Even for those who made the ultimate sacrifice the mob continues on their march to erase history. On April 18, 2011, Eric Zapata, a 35-year-old member of Kalamazoo Public Safety was shot and killed responding to a call of shots fired on Hays Park Avenue. I will never forget that day as long as I live.
I had just finished an evening shift working in the ER and was walking home when police cars flew past me on Portage road. Lights and sirens blared, and I kept seeing different departments driving past. County, Township, city and State police were going to the same place. Standing at the end of my street I could see red and blue lights illuminating the entire length of the six-block street. For a moment I thought “they finally did it. They burned my house down.” That didn’t happen but there was a patrol car parked in the front. A large black officer was running to the vehicle and pulled a shotgun out, loading it there in the street. I stood there with the key in the door not sure what to do. The office saw me, racked the shotgun, and asked me if I needed any help? I said no but I was wondering what was going on. “officer down, suspect still on the loose.” I went into the house and make sure everything was still locked up. It wasn’t until the next morning I learned what had happened.
That night two brothers sat on the front porch of a house on Hays Park. One of the brothers had been released from prison and was out on probation. The brother who owned the house took some guns out and the two of them took turns shooting the weapons into the air. The first police officer that came onto the scene was shot at and returned fire from the car. The probation brother jumped off the porch and ran behind the house to get away. Zapata pulled up and saw the second brother fleeing the scene. He followed and was shot in the head as he came around the corner. The official story is that the suspect then turned the weapon onto himself.
The staff that worked in the ER that night had to go to mandatory counseling afterwards. When they received the call all they heard was “officer down, GSW.” Half of the nurses working were married to cops. They didn’t know which department, of which there are many. Even when Zapata was rolled in, they didn’t know who he was because his face was unrecognizable. Some nurses were glad to see the uniform didn’t match their husband but guilt set in later. Zapata was dead on arrival but those minutes leading up to EMS coming in felt like hours.
Later that week I bought my first firearm, a home defense shotgun. The first year I lived in my house Kalamazoo experienced the most fatal shootings it had seen in one summer. The first girl who was shot in my neighborhood was a high school student returning home from school with her friends. As she walked down the street a guy standing on the street corner spotted a car driving by that was from the northside neighborhood he pulled out a revolver and fired all six rounds at the car. None of the bullets hit the car but one of them hit the girl in the back half a block away in front of my house. I ran from the backyard to the street where I watched a guy and a girl pick the girl up and carry her to a house nearby.
Zapata was different. These people were killing cops now. They were not afraid to take out a person with a badge anymore. If they could kill cops what was to make them think twice about killing me?
Nine years later I look back and still recall the humidity in the air, the tarp covering the body of the second brother still lying in the alley at 10am the next day. The candles and plastic flowers the family left at the spot until the house was torn down a few years later. Zapata’s memorial is gone now, removed due to repeated vandalism. Things are worse now with BLM in the city. My bank is covered in graffiti. Windows are still boarded up. Nothing feels normal these days.
Less than a year before Zapata was killed the Kalamazoo City Commissioners stole a self-funded pension plan that public safety created in the 1980s. After 2009 the city was broke, and couldn’t pay for half the projects they started. Seeing a pool of money sitting there they took it while offering some officers an early retirement with the pension they paid for while the rest of them were given a city funded pension that would be a fraction of what they had put away. The city had robbed the police department and there was nobody for the cops to call. Less than a year later Zapata was killed and the same people who had stolen from the cops were now on a stage praising them for the work that they do and their dedication to the city. From what some of the wives told me afterwards there were a few cops that wanted to shoot them on the spot. Like their fallen brother they stayed professional and did their job to honor him. That’s what people don’t fully understand about Zapata, here was a guy that was screwed over by the city and he still went out and did his job. It’s also what BLM wants people to forget, the fact that most police officers who do their job everyday risk the chance of not coming home in order to help others. Zapata, being the man that he was, is a threat to a movement like BLM, a minority who wore the badge and died in the line of duty.
A part of me can understand the desire to protect the memorial from the shitbags that were defacing and vandalizing it. The other part of me says we do not negotiate with terrorist and that anyone caught should be doing time in prison. By the time this year is over I fear that my city will be back to where it was at the turn of the century. Few businesses, graffiti and trash everywhere, and a lack of desire from the people to travel there for any reason. It took a decade of changed policies and new businesses to bring people back to downtown. I remember the early 90s and the outdoor walk mall that was once there. We had businesses like McDonald’s and a used bookstore that everyone went to. There was the museum and library that had a real mummy that people could see. Department stores and restaurants lined the mall. The State Theater showed big name bands that came into town. Then it all went away.
There was a decade of nothing. Nobody wanted to invest and you couldn’t park your car without returning to find a ticket. Things changed and from the looks of it we are going back to that lost decade of nothing. When we forget out history, we are destined to repeat it. I don’t want to see any more dead cops. I don’t want to live in a dead city either.