Jovial, yet somber, it was a scene like nothing I had ever witnessed. There was light-hearted banter juxtaposed against quiet resolve and respect. It was clearly emotional, still soothing.
After the early morning's turbulent storm that shook the Mid-South, there was an eerie calm on this brisk, windy Thursday evening. Even the sky seemed to convey its bittersweet sentiment. The sky to the east of Hollywood and I-40, where the "Sea of Blue" began to form, was dark and gray. But the sky to the west was blue, with faint white puffs of clouds and a burnt-orange setting sun.
On the forefront of everyone's mind was the fallen "shero," Officer Martoiya Lang, who was slain by gunfire last Friday, Dec. 14.
They arrived in droves – car after car of police officers and officials. An air of familiarity was evident as they greeted each other with hugs of comfort and warm reflective smiles. Some wiped away tears, awestruck by the sight of all those who gathered for the procession.
In addition to the City of Memphis, patrol cars from Hernando, Byhalia, Atoka, Germantown, Southwest Tennessee Community College, and as far away as Washington, D.C., joined the Marine Corps Motor Cycle Club, EMTs from Mississippi, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the yellow TN Dot rescue vehicles. Total: 652 vehicles, all assembled and in motion in honor of Officer Lang.
The K-9 unit (the dogs) chimed in with what seemed to be quiet, synchronized barking. After a few minutes, there was one big growl of a bark. Then they all stopped.
The "staging area" was a large parking lot behind the Popeye's Chicken and Burger King on Hollywood Street. Employees and patrons of the businesses came out in quiet reverence and respect. Cars seemed to be running a little more quietly, as if even the rush-hour traffic was showing collective respect.
Traffic was blocked off to allow the processional to continue uninterrupted. As it passed the area near the Summer & I-40 exit, where Officer Lang performed her final duty as a Memphis Police officer, there was a fire truck with its flag at half-mast. A crowd lined the area, and those who formed it held their hands to their hearts. The Sea of Blue commanded respect and peace in the midst of heavy gusts of wind, and the city of Memphis complied.
As photojournalist Christopher Hope and I stood on Walnut Grove Road atop I-240 awaiting the arrival of the motorcade, we noticed that the blistering winds atop I-240 had not deterred many residents from walking from their homes to pay their respects. There was a Caucasian couple, an African-American father and his sons, a young Asian man, and many others.
As the procession slowly and methodically rounded the exit ramp and headed to Hope Presbyterian Church, the site of farewell observances for Officer Lang, blue was the only color that was important.
Officer Martoiya Lang's watch ended on Friday, Dec. 14, just before the tragic shooting and unfathomable murders of the babies at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. I believe that was the exact moment when she started her second tour of duty – comforting those beautiful little souls as they too transitioned to the next phase.
Thank you, Officer Lang, for your faithful and dedicated duty.
Thank you for serving and protecting Memphis!