Is it possible to honor both fallen Champaign police Officer Christopher Oberheim and George Floyd, a victim of murder by a police officer? It has to be if we are to function as a civil society.
Residents of central Illinois were distressed last week at the tragic death of Champaign police Officer Christopher Oberheim, a 12-year veteran of the force who was also a husband and the father of four young girls.
Authorities said Officer Oberheim, 44, was fatally shot while responding to a report of a domestic disturbance at a north Champaign apartment complex. He was only the third officer in the city’s 161-year history to die in the line of duty.
Few other details have been disclosed about the incident in which another Champaign officer, Jeff Creel, was wounded. Full details will come as soon as possible, officials have said.
In the meantime, though, social media — where facts often go to perish — is full of opinions and theories and suggestions about police and crime and particular neighborhoods and particular people. At best, it is irrelevant to what the community faces, the heartbreaking loss of a man who had sworn to uphold the law and protect the rest of us. At worst, the rumors and inflammatory opinions are ugly, unnecessarily provocative and unproductive.
What we as a community and as a nation need is a commitment to respect: respect for police officers and the rule of law, respect for the poor and the homeless, respect for people of other races and faiths, respect for the physically infirm and the mentally ill, respect for all.
The anonymity and isolation of social media make it too easy to cavalierly toss out ill-considered and thoughtless remarks about others, remarks that often prompt more ill-considered and aggravating remarks, both online and in private and public conversations. We saw this in the immediate aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, when for many it was too easy to see Mr. Floyd as just another petty criminal whose life had little value.
In that troubling year, the nation has moved toward a deeper reckoning that Black people historically have faced harsher treatment by police and other authorities and that decades of injustice and mistreatment must be acknowledged and ended.
Hence the pronouncement — not only a statement, but a vigorous assertion — that Black lives do matter.
On this day, central Illinois pays a final tribute to Officer Christopher Oberheim, and more importantly a spouse and a father, who gave his life in the service of others. No words can adequately express a community’s gratitude for that service or convey its sorrow at his death.
But we believe that a man who spent nearly half of his life enforcing laws and protecting the public — the same half of his life during which he helped build a family — would want us to speak calmly, act humbly and live respectfully.
Only then can we hope to be a vital, civil society.