Reflections of 9/11 with Officer Tom Briscoe
It was just another regular morning for Officer Tom Briscoe. He was working an election detail in Rockaway Beach in Queens. Voters were lined up and taking turns at the voting booths, and he was there to make sure that this was a smooth and uneventful day at the polls.
When reports came in that a plane had hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center, Briscoe and poll workers gathered around a TV to follow what was happening. “My first thought was that I had friends who were working there,” Briscoe said. “I was worried about them and their safety."“Just like everyone else, we thought that it was just a small plane.” It wasn’t long before he realized that the situation was much more serious, and the polls were shut down.
“There was a woman who lived on the 80th floor of her building. We watched everything unfold from her balcony,” said Briscoe.
As an NYPD police officer, watching from a few miles away as terror hit his own city was a real-life nightmare for Briscoe.
“As it unfolded, they called us back to the precinct and they formed up as many as they could, got a city bus, and bussed us into the Manhattan Tunnel. They had us on standby in the beginning, and they didn’t want to rush too many in at one time because it was mayhem at the beginning. Once they got a handle on what they needed down at the site, they sent us back to our command, set up cots and had us stay overnight, and sent us in the next day for security and to help at the site,” Briscoe added.
Briscoe, now retired from NYPD and living and working in law enforcement in Metro Atlanta, spent a substantial amount of time there. “It was a warzone. It looked like something out of a movie,” said Briscoe.
When the rest of us watched this unfold, we promised ourselves that we would never forget. We would always remember. We watched as office workers trapped inside the towers jumped to their deaths to avoid the fiery hell that their offices had become. Although it was difficult to watch, we watched anyway. We sat glued to our televisions out of respect because we did not want New Yorkers to feel alone. We grieved alongside the families who lost loved ones at the Pentagon and on Flight 93. Our hearts were broken but our hearts were there.
We were angry. We were hurt. We were shocked. But above everything else, we were Americans.
We hung our flags on our front steps. We became more patient with others. We saw our similarities instead of our differences.
“Everybody came together and united as a group. It didn’t matter what religion you were or what political party you belonged to. It didn’t matter what your race was or what your beliefs were. Everyone dropped all of that and united as one. I know for a fact that the people I dealt with from the National Guard and other agencies there to help were from every state in the United States.”
“This taught us a lesson. Our safety can’t be taken for granted. It takes everyone to watch and to be aware of their surroundings and be aware that something doesn’t look right. We have many agencies that protect us, but if we don’t get the info from the citizens themselves, we can only work with what we have at the time. That was a big lesson for us to learn in terms of safety and letting our guard down,” said Briscoe.
Briscoe lost many friends that day and has continued to lose more since.
We were changed forever. We knew that things would never be the same and, although our country experienced horror, we believed in our hearts that the good would win, that love would win, and that together we could do anything as Americans.
Communities across the country circled their wagons and came out in full force to support all first responders. We were reminded that the firefighters sleeping down the street at their stations were there on standby, ready and willing to head into danger on our behalf. We were reminded that each time a police officer leaves for work, they are running the risk of not returning home.
Military families went through deployments, and our hearts were broken all over again as we saw on the news that we lost American troops overseas.
As a means of survival, we became somewhat desensitized. The hurt never left, but, instead of it being in the forefront of our minds each day, it shifted down to a place just below the surface. As Americans, we had to make ourselves move forward.
It now seems that there are more issues dividing us than uniting us. Every time we turn on the TV, another law enforcement officer has senselessly lost his or her life to evil and hate. We are pigeon-holed into categories based on religion, race and political affiliation. There are groups actively working against law enforcement, and there are people who hate law enforcement just for being law enforcement. Some see the blue and the badge as the enemy.
How did we get here? Where are we headed? Understandably, first responders feel even more unappreciated than ever before. It makes many wonder why anyone would want to go into law enforcement these days.
There have always been people who hated the police. There have always been racist Americans who, through their own ignorance and hate, discriminate against those who have a different skin color or worship differently than they do. There have always been those who do not appreciate the service of our military personnel. It has always been there.
“The people that don’t support us need to be educated and need to learn about our job and what we are actually doing, said Briscoe. “We have a few bad apples that ruin the whole cart, but for the most part, those who make law enforcement a career are very open and unbiased. For a lot of people who don’t like us, maybe it started as a child. Perhaps they had a negative experience with the police, and it grew into the idea that the police are not good.”
The same is true with citizens. There are a few bad apples who do not support our first responders and military. These rotten apples have been given a bigger, louder voice. Unfortunately, because of that louder voice, law enforcement personnel are under attack.
The bad apples speak for the small few—the few who have always been there and who, unfortunately, will always be there. The vast majority of Americans truly love America. We love our first responders. We love our flag and what it represents. We love our military personnel. We have not forgotten the sacrifices that our American heroes have made for our freedom, and we teach our children to never forget. We strive to be the kind of Americans who are worth defending.
To our military personnel, veterans and first responders, you are making a difference. You matter. You are who we count on to show up during the worst moments of our lives. You are the ones who protect our freedom. You are strong and brave when we do not know how to be. We often hear that it is “no big deal” and that you are “just doing your job.” To any of you who say this, you are simply wrong. You could not
be more wrong. If you could see yourselves through our eyes, you would see that each of you are a true blessing to our country and to our communities.
The next time you hear someone spewing hate through a megaphone, or stomping on our flag, or pointing fingers at you because you listened to your calling and chose your career, please know that you are hearing the ignorance of the few and that Americans as a whole know that we are blessed to have you in our corner.
We Americans who love our first responders and military need to do a better job of being loud. We need to a better job of drowning out the big-mouthed haters. Our hearts are full of American pride, but we often struggle to adequately express that appreciation through our words and actions. Sometimes we feel awkward and do not know what more to say than “thank you for your service,” but we want you to know that we truly mean it. When we buy your lunch, we want you to know that we wish that we could do so much more to show our gratitude. When we walk up with our kids to meet you, we are reminding you that we are raising our children to appreciate you. When you see our flags flying, we are doing our part to drown out the negativity of those few who want to discourage you. When you are on a traffic stop and see our brake lights as we pass you, we are doing a double take to make sure that you are OK. We need to do so much more, and we need to be loud and vigilant until the days of senseless police killings are over.
We will never know what it is like for law enforcement to pull someone over or to be put in a position to make a split-second decision. We will never understand how hard it is for military personnel and families during deployment. We will never feel the hurt that many veterans have felt when they returned home from war and were not only never thanked, but also were treated poorly. We need to do our part to support these men and women in uniform and never take them for granted.
On 9/11 of this year, may we all be reminded that we are Americans; that we have more in common than we think; and that because of our military, veterans and first responders, we can and do call this great nation our home. Let us never forget all who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and safety. Let us also learn from what happened on that day so that we can become stronger, together. As Americans, there is no better way to honor the men and women who lost their lives in the name of freedom, than to show support for our heroes who are here, protecting us now and in the future.
“We can only grow from it,” said Briscoe.