationed to welcome the hundreds of Police Unity Tour riders scheduled to cycle in that day. The day was perfect; warm, the sun bright and high in the sky, a slight breeze sauntering into the square every few minutes.
The square’s south entrance, E Street and the two halves of the wall (which face each other like a pair of parenthesis hugging the circular center of the grounds) looked like it was ready for a Fourth of July parade; red, white and blue everywhere, homemade signs speckled with glitter and exclamation points waiting to welcome the riders. Once the fleet arrived, the crowd cheered them in until all bikes had entered the square, then the riders and their families and friends dispersed to chat, visit the names on the wall and recount the ride. I was walking around gathering stories and photographing the event (see more photos of the Unity Tour on Pages 40 to 41) when I spotted a young-looking couple who just found each other through the crowd. I followed them through the lens as they met and caught each other in a big hug near the tree in the southeast corner.
Most of the pictures, letters, flowers, wreaths and other special tokens representing a loved one honored on the Memorial are placed on the wall itself near the name of the officers they represent. A few of the larger mementos are located just off the wall, behind the engraved marble or temporarily fixed to it with blue tape, but a couple are set on the grassy sections located in each of the square’s four corners, which included a full-size cruiser door, propped upright by a rebar, which was crafted in honor of Sgt. Joe Bergeron, an officer from Maplewood, Minn., whose watch ended May 1, 2010.
Still watching the pair, I saw them meet just near the cruiser door, the man dark-haired with a buzz cut and wrap-around-style sports glasses wearing a Unity Tour jersey, the woman’s auburn hair tied back in a messy bun wearing fashionable sunglasses and a white NLEOMF T-shirt. Surrounded by the 19,298 stories of tragedy, the two had a sweet, quiet moment together. I couldn’t resist the juxtaposition of the scene; Sgt. Joe Bergeron’s unique striking memorial and the beaming couple in the frame.
I approached the couple to ask their names and get their story. When I mentioned I was reporting on the Police Unity Tour for our magazine, the couple’s faces fell and the two looked perplexed, then anxious, which was an about face from the scene on which I was just spying. The couple didn’t explain fully why they didn’t want to be identified. She said only that she wasn’t supposed to be there that day, and he said simply, he’d rather not. But in the end, I just couldn’t let this photo go without sharing it with you, so we dimmed their figures to disguise their identities. Standing with the others at Judiciary Square and taking in what was a solemn, but in many ways joyful scene, I saw the sad and sweet moments taking place right next to each other. It was at times overwhelming.
So here it is: What you weren’t supposed to see. Though they are in the wake of many tragedies, the people here are still able to gain tenderness, tranquility and peace together.