May This Year’s Fallen Officers Rest in Peace

At 2:35 pm, it was a typical, busy Wednesday at the Temple. Bikes formed a thick circle around the Temple boundary. People quietly looked around, left offerings and memorials, some sat by themselves, a few were crying. A large group sat in the central sanctum and chanted “OMMMMmmmmmm” together; it felt a little showy, but then again, they were all perfectly in tune. It was hot as Venus out, as dry and dusty as Mars.

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Sometime around 3:00, as the dust picked up a bit, a Black Rock Ranger on bagpipes started warbling out “Amazing Grace” just outside the Temple complex. This announced the arrival of a group of law enforcement vehicles coming up 12:00. It was time for the Fallen Officers’ Memorial procession, a new tradition I’ve been watching with interest since the first one in 2013, which scared the hell out of me.

IMG_2666Things have changed since then, though. Reports from all the big city meetings indicate that this might be the smoothest, nicest year we’ve ever had with law enforcement. It’s not just that there are fewer run-ins; there’s more collaboration between agencies and Black Rock City departments, more trust, and a less obtrusive presence.

I can’t help but think that first BLM procession had some effect. Yes, it was scary to see all those cops at the Temple, but it still ended with hugs and gratitude. I hoped this year’s memorial would reflect how far we’ve come as a city.

The 2013 march was a pure BLM affair. They rolled right through the center of Black Rock City in a long convoy, lights flashing. The first noteworthy difference this year was that the memorial was planned by a Ranger, name of Ranger Paragon. Paragon made a route plan that would go over better with BRC residents, who can get a bit skittish when the Five-O roll through. The convoy would circle the outside edge of the city, drive in on 10:00 to the Man area, then turn left to approach the Temple from 12:00. As soon as I heard that plan, I knew this memorial would feel different from the last one I attended.

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An even bigger difference was that Paragon had put out the call to law enforcement agencies across the country to submit the names of their fallen officers. The first BLM memorial was all for one longtime member of the Burning Man detail, Michael Dwayne Bolinger. This one had a list of over a hundred names from all kinds of places, from the Policía de Puerto Rico to the Cherokee Indian Police Department, local, state, federal, and military agencies. The list also included 25 canines.

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There were far fewer LEOs and vehicles at the Temple this time, so the power felt much more balanced. Black flags with thin, blue lines flapped in the wind. There were a bunch of Rangers in attendance, and, just like last time, a significant showing of curious Burners not in uniform. But there wasn’t a single moment of tension, only sympathy and eye contact. This mood reflected another wise decision on Paragon’s part: the procession stopped outside the gates of the Temple. That’s where the Eric Boik from the Bureau of Land Management and Nathan Carmichael from the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office made brief and heartfelt remarks.

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Ranger Paragon speaks while BLM’s Eric Boik and Nathan Carmichael from the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office look on.

“Law enforcement is a tight-knit community,” Boik said, explaining why he and his comrades needed this ceremony. He celebrated the Temple at Burning Man as a place for all communities to remember those they have lost, side by side. He and Carmichael both talked about duty and service to others, reaching out to the people of Black Rock City, offering support. “We don’t know you,” Boik said, “but we would gladly sacrifice our lives for you.” They were generous words.

Then Paragon spoke and prepared to read the names. “If I get to the name of my friend and start crying,” he said with a big breath, “I apologize.”

“We love you, Paragon!”, someone replied.

And he did cry. We all cried. It was just beautiful.

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After the reading of the names, the bagpipe resumed, and the procession entered the Temple just for the briefest moment, placing the list against a post and walking out quietly, not disturbing anyone. Temple ministrations carried on.

The emotions of this memorial were not complicated like last time. These LEOs are part of our city and were treated as such, and they treated the Temple and all in attendance accordingly. The relationship has healed here.

Off the playa, this was not a good year for the relationship between citizens and law enforcement. It was racked with violence and betrayal. Officers fell, and so did citizens. Temples around the country were filled for painful vigils.

But here we are again, rehearsing new rituals in the dust. We’re making the time and effort to try different ways to live and build together. We don’t have it all figured out, but we’re trying. And we should keep trying. Can our ability to stand here together and mourn — civilians and officers, fauxhawks and crew cuts — be seen as anything other than a good sign?

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About the author: Jon Mitchell

Jon Mitchell

is the publisher of the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter, and the Burning Man website. His playa name is Argus. He co-wrote a big story about spending 24 hours at the Temple of Juno in 2012. He’s been a Burner since 2008. Email: argus@burningman.org / Twitter: @GoForArgus

10 Comments on “May This Year’s Fallen Officers Rest in Peace

  • cheryl says:

    Nice article- no one else has covered this. Everyone should know. Thank you.

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  • Ranger Azalea says:

    This. This is why I love BRC and could care less about K Street, Paris Hilton, or the influx of EDM and festie kids, etc. etc. This is my Burningman and why I miss being in the dust this year.

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  • WALT! says:

    Glad to hear tensions between law enforcement and the greater community are going well this year.

    Hate to get all hippy-dippy and cliché, but we really are all part of the same human family. If you are lucky to touch enough lives you will have some loved-ones who are officers, and know well the service they provide, and the hardships they endure. In the wake of the five officers being killed in Dallas, this newer tradition is especially important this year. I hope the LEOs will continue to participate in the years to come.

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  • Sandra Boyd Cunningham says:

    Beautiful day for the opportunity of the memorial service and respectful response of everyone…Leos presence is comforting as it allows for a relaxing atmosphere and a feeling that we are looking out for each other…order is necessary for freedom to exist…thanks again for a great experience…

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  • Honey Bee says:

    Gratitude and condolences

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  • Ranger Paragon says:

    I want to thank everyone who attended the memorial. Special thanks to Nate Carmichael, Pershing county, Eric Boik, BLM for their kind words, Ranger Piper for his wonderful rendition of Amazing Grace and Taps for the event. The Law Enforcement Agency Liaison’s (LEAL) members who accompanied the procession, and all the PCSO, BLM, ESD Fire, and Rangers who participated in the Procession. This years ceremony bridged a gap, created friendships and memorialized many. Very blessed to have organized this event.

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  • cat mario 4 says:

    Great post,Thanks for providing us this great knowledge,Keep it up.

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  • Pinky Pussy Popup Pirate aka Barbie says:

    Thanks for making me cry again! Lol
    This is beautiful thank you for sharing!
    With out all those that participte in such an amazing event we would not be able to have such a great time. From set up to clean up and everything in between you are important, bring those lessons out to default world.
    Thank you to all the officers, emts, firefighters and event staff that make this event happen, and all the rest of them in the world that lead a life to protect and serve.

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  • Tonda says:

    I was at the temple when this rolled in – didn’t know it was coming, but it was very moving and I was honored to unexpectedly be a part of it. Thank you to Ranger Paragon and those who organized it. Peace.

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  • Ranger Okanogan says:

    It was a beautiful service and a highlight of my burn. The first gift I got on Playa was from a BLM ranger welcoming me and my campmate home after two tense days on the road. As an artcar driver, I want to thank the officers that were handing out chemlights to unlit burners at night. And the sheriff who met me and two other because rangers at Rampart for a particularly difficult call is who I’d personally want to have there if something bad happened to me. Thank you all for keeping us safe, at the burn and when we are in your counties/cities/jurisdiction.

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