Rookie Jersey City Police Office Melvin Santiago was assassinated on Sunday responding to a call at a local Walgreens. Yesterday, over a 1,000 people lined up outside a funeral home to salute an officer who gave his life in service to a city in the hard, urban core. Officer Santiago was 23 and — during his wake — was promoted to the rank of Detective and given the Medal of Honor in death by the Mayor of Jersey City.
The suspect, 27-year-old Lawrence Campbell, never tried to rob the Walgreens, authorities said. He allegedly grabbed a security guard’s gun and waited for police to arrive. He the apologized to a customer for his conduct and told her to watch the news because he was going to be famous, Mayor Steven Fulop said.
Minutes later when Santiago and his partner pulled into the parking lot, Campbell opened fire, killing the rookie cop before he even got the chance to get out of the car. Other officers returned fire, killing Campbell.
Janna was on her way home yesterday and happened upon this solemn scene outside the funeral home next to the Journal Square PATH station:
I’ve never understood cold-blooded, premeditated, killings like this.
I was immediately propelled back to August 9, 2006 and my article — A Badge, a Blood and Orange Bloodshed — that mourned the killing of New Jersey Detective Kieran Shields. Here’s what I wrote then:
It is in the death of Detective Shields where we must begin to see the despair of lost children who later become men of affiliations and not families. We all want to belong to something greater than us. There are those who are forced to take the belonging only the streets offer for protection from violence and hunger and from opposite — but identical — others who are harder and more desperate to survive.
Some may argue Trouble Brown was dead the day he was taken over by the streets as a child; while others are left behind to wonder what might have happened if Detective Shields had met the “frightened soul” that was Trouble Brown at age 11 and gave him the shade and the protection from the streets one man can offer another simply by planting a tree instead of picking up a shotgun.
Initial news reports suggest there may have been a gang element in the killing of Officer Santiago — the city of Jersey City removed a memorial honoring the shooter — and I’ve heard there are high alert rumors for all New Jersey law enforcement to be aware of retaliatory threats in support of the death of the man who shot Office Santiago.
I’m not sure what sort of world we’ve willfully crafted where status in death is determined more by the living than the dead — but we need to think about what kind of life we want with each other. There’s no escaping your neighbor or your town. Do we want declarations of war and randomized shootings, or do we prefer to live in a peace that is regimentally protected for the greater welfare of the all of us?
These are difficult questions to answer because we were founded as a nation in bloodshed, and we celebrate our guns more than we love our children, and we’ve lived every century bathing in our own blood for the alleged goodness of our winsome freedoms — but there are always uglier, differing, points of view that skew our perceived normal to create dark threats for a coming disaster against the core of each of us.
Do we stand and fight back? Or do we turn and flee for higher ground — to get a more forgiving angle for shooting back?