My last blog post, “Heroes or Leeches,” stirred up a lot of emotion and lively responses from many individuals. I posted several comments, but there was one comment I did not post until today because I felt I must address the inaccuracies of the remarks first.
I’m referring to the response by Wesley Harris, a member of the North Phoenix Tea Party, and a vocal critic of the “costs” of public safety. Mr. Harris takes issue with my article, saying it’s far too one-sided and wishes to weigh in on the debate to make things fair.
Well, the last thing I want is an unfair and unbalanced article, so I welcome the debate. Unfortunately, Mr. Harris gets sidetracked with hyperbole, and instead of debating the issue, he muddies the water with erroneous comments and mean-spirited remarks.
For instance, Mr. Harris speaks of the military, in his words, the “true” first responders of this country, by claiming that our veterans get nowhere near the level of benefits that police officers and firefighters do. Not true.
Take a look at the GI Bill, Mr. Harris, as well as information from the VA and you will see that our veterans receive many and greater benefits than public safety workers in the form of pensions, health care coverage, paid higher education, preferential job placement and more. And while our military doesn’t have an official union bargaining for wages, they most certainly do have many associations who lobby Congress on their behalf and work to improve benefits and garner votes.
And why do we have a GI Bill or a need to lobby elected officials? Because most people, unless they too, have served, do not understand the sacrifices made by our military members and their families. And their sacrifice, just as the sacrifices of our first responders, should not be taken lightly.
Mr. Harris refers to the “occasional” risks that public safety workers face by pointing out that these officers and firefighters volunteered for the job, fully understanding its inherent danger. And he’s right, at least about one thing. Our public safety workers, just like our military officers, recognize the risks but make the decision to serve their community and their country in spite of it. And in my book, that’s what true patriotism is all about.
The Tea Party likes to speak of patriotism and make the claim that they are the true patriots, but based upon the comments I’ve read by Mr. Harris and others, I question the Tea Party’s understanding of the word. They seem to equate patriotism with an anti-government, no tax mantra and an assumption that government workers are overpaid and unneeded. I beg to differ.
I don’t think all taxes are bad or equally beneficial, but I see why government is needed, particularly in the arenas of public and national safety and infrastructure. My definition of patriotism is a love of country and a willingness to make sacrifices for the greater good of a nation. Because that is my version of patriotism, I see our military officers and our first responders as the truest of patriots and deserving of our respect.
And because these patriots have sacrificed much for the good of our nation, I find it hypocritical that those who sit back and reap the rewards of that sacrifice would decry the costs of paying those individuals a respectable wage. The term “Freedom Isn’t Free” is in response to both the human and financial sacrifice we should all be willing to pay to ensure a free country.
I welcome the opportunity to speak with Mr. Harris about what it’s like to live this sacrifice first-hand. But it would probably be more helpful for Mr. Harris to instead spend a day in the life of a police officer or firefighter. Perhaps if he saw with his own eyes what these individuals do on a daily basis, he may think twice before calling it a “cream puff” job. Perhaps if Mr. Harris did a ride-along and experienced what it’s like to be a firefighter pulling an unconscious child out of a pool or a police officer trying to safely remove a battered woman from a violent spouse, he might understand that no call and no situation is ordinary or without real and potentially life-threatening risks.
I don’t believe being a first responder allows one to get a free pass in life, but I do think that far too many people fail to understand the daily sacrifices that these individuals and their families make. There is a reason the divorce and suicide rates are much, much higher for these individuals. It’s not just the shift work and the missing of holidays and kids’ activities that puts a strain on family life. It’s the daily run-ins with the worst of society, the cumulative stress of witnessing the after-affects of horrendous acts such as child molestation and rape, the Post Traumatic Stress from a shooting and failed attempt to revive a life, and the inability to see justice served because of a less than perfect judicial system.
While I can understand Mr. Harris’ disdain for unions as I, too, have taken offense to what some have done and said recently, he should understand that attacking the motives of a union is much different than attacking its workers.
Mr. Harris makes a concerted effort to disparage firefighters, calling the profession a “non” job and one that could easily be replaced by an all-volunteer fire department. Really? In Phoenix?
Firefighters do much more than just fight the occasional fire, and it’s unreasonable to think a city as large as Phoenix could function as efficiently or as professionally with a volunteer force. Firefighters may not be going from one call to the next 24/7, but they certainly don’t sit around all day and do nothing. They are the first ones called out to the scene of an accident, the ones we rely on for medical emergencies, and yes, the trained individuals we call when our house or our business goes up in flames. Their heroism was evident during 9/11, and I don’t think our community wishes to outsource those jobs to volunteers.
I agree with Mr. Harris’ take on Councilman Sal DiCiccio and the vitriol he has endured, though Mr. DiCiccio certainly isn’t the only elected official in Phoenix who has suffered a lashing from the unions. Mayor Gordon has received more than his fair share of hate mail, and if we wish to tone down the rhetoric, we must first start by requesting a respectful debate on ALL issues and with all elected officials.
However, I disagree with the statement that Councilman DiCiccio is one of the bosses of public safety workers and that unions do not have the right to question his misleading and inaccurate statements. Mr. DiCiccio is neither a police or fire supervisor nor a member of either department. He is an elected official who has every right to question the amount of money paid to city workers, but he does not deserve blind allegiance from those workers.
The belief that city workers do not have the right to request higher wages or bargain for benefits because they’re paid with taxpayer dollars is ludicrous. Private sector workers bargain for their wages, and public sector workers should be afforded the same right. And let’s not forget, these workers are also taxpayers and citizens of the community, too.
Mr. Harris concludes his response with a warning that the days of wine and roses are coming to an end for public safety workers, and they should come to the table with hat in hand because the Tea Party movement is coming for them.
I know many public safety workers, and I can honestly say that I do not know any living in the land of wine and roses. Most live paycheck-to-paycheck, just as many in the private sector do, and are grateful for their jobs, even though many of them face constant criticism and scrutiny from the media and the public they serve. Most first responders see their job as a calling and could never picture themselves doing anything else. They are some of the finest men and women I know, and I am thankful for their service.
It’s understandable that the vast majority of this nation’s citizens do not fully comprehend the sacrifices of our first responders. It’s difficult to comprehend something you have not lived. However, failing to understand a job is not the same thing as disrespecting it. Ignorance is forgivable; hatred is not.