I was lucky to grow up as the son of a police officer.
My dad, Roger, retired from the Brookhaven Police Department in 2008 after 28 years, and I was very, very relieved. As you can imagine, it’s a dangerous – and sometimes deadly – job, and I was just happy to have him home and safe.
The culture at a police department is different from any other work culture. When he retired, he left behind fellow officers, but they are better known as his “brothers.” Those ties are not forged by blood, but such work builds those relationships at deep levels often misunderstood by those who are outside of that culture.
I understand it only because I think of all of those he served with as family members. I saw them all often, and they were all deeply protective of me. I resented that at times, but now, at age 30, I understand it more clearly. They were protecting one of their “own,” the child of one of their brothers in service. There’s no bond quite like it.
I was fond of all of them, but there were several officers who stood out from the crowd and were quite influential in my life. One of those officers, retired Commander David “Basie” Johnson, passed away over the weekend. Another friend, Lieutenant Marzell Brooks, died in November 2020. Those losses – two fine men gone too soon – are staggering.
I was especially close to Basie and to his family. Like I mentioned earlier, police culture is a different creature, and the children of officers often become close to one another. I fell in love with the Johnson family, and one of my closest friends is Basie’s oldest daughter, Tiara. We’ve spent countless hours together throughout the course of our 17-year-friendship, and we talk on a near-daily basis. I wish I could count the number of laughs we’ve shared.
Central to a number of those laughs were something Basie said or did. He was a jokester, and he always had a funny comment to make about some situation. He performed double duty at the police department, working a shift and also serving as the resource officer for the high school. Basie was a workhorse with a love for people, and he was the true epitome of a fine police officer: caring, patient, understanding and, if necessary, stern.
I can never quite stomach broad strokes painted by certain people of police officers, and I’ve been pained in recent years to see the police community’s reputation tainted by a few bad apples. I grew up knowing the men and women behind the uniform, and the vast majority of them are selfless and loving like Basie. In small communities like Brookhaven, those officers are beloved by all, and their contributions to the community don’t go unnoticed.
Basie called me his “nephew,” and I called him my “uncle.” Uncle Basie, your work didn’t go unnoticed. You made a huge difference in the lives of many, including mine.
Truly, life is a little less bright today with you gone. Future police officers have big shoes to fill with your loss, but I’m certain that your example will help in that process.
Rest well, my lifelong friend. We’ll carry the torch from here.
Joshua Wilson is the editor of The Pine Belt News and Signature Magazine. Write him: email@example.com.