Five police officers have been killed in the last 6 days nationwide. A Midlands non-profit is opening the door to conversation.
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Five police officers have been killed in the last six days, bringing the total number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty to 117 this year.
The Officer Down Memorial Page keeps track of every law enforcement officer killed on the job. Four of the five officers killed most recently died by gunfire.
Kassy Alia Ray knows the pain the families of the fallen officers are experiencing, as she lived it four years ago. Her husband, Greg Alia, was killed chasing a suspect inside Richland Mall in 2015, while serving with the Forest Acres Police Department.
“There’s never been one moment that Greg went into law enforcement,” Alia Ray said. “That’s what he was called to do. He was an incredible man, a public servant, and I’m proud he believed so much in protecting others he was willing to put his life in danger because of it. Do I wish the outcome was different? Absolutely. Every. Single. Day.”
Out of Alia’s death, his wife found a new path. She founded the non-profit “Serve and Connect,” which aims to bring law enforcement officers and the communities they serve together, fostering conversations and building relationships.
“We have to be reframing how we talk about this issue,” she said. “The way we’ve been framing it is a ‘us vs. them’ or ‘police vs. community,’ but when you sit down and hash it out, you see we’re all on the same team and it’s only by coming together that we can make a difference.”
Testimonials from those who live in some of the high-crime neighborhoods suggest the non-profit’s messaging is working.
“A resident there told me she feels safer walking outside because she doesn’t have to worry about where the next bullet is coming from,” she said. “For the first time, she and her kids are sleeping in separate bedrooms. She’s sleeping in the front room for the first time and now her kids are sleeping better and doing better in school.”
Another resident told Alia Ray that upon realizing people care about her, she’s found new confidence in herself.
Fostering the relationships takes time and she admits she’s had tough conversations with different groups of community members, many of which have a distrust or dislike of law enforcement.
“One mother we spoke to said she was more comfortable reaching out to the local drug dealer down the street if she needed help than the police,” she said. “So, I immediately called Chief Skip Holbrook and arranged a sit-down with some of these mothers to talk about issues they’re facing.”
Saturday marks Alia Ray’s eight-year anniversary with her late husband, Greg. Despite the success of her non-profit, not a day goes by that she doesn’t think of him and the ultimate sacrifice he paid.
“Every day I miss Greg, but as that day gets closer those grief moments, anniversaries come up, your heart breaks a little extra,” she said. “My little boy is thriving, Sal is almost five in March. He’s smart and fun and funny, but even with all of that being said, there’s the reality that he’ll never know his dad. He knows him through pictures, videos, and stories but he’ll never his biological father. Yes, Mitch is a great father, but he’ll never know Greg.”
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