Last Wednesday, a colleague told me and another teacher that he had been stopped by law enforcement officers on his way to work. There was a roadblock, and cops with guns drawn, standing at the ready. They wanted to search his backpack.

That was the first I heard about the murder of Cpl. Eugene Cole, of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office.

At the time, I was standing in the middle of a library filled with middle school students who were enthusiastically creating poems using stacks of books (this is called “book spine poetry”), and I felt that sense of unreality that I have experienced in other times of crisis. A tragic event was unfolding, but (thankfully) these children were blissfully unaware.

The details of the situation were frightening. A manhunt was on; the skies over Norridgewock and nearby communities were humming with helicopters; schools in that area were on lockdown. This was happening within 30 miles of us and I worried that we, too, might have to take precautions. Meanwhile, my colleagues were worried about their family members who were in the vicinity.

This was a shocking incident. U.S. News and World Report recently named Maine the safest state in the union. We hadn’t lost an officer killed in the line of duty in almost 30 years. How many people in Maine are shot down in cold blood, in public, as Cpl. Cole apparently was? Norridgewock is not Baltimore.

The incident disturbed me and I followed it closely. I was frightened by the thought that an alleged murderer was on the loose in central Maine. My relief at his capture was immense. I posted, on Facebook, the photograph of suspect John D. Williams being dragged out of what appeared to be a hiding place in the woods, an unseen officer holding his head up by the hair.

Some of my friends lashed out at me for sharing the photo, which shocked me. It is an appalling photograph, to be sure. It is also the gut-wrenching truth. This murder and the manhunt were one of the biggest stories in Maine in recent years, and Williams’ capture was a major part of the narrative.

This photo taken by Maine State Police on Saturday shows the moment when law enforcement apprehended John D. Williams, sought in the slaying of Cpl. Eugene Cole, of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office. Maine State Police did not officially release the photo — it was first leaked on social media — but they later confirmed that they took the photo and posted it on the agency’s official Twitter and Instagram pages. Photo courtesy of Maine State Police

It turns out that while I and many others were cheering on the various law enforcement agencies that were searching for the alleged murderer, others felt that they were overdoing it because Cole was “one of their own.” Didn’t this picture somehow reveal “police brutality” on display? Didn’t the alleged perpetrator deserve more respect, or gentler treatment?

My first (internal) reaction to these comments was sarcastic.”Really?” I fully respect the right of others to disagree with me. I am an opinionated political creature and often make my views known on social media, so I’m neither surprised nor chastened by backlash. Usually, I make a point not to engage, even if my critic is civil. I figure that I’ve made my statement, and you’ve made yours; let’s leave it at that.

Sometimes, however, my feathers are so ruffled I have to nip back with my pointy little beak.

So, you know, I do think a cop killing warrants a major police response when the killer is still on the loose. A person who murders a law enforcement officer is especially brazen, and thus, especially dangerous to us all. Of course police are going to react with alacrity when one of their own is taken down. I see nothing wrong with that. I am not an armed, trained professional who might be able to defend myself. A cop-killer would have no hesitation in mowing down the likes of me.

These skeptical reactions — the manhunt was too big, the photograph was too cruel — seemed to me to be yet more examples of people who are afraid to think for themselves, who are reluctant to veer off the path of popular opinion.

Yes, police across the country have been involved in serious incidents in the last few years in which innocent people have died. One was the unarmed Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento, California, police while talking on a cellphone in his grandmother’s backyard. I wrote about such incidents just a few weeks ago, because I find them deeply disturbing. But I refuse to paint all police officers with the same brush. Each case needs to be evaluated on its own merits.

If Cole’s alleged murderer did what he is accused of doing, I have no sympathy for him, no matter how skinny, naked and pathetic he was at the time he was found. The officer who grabbed him by the hair did so because he wouldn’t raise his head so a picture could be taken. Williams was not hurt.

This was a terrible crime that required a large and intensive response. I appreciate the law enforcement agencies that worked together to capture the suspect. I am now sleeping a little more soundly, and my own conscience is clear about having shared that photo.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]

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