News Article

Tragic loss brings city together By Doug McIntyre, Columnist

NEVER, in my nearly twenty-five years in Los Angeles, have I been more proud to live here. A little more than a week ago, this city paid tribute to slain SWAT Officer Randy Simmons. In a ceremony lasting the better part of a beautiful sunny Friday, Officer Simmons was remembered as a cop’s cop, the epitome of what a badge can be. But as his life was presented by witness after witness, the magnitude of our loss was driven home.

The loss of Randy Simmons brought this city together in ways I have never experienced. For three-plus hours, blacks and whites, Hispanics and Asians wept together, sang together, smiled in fond remembrance together, for a life brilliantly lived. For one day at least, our local leaders had genuine heartfelt eloquence, and the city of Los Angeles presented itself to the world as a city of competence and a city that cares.

We have lost great cops before, and that’s no small thing.

However, Randy Simmons was so much more. He was the embodiment of manhood. Not the hyper-Stallone, steel-cage fighting, gangsta nitwit version of manhood marketed to young boys in movies, music, TV and video games. Randy Simmons was not just a hero on the street; he was a hero at home. A father in the truest sense of the word, a husband, a son, a brother, a friend, a neighbor.

When a deeply disturbed failure assassinated his family in Winnetka and called 911 challenging the police to “come and get me,” Los Angeles sent the very best in the world: SWAT Officers James Veenstra and Randal Simmons. With the hope of saving those already shot by a madman and with the hope of rescuing a terrified hostage hiding in a closet, James Veenstra entered the home and was promptly shot in the face at nearly point-blank range. Without hesitation, Randy Simmons went in to save his wounded partner, and now the wound is felt citywide.

I never knew Officer Simmons. That is my loss. I feel it deeply, and can barely imagine the void felt by his children, Matthew and Gabriella, and Lisa Simmons, Randy’s wife of 17 years.

The funeral service for Officer Simmons was telecast locally. It was a brilliant decision to carry this event to hundreds of thousands beyond the 10,000 plus packed into the Crenshaw Christian Center’s Faith Dome. The front-page photos of the pageantry, as impressive as it was, hardly told the story. Only the grief and joy of Randall Simmons’ life, as recounted by those who lived it with him, could impress upon us the magnitude of our loss.

This was reality TV that elevated human dignity.

We live in justifiably cynical times. Randal Simmons was the antidote to cynicism. He was the cure for all that ails today’s Los Angeles. He represented not only the best of what a man should be, the best of what a law enforcement officer should be, he represented the best of what a person of faith should be. He was loving and nonjudgmental, he talked the talk and walked the walk.

The funeral of Office Randy Simmons allowed us to see another side of the Los Angeles Police Department – the best side. This is the real LAPD, not the blunders of MacArthur Park, or as Mayor Villaraigosa said to applause, “not the LAPD of consent decrees” and certainly not the loathsome and vile depiction presented in the Academy Award-winning film “Crash.”

This is an LAPD made up of thousands of men and women of all religions, all races, working for a common purpose: “To Protect and Serve.” Occasionally the cops come up short. That shouldn’t minimize the ideals of a department charged with securing one of the most complex and challenging urban environments on the planet. It shouldn’t minimize our sense of gratitude. We have a great Police Department.

The funeral for Officer Randy Simmons was theatrical perfection: dignified, eloquent, musical, faith-affirming, joyous, tear-wrenching, inspiring yet, unexpressed but just below the surface, enraging.

Why Randy? Why did Randal Simmons have to die?

Maybe so the rest of us would care just a little bit more about the city he loved. The City of Angels lost an angel. But Los Angeles could gain a higher sense of civic pride and connectedness if we take the lessons of Randy Simmons’ life and live them ourselves. This would be a tribute even Officer Simmons would not be too humble to accept.