Saturday, March 28, 2009

Four Funerals, No Wedding

It wasn’t the place to be if you had a warrant out for your arrest. Thousands of cops from all over North America were in Oakland to attend the funeral service for four slain Oakland police officers. I saw cops from Boston, Minneapolis, Nevada and even the Canadian Mounties. It was a remarkable turnout for the four killed officers.
By the time I arrived at the Oracle Arena, the parking lots were about a third full and a line of police cars continued to stream in. A line of blue uniforms snaked from the parking lot the entrance of the arena. A sign above the door read “Forever Heroes.” The entire Oakland police force was in attendance, hundreds of them lined the back steps of the arena as the awaited the arrival of their fallen comrades. One by one, police escorted hearses carrying flag draped caskets passed under a giant American flag that hung from two Oakland fire department aerial trucks. In unison, police officers saluted as the casket was removed from the hearse and taken into the arena.

Fifteen minutes prior to the 11am start of the service, a long line of officers and general public were still waiting to get in. The line would soon have to be diverted to the neighboring McAfee coliseum since the arena had reached capacity. Thousands would watch the service on the jumbotron in the stadium where the Oakland A’s play. In all, over 20,000 people had come out to pay their respects.
Shortly after the service started, I went to file photos before continuing to cover what was expected to be a three hour event. After filing, I made my way over to the Coliseum to photograph the people watching the live feed. Right before I got the entrance I ran into a friend from the LA Times and she told me that she had been kicked out along with the rest of the press. She said that at the time of her ejection, she wasn’t even taking pictures. Apparently, someone in the Coliseum security team had decided to kick out all the press for no apparent reason. This was kind of bad news since there would certainly be some nice images from there.
I ran into Victor Blue and we were chatting with a TV crew for NBC. The TV was frustrated and left. Victor and I stuck around and chatted and out of nowhere a cop from Modesto came up to us and said we could go in now. This was great. Inside, about 5,000 people sat in the shade and stared at the big screens in right and left field. Everyone sat silent, some cried.
At the conclusion of the service I went to try and find a vantage point to shoot the procession of hearses and police vehicles. I had envisioned four hearses in a row with hundreds of police motorcycles making their way down the freeway. I found a nice overpass and waited for them to roll down the highway. As I waited, I watched a never ending flow of police cars mixed in with the traffic. Everyone seemed to be going the speed limit as the cop cars outnumbered the civilian cars 5 to 1. After a half hour of waiting, the freeway cleared and the first wave of motorcycles crested horizon. Unfortunately, the hearses weren’t all together so it was four mini processions followed by hundreds of police motorcycles and cars. In all of the police funerals that I have covered, I have never seen a turnout of this size. It was a site to see.

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