Regardless of whether you are sworn or civilian, there is nothing that I can tell you about the life of NYPD Detective Steven McDonald that you already haven’t heard. He was literally a Saint. His miracles were his survival coupled with genuine forgiveness, as well his ability to reach more people from the confines of a wheelchair than most do with a full and healthy life. As the above photo says, he truly was ‘God’s Cop’.
On July 12th, 1986, while questioning a 15 year old Shavod Jones in regards to bicycle thefts occurring in Central Park, Steven was shot three times: once in the head above his eye, once in the throat and finally in the spine, rendering him a quadriplegic and in permanent need of a ventilator. Only months after being shot, Steven publicly reported to the press that he had forgiven Shavod for his actions, even writing about what lead him to that forgiveness in the book, “Why Forgive”, written in 2014.
For the next 30 years of his life, Steven traveled the world, serving as a living symbol of God’s forgiveness and the power of the individual. He was an ambassador for both the NYPD and the Catholic Church. That’s the story of Steven that you already know. Here’s one you might not know.
Since it’s inception in 2014, Brothers Before Others has accomplished some amazing things. The body of work speaks for itself, despite what the naysayers would have you believe. In fact, in some cases, our critics serve as more validation than do our supporters.
However, few among the members, including our President/Founder Michael Burke, could argue against the idea that our greatest accomplishment came on Thursday, November 10, 2016 aka Night to Unite III.
A lot of what BBO has been able to accomplish has been directly inspired by the vision of Michael Burke; and the Night to Unite III was no exception. Despite the seemingly insurmountable hurdles associated with a group our size attempting to pull off an event like Michael envisioned, failure was not an option. Michael set up the night as a celebration of Steven’s 30 years of dedicated service following his shooting.
Attended by over 400 people, including Steven, his family, members of the NYPD, BBO and law enforcement from all over the country, the night was exactly what Michael had envisioned. Many who had the honor of working with Steven and the privilege of being able to call him a friend, were able to speak both to the crowd and directly to Steven as they shared their personal stories. More importantly, away from the microphone, it was humbling to hear the stories from people that Steven had touched that even HE didn’t know about; stories of lives that he had changed simply by being the man that he was.
My story for Steven was one such story. I let Steven know, that through Michael, I had come to ‘know’ him on a more personal level. While I knew about his life and the impact his actions have had on our profession, having heard the personal and often emotional stories from Michael about Steven, gave me a profound sense of gratitude for him. At a previous BBO event that Steven attended, as was his custom, Steven handed out cards that had the NYPD patch on one side and an inspirational poem on the reverse side, “You are Special”.
I let Steven know that I had secured one of those cards on that day and that, in an attempt to ensure that younger generations of police officers on my job understand him the way Michael helped me understand him, I posted the card, along with his photo and bio on the cork board in our locker room. Because I am a ‘proof of life’ kind of guy, I even showed Steven a photo of the set up so he knew it wasn’t lip service.
He made me retell the story to both his wife and son. He then thanked me. Let me say that again, HE thanked ME. Now, I don’t show emotion easily, but I have to tell you that when a living Saint thanks YOU for anything, if that doesn’t do something to your insides, then you need to check your pulse. I found myself in the awkward position of having to lecture Steven McDonald on why he doesn’t thank ME for anything. Quite honestly, the ‘lecture’ made him laugh and really just served as a defense mechanism to prevent me from crying.
The importance of that night and what it meant to the McDonald family, the attendees and the members of BBO wasn’t fully realized until a few short months later. A few short months later, on January 10, 2017, Steven would pass away, succumbing to the injuries inflicted on him decades ago. His son, Conor, told Michael that the night he gave to his father, in retrospect, was a fitting “going away party”; it was one last Godincidence, as Steven often referred to perfectly placed life events/circumstances.
This charity…any charity…is the sum of it’s parts. We are who we are because of the quality of our members; and our members have facilitated some amazing work in the name of BBO. Just like everything else in life, you will get out this profession and this charity what you put into it; no more, no less. For those who stay on the periphery, never really involving themselves, it’s hard to understand why other members, including myself, say that we love this group and that we love Michael. The gift of that night, alone, means more to me than most will ever understand; and there has been no greater accomplishment to date, nor will any future one top it.
On this, the second anniversary of Steven’s passing, both personally and on behalf of the over 5000 members of BBO, I want to thank Michael for his persistence, his dedication, and his unapologetic and unwavering support of this profession. Steven saw the work being done. He approved then and I am more than confident that he approves today.
Today, tomorrow and forever, the law enforcement community ‘Remembers 104’.
For more information on the life of Steven McDonald
“Why Forgive” ~ Johann Christop Arnold
Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award