Many Americans are both dismayed and heartbroken that one of the greatest legacies of our nation’s first black president will be levels of division in our country we haven’t felt in decades.While 70% of us were hopeful, when Obama was elected in 2008, that race relations would improve under his leadership, the recent Gallup poll on minority rights and relations paints a much less optimistic picture after his nearly eight years in office. Now, more Americans say race relations have gotten worse as a result of his presidency (46%) than say they’ve gotten better (29%). What’s worse, the poll was conducted June 7-July 1, just before a renewed round of deadly racial incidents between police and black men that rocked our nation. One can only imagine what events since then have done to color Americans’ view of both race relations in general and those between our nation’s police officers and blacks.
So perhaps it is no wonder that a photo of a white police officer comforting a black baby struck a chord with so many and went viral this week, after being shared on social media by the officer’s husband.
And while the photo is touching on its own, the details behind the photo are positively heartwrenching, as The Washington Post shares:By the time Michelle Burton and a dozen other Birmingham, Ala., police officers arrived at an apartment Tuesday night, it was too late to save a 30-year-old man, who died of an apparent drug overdose.
On the couch lay a 35-year-old woman, slack and unresponsive, but with a faint pulse. Paramedics on the scene administered a dose of Narcan, a fast-acting opioid antidote, before rushing her to the hospital.
Then there was the matter of the couple’s shaken children: a 7-year-old girl, a 3-year-old boy, a 2-year-old boy and a 1-month-old girl clad in a tiny purple gingham dress.They were being comforted by next-door neighbors, the same ones who had dialed 911 earlier after hearing the older girl crying out: Help! We can’t wake mom and dad up.
Protocol dictated that the children would need to be taken to the South Precinct, then to family court and finally to the custody of Child Protective Services at DHR, the Alabama Department of Human Resources.It was already 9 p.m. Burton, less than two hours away from finishing her usual shift, let her husband know she was going to be home late from work that day.
“It was horrible,” Burton told The Washington Post. “It was a very sad situation.”
An officer-in-training with Burton lent the two boys his flashlight; soon, the toddlers were running around, shining it in people’s faces.
The 7-year-old was quieter, Burton said. The officer asked if she needed anything.
The girl asked if someone could sign her homework, so she could turn it in to her teacher the next day.
“That broke my heart,” said Burton. “She said, ‘I did my work.’ She pulled it out and showed it to us. It was math homework, (like) ‘Which number is greater? Which number is odd or even?’ … I told her, ‘Sweetie, you probably won’t have to go to school tomorrow. … But where you’re going is going to have everything you need.’”
In the apartment, Burton found an unopened can of infant formula and a baby bottle; she grabbed both.
At the precinct, officers bought whatever the other kids wanted to eat from a vending machine. There, Burton removed her vest and other police gear so she could comfortably hold the infant and give her a bottle. It had to have been hours since she had been fed, Burton thought.
“A lot of us are parents,” Birmingham police spokesman Lt. Sean Edwards told The Post. “We just go into parent mode and not necessarily police mode. … Officer Burton, she just really wanted to grab the baby and just cuddle the baby.”
So she did. Soon, the infant was sound asleep on Burton’s shoulder.
At some point, someone in the precinct captured a photo of the tender scene, which Burton later showed her husband.
Edwards said he wasn’t surprised by Burton’s actions. The department has more than 800 sworn officers, and they have to be prepared for dozens of different scenarios, he said.
“It’s a part of our job, it’s a part of what we see, what we do. Our concern is to preserve, to protect,” he said. “We find ourselves in a lot of situations like this.”
“It happens a lot,” Burton said. “But it’s not just me. I actually have pictures of officers, male officers, like making baby bottles. … We do what we have to do when we have to do it.”
The rest of that night was a blur, but Burton said she can’t forget the number of people who came together to make sure the four children were safe. A social worker — who had just welcomed her own newborn grandchild — showed up to the precinct and stayed with them until 3 a.m. the next day, when they finally were placed in the care of Child Protective Services, Burton said.
Burton finally went home at 4 a.m. and promptly fell asleep.
While she was sleeping, Brian Burton, who also is in law enforcement, posted the photo of his wife and the baby on Facebook early the next morning.
Michelle Burton woke up to find hundreds of notifications on her phone. The photo had been shared more than 1,000 times.
She said she’s not surprised by her husband’s post, because he has always been her biggest supporter.
“He’s very proud of who I am and what I do,” Burton said. “What surprised me is just [how much] positive that seems to have come out of it.”
“I’m overwhelmed about the whole thing,” Burton said. “I don’t want people to think that it’s only me that does this. We all do things like this. … It was one of those nights where everybody worked together and everybody did what they needed to do.”
Indeed, most of us would have done what Officer Michelle Burton did in that situation, and race has nothing to do with any of it. Not to take anything at all away from the beautiful care Officer Burton gave these precious children; rather, her actions remind us that we are naturally inclined to care for one another.
Reminds me of the Louisianan Ben Husser who chided President Obama in the wake of the Louisiana floods for seeming to think he needed to remind Americans to help each other regardless of race:
See we rode around in a boat saving people and well race or religion never entered my mind. Not once. It didn’t enter my buddies mind or my wife’s. Just saving people.
I understand you may be miss informed because of all the race baiting that the media did a couple months ago here in South Louisiana. But I assure you that’s not what we stand for… we love each other when the times get hard. We look out for our own. Now I know this doesn’t fit your agenda. But facts are facts.
Yup. Exactly. While President Obama and left-wing-funded special interest groups like Black Lives Matter want us to believe in division and hate, Americans like Officer Burton and Ben Husser are here to remind us that we are, first and foremost, all human beings and Americans who will be there for one another in greatest times of need.
[Note: This article was written by Michelle Jesse, Associate Editor]