Tear Down That Statue?

One of my favorite stories is about the destruction of the cotton industry in Southern Alabama around the turn of the 20th century:

Beginning in about 1890 the Boll Weevil started what would be a 20 year migration from Mexico into Southern Alabama.  By 1910 Enterprise, Alabama was a town of just over 2000 souls, most of which earned their living from agriculture, namely cotton farming.    Shortly after 1910 the Boll Weevil was in many Alabama cotton fields, making short work of cotton crops.  Naturally, this was a major concern for farmers and in fact, Tuskeege Institute’s George Washington Carver warned farmers to diversify their crops and plant things such as sweet potatoes, soy beans, and peanuts.  I am certain many farmers wished later that they would have listened.

By 1915 Enterprise’s cotton crop was decimated by the Boll Weevil, leaving farmers in a wake of destruction and regret.  Guess what they did next?  Yep, they planted a variety of other crops, including peanuts.  It took two years to recover but by 1917 Enterprise was not only back on its feet, it was one of the leading producers of peanuts and peanut products in the country.  Two years later in 1919, Enterprise City Councilman Roscoe Fleming proposed that the city celebrate the Boll Weevil for helping turn the economy around.  So that’s what they did.

The Boll Weevil monument stands today in downtown Enterprise as a reminder that good can come from bad.  That sometimes in defeat, comes victory.  That tragedy can bring opportunity.  Enterprise was right to build the monument.  I like this story because Enterprise was humble enough and smart enough to recognize what brought them to their knees was ultimately a blessing and not a burden; it helped them get to where they are today.

The simplest and least effective response for Enterprise and for us all, would be one of anger and outrage.  An important lesson here is the initial tragedy could have been avoided had the farmers listened to the experts. Another and maybe the most important lesson however, is the farmers aren’t tearing down the statue today because of the pain it caused at the time. The Boll Weevil statue was not erected because it was positive, or that people today wish for another infestation, it was erected to remind the people of Enterprise of the bad days of yesterday so they could see more clearly the good days today. 

Another Year, Another Memory

MemorialI haven’t written or commented much on the five previous anniversaries of the murders of Officers Ryan McCandless and Nick Armstrong and the attempted murder of Officer Tim Doyle. I suppose I’ve had my reasons but as I think about it today, the only reason I can think of, is that I may not have wanted to pick at a healing wound. It’s certainly not that I haven’t thought about the men who died on this day six years ago, or that I haven’t seen Tim Doyle since and while talking with him, visualized the bullet fragments still in his head, neck and chest.

As I drove to work this morning, there was a man in my neighborhood wearing a “Heroes Wear Blue” T-shirt. I thought it was nice, since a quote from me is printed on the back, and especially nice since the T-shirt signifies support for the Armstrong, McCandless and Doyle families. It also signifies support for law-enforcement, but I think what’s most important about it, and most meaningful to me is that the T-shirt was purchased and first worn during a time when many communities would have burned to the ground. There was tension and turmoil in our City; concerns about a race war; rumors about police retaliation and at times for me and those around me, anguish, but people bought T-shirts as a sign of solidarity. People bought T-shirts to reaffirm the meaning of community and to show love and support for the grieving families. When I see a six-year-old T-shirt hanging off the back of a community member, what I really see is a six-year-old commitment to Rapid City and the people who live here. It was a terrible time and a beautiful time for different reasons obviously.

During the middle of today’s work, a man came to my office requesting to see me. I invited him in and could immediately see he was holding back tears. He wanted to thank me and the men and women of law-enforcement for the commitment and sacrifice given while serving the community. He then went on to tell me how he had been feeling all day, and that he had gone to the memorial site on East Anamosa Street to pay tribute to the men gunned down there six years ago today. He felt bad and he told me so a number of times and for one of the first times there was really nothing I felt I could do or say to encourage him. I suppose I was feeling a little discouraged at that time myself.

Just after supper, I went to the intersection where the shooting occurred.  There, the Churchmemorial stands as it has for years, surrounded by beautiful landscaping installed by Nick’s mother Kim. At the base of the stone, someone placed four roses. The church building at that site stopped some of Ryan’s bullets as he returned fire – a different kind of memorial for me.

When I think about the events of August 2, 2011, I think about the commitment and obligation law enforcement officers feel toward this community. I think about the men and women who serve, receiving in return little more than a meager paycheck. I think it’s awful that good men and women sometimes die at the hands of a desperate criminal – who if it any point in his struggle would have just asked for help, they would have done everything in their power to help him. Maybe, in a way, that’s what happened.

I am proud of who Ryan McCandless and Nick Armstrong were, and who Tim Doyle is today. I am especially proud of the people of Rapid City and the surrounding communities who six years ago, stopped everything to lend a hand. I am grateful.