Retired Forest Park Police Chief Kenneth Hughes, adjunct professor in the Criminal Justice School, wrote a heartfelt tribute about the funeral, which follows, and how it touched Dr. Changjun Yang (Steven), a UC visiting scholar and police commissioner from Suizhou City, Hubei Province, China.
“There are many to ways to die and perhaps one of the most violent is to be shot and killed while coming to someone calling for help. And so my thoughts became captive to that notion as I dressed this morning in preparation of going to the funeral of Cincinnati Police Officer Sonny Kim. As I was putting on the small blue ribbon that my wife Charlene made, pinning it to my lapel, with a miniature version of the Forest Park Police Badge that I wore for 36 years, my thoughts travelled back over the course of my career and to the names of officers who died during that journey. The knot in my stomach was a familiar one as were the tears that lay hidden beneath my eyes.
“During the 30 minute drive to Clifton to pick up a visiting Asian scholar at the University of Cincinnati I scanned moments in time as I looked at the second ribbon Char had made for my guest that would be traveling with me this day. Changjun Yang is a Chinese Police Commissioner.
“Steven, Yang’s Americanized name for his visit in America, was waiting outside his apartment for me. He was clearly touched as I pinned on the blue ribbon made for him. He wore a blue shirt and a blue tie in Honor of a Fallen Cop he did not know. When we arrived at the Cintas Center he was awestruck at the number of police cars from so many local and national agencies and a bit emotional when he saw the crossed fire truck ladders outside the entrance doors. A large American Flag hung beneath and under our flag, the banner of an officer killed in the line of duty. He took dozens of photos until we entered the Cintas arena.
“I introduced him to many of my old colleagues, and then we took our seats in section 11 sitting among cops, their families and ordinary citizens who came to pay their respects. To my immediate right was the family of Captain Mike Dressell from the Indian Hill Police, his young daughter sat next to me. We waited for over an hour for the ceremony to begin and in that time I learned from the man next to me what I’ve instinctively known: that no matter where you serve as a cop, you are always among family when they are close by. A reverend sat behind whom I had not seen in years, a church elder in front of us with some residents of Madisonville where Sonny ran a beat. All around us were cops.
“On the stage below us members of the Cincinnati Symphony played gentle and reverent music. As they began to play “You Raise Me Up” Steven began singing softly “When I am down and oh my soul so weary …” “You know this song I ask? “ “Of course a very popular song in China.” Praise my God I thought.
And so we talked about Sonny Kim and the ceremony to come. He shared that over 400 police officers are killed each year in China and he has had several men killed who served under him He wants to write about America’s policing and share our connection with the people we serve. When a police officer dies in China their funeral is a very simple one. I knew then that he would have to witness the moments to come to believe them. I had been there before and so I kept quiet. In 2001 our department lost Charles McDonald, a respected police officer who grew up in Forest Park and loved by his family, friends, those he served and those he worked with. In many ways it seemed that Charles and Sonny were kindred spirits.
“The reflections given by Chief Blackwell, Mayor Cranley, City Manager Black and FOP President Kathy Harrell were well said and heartfelt. The Loveland Show Choir moved from the stands to the stage and began singing “Ahrirang,” a traditional folk song of Korea. I had not heard it before but it was beautiful, and everyone sensed the sadness of the moment. Changjun openly wept as he told me that this was a very famous Korean song in China. A song of hardship, poverty, loss, abandonment, separation and heart wrenching sorrow. I shared my handkerchief; I cried too.
“After the inspirational messages of Mickey Kim, Sonny’s brother and Pastor Phil Posthuma we left for the cemetery and drove up Montgomery Road. Mile after mile people lined the street. My companion could not understand that America could be so respectful of a police officer. At his urging I stopped along the road several times so that he could take photos to show his countrymen and more important his fellow officers.
“As we arrived at the Cemetery I explained to everyone that Steven was a visiting cop from China and he wanted to pay his respects and honor to Officer Kim. Members of the Honor Guards, Pipe and Drum Corp and Mounted Units embraced him as one of their own. We shared a few moments with each and marveled at how beautifully coordinated this event was being handled. We also knew that behind the scenes that extraordinary work was being done by passionate and committed men and women in uniform. It took over two hours to accommodate the arrival of all those attending the graveside services.
“The procession was led by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Pipe and Drum Corp and a dear friend Steve Watt. The riderless horse followed by the caisson carrying Officer Kim; the honor guard carrying the casket to the gravesite; the squad of Cincinnati Officers who provided a resounding 21-gun salute; the final words of passing; the folding of the American flag given to the Kim family; the lone bag pipe playing Amazing Grace; Taps and the final dispatch for Sonny Kim, the End of his Watch. Until the very end all of this in a driving rain. Steven said the raindrops are said to be the tears of heaven. Oh did the tears flow upon us.
“My tears blended with the rain. At I stood away from that field of honor, the sights of hundreds of cops, family and friends were so inspiring. Standing tall, shoulder to shoulder and embracing themselves they shared their love with a grieving family. In the driving downpour and as the wind swept around us, echoes of nearby thunder reminded us that we shared a bond of sister and brotherhood. An evil deed consumed by thousands of acts of kindness and love. A fitting tribute to a good man, father, son, brother and husband. We salute you Officer Sonny Kim, thank you for your service with us, for so many others and to your God. Rest in Peace. “
– Chief Kenneth D. Hughes, retired
June 26, 2015