Today’s Westminster Abbey funeral of PC Keith Palmer will serve to remind us all how few degrees of separation there usually are between regular folk and a momentous, in this case tragic, event. It’s a chance for us to reflect too, as people and nations, how folk who become cops are perhaps our greatest treasure.
At the time of the attack at Westminster, I was chatting on the ‘phone to an ex-Sunday Post journalist inside the palace who remarked that armed cops had just ran past him and there seemed to be a commotion going on. My computer was already telling me details the journalist didn’t have and I told him. By chance, I have close relatives who turn out to have attended the same school as the killer’s family. And of course, PC Keith Palmer, who was murdered on the gate by that killer, was to me one of a small number of friendly faces who let me into and out from work each day for years, never letting his vigilance drop for a moment.
Plenty of folk can make these small ‘degrees of separation’ links. Millions more are linked through an extra degree or two.
Cops know all about this, of course. Because when an extraordinarily bad thing happens and people are fleeing for their lives cops run towards, not away from, the danger. The cops hurrying past the journalist I mentioned were doing just that. And Keith Palmer was at once protecting members of the public who’d tried to get in through the gates because the killer had crashed his car into the railings outside, then protecting everyone inside as he realised the danger they all faced as the killer himself came through the gates. In the face of mortal danger, these normal but also extraordinary people didn’t hesitate for a second,
I’ve given the cops a tough time sometimes, most infamously at Westminster. Even as they protected me, part of their vigilance came to be directed at me. It’s a haunting regret. Shortly after my own ‘events’ – wrestling with officers at Westminster, half a dozen arrests in as many years, and all the rest – cops in London rescued a close relative of mine who was literally covered in blood and at grave risk of death. It was the first time I’d truly, properly, profoundly even, reflected on the terrible disjunction between my own actions and my great admiration for those normal folk who are also the cops who protect me and the people I love every single day.
Today, with Keith Palmer’s funeral, a lot of people will be thinking about those few degrees of separation and how, if it’s ever our turn to be where nothing at all separates us from a life and death situation, the cops will be running towards that danger to protect us.
I know I will.