Photo by Eric Goodwin / Assistant News Editor
A gathering of police officers, supporters and their loved ones paid tribute at the Murfreesboro Civic Plaza on Thursday to the nine Rutherford County law enforcement officers who have died since 1942 while serving their cities.
The service, aligning with the customs of the National Peace Officers Memorial Day established in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, was held in conjunction with National Police Week.
Pastor Eddie Turner of the Family Worship Center led the attendees in a prayer before an Honor Guard hoisted the American Flag to half-staff in honor of the fallen officers.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance and a singing of the National Anthem, Murfreesboro Police Chief Karl Durr delivered a speech on the dangers police officers face in the line of duty.
“Look around you (and) see the officers here that have sworn to protect. You might see different colors, different badges, but they’ve all had those same experiences. We must take care of them today and in the future,” Durr said.
As Lt. Garry Carter from MPD listed off the names of the fallen service members, officers placed roses at the memorial sitting before the podium. Family and friends of the deceased officers stood solemnly while the plaza filled with silence in remembrance of the individuals.
Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland, the event’s guest speaker, called the law enforcement agents in Rutherford County “some of the finest people that you will meet.” He said that though “we all have opportunities we all have to improve on,” the officers representing the county “are not mistakes.”
The ceremony concluded following a wreath-laying ceremony and a bagpipe rendition of taps, which is traditionally sounded at military funerals.
“These men dedicated their lives and their services for us, and they… put themselves first,” said Hattie Motley, whose husband Byron Motley died off-duty in 2006. Byron, captain of MPD at the time, lost his life while saving a drowning child in a swimming pool.
Half a year after his death, Byron received the Jerry Anderson Hero Award presented by the Murfreesboro chapter of the NAACP.
“That was (Byron) all the time that I knew him,” Motley said. “We went to school together, grew up together, and he was always doing things for other people.”
The most recent law enforcement officer death to occur in Rutherford County took place on May 7, 2011, when Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Andy Wall died from a motorcycle crash in Smyrna while escorting U.S. Air Force thunderbird pilots to the Smyrna Air Show.
“We’ve got to recognize the sacrifice that our law enforcement (makes),” said state Rep. Mike Sparks. “I just feel like, as a culture, sometimes law enforcement gets a bad rap.”
Sparks’ comment on public opinion toward law enforcement was not unlike those made by Durr at the beginning of the ceremony.
“What is not being discussed in the media is not only (that) the line of duty deaths across this nation increasing, but so are the number of physical attacks upon our police officers,” Durr said.
Durr said the number of fallen officers around the country is increasing each year. “To date, 50 police officers have been killed in the line of duty. This represents a 35 percent increase from the same time as last year,” he said.
Public scrutiny and criticism towards police officers has only increased in the neighboring Davidson County since the death of Jocques Clemmons, 31, who was fatally shot in February by Nashville Police Officer Joshua Lippert.
Tensions have flared in the past week with the May 11 decision handed down by the Nashville district attorney not to charge Lippert for shooting and killing Clemmons, who MNPD said was acting in self defense. Following the decision, about 70 protestors demonstrated outside Mayor Megan Barry’s house, criticizing the decision and Barry’s complicity.
Most recently, MPD agreed to step up its police presence at campus-area apartments in the wake of increased criminal activity.
Despite the political climate, the ideals of public service to the community were emphasized at Thursday’s memorial ceremony. And the pictures of the fallen officers served as a reminder of the dangers and responsibilities such a role entails.
Follow Eric Goodwin on Twitter at @mr_ericgoodwin.
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