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Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz: It’s Time to Rethink Our Heroes and Villains…


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“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
– District Attorney Harvey Dent in THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

September 1, 2015 started out as a pretty normal, yet very exciting day for our family. It would be a milestone morning in which our youngest daughter, Finley, would embark on a new journey – her first day of preschool. My wife made plans to go into work early on that day, parents welcome to accompany their little ones as they took their first step into a larger world. We were in the classroom filled with the smiles of happy kids and glowing parents when one of the administrators quietly entered and asked for all of the parents to move into the hallway to “discuss an event in the community.” Standing in a hallway lined with little red lockers and colorful artwork, we would learn that the school had entered lockdown for “an active shooter in a neighboring town.” Information was sketchy, fast-moving and ever-changing, but what we knew was that there was an “officer down” – one who would soon be revealed to be Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz.

September 1

My wife and I decided to gather Finn and leave the school – little one and I headed back home, with my wife heading off to work. We were told that we were free to leave, but the school would be locked and no re-entry allowed. There was an eerie sense of calm in the parking lot, with a few solemn faculty members quietly patrolling the outskirts, and sirens blaring in the distance.

The social networks lit up with armchair “experts” and theorists weighing-in on the fast-developing story. One of the first tales spun was one we’d heard before even leaving the school – that “a routine traffic stop went bad – three suspects, one black, two white – were on the run, and they’d taken the officer’s weapons and gear.” None of that turned out to be true. 

A major manhunt reportedly costing $250K a day got started – heavily-armed troops being dropped into Fox Lake and the surrounding areas. I’d made an off-the-cuff remark that it was almost scary how quickly “police officers” decked-out like extras in G.I. JOE appeared on the scene… no way to know that Gliniewicz’ nickname was actually, “G.I. Joe.” Schools were closed… families were in fear… and finger-pointing was happening on a level that I’d never seen before. I was one of the folks that tuned into the Lake County Police Scanner when the “suspects” were reported to be running through the Volo Bog. That story was also a fabrication – one made-up by of all people, a woman employed as a nanny. It was hysteria, and the fact that others in that area kept the snowball rolling with reports of tired, dirty, individuals “matching the suspect’s description” (a description practically non-existent, sans skin color) had “just passed by.”

People are crazy, and this entire situation will be studied for years.

As I spoke with my wife last night, we both agreed that there is no “good” in this situation – no “silver lining” to be had. There are no “black and white” definitive answers, but massive spaces filled with a murky shade of grey.

Over the course of two months, the public demanded answers, yet with little information revealed, what had slipped out there was only leading to more questions. Questions that began being answered with a revelation that had been mumbled about and rumored in recent weeks…

Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz had killed himself.

Conspiracy theories aside, the official story is that Gliniewicz was leading a double-life, stealing money from the Police Explorers program he’d been overseeing – one which he had been hailed as an “outstanding mentor” for running. After what investigators, including the FBI, deemed “years of criminal activity,” Lt. Joe had carried out “a carefully planned suicide that was made to appear as a homicide.” Keep the scam running even in death, and potentially set-up the family for benefits. Text messages and emails that were revealed in media handouts, along with a GPS-assisted timeline that placed both his Police Cruiser and laptop at the gate of the “abandoned cement factory” nearly 25 minutes prior to his report of “three suspects,” made for damning evidence – that he’d committed “the ultimate betrayal,” and that “two other individuals” were being investigated. Reports today state that those “others” are the officer’s own wife and son.

I didn’t know Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, but I know people that did.

In the days that followed, Gliniewicz was painted as “a hero” – placed on a pedestal by people who’d never met the man – a movement fueled by tales of the good he did for his community. Criminal acts aside, I have no doubt that Joe did some good things and made a positive impact on the lives of many. There’s a lot of truth there, but I didn’t know him. Chances are, neither did you. In the midst of hero worship, few cared enough to look further – to see that even those who appear true and of pure heart can be hiding other elements. No one seemed to notice that Joe had been suspended some years back on a sexual harassment charge – one that got his department sued. A martyr’s funeral was held, countless benefits staged (my sister’s band even took part in at least one), and I had neighbors stepping up to lend a hand. I’m thankful that I didn’t take part.

It’s time to stop putting people on a pedestal that we don’t even know.

If this year has taught us anything, it’s that society needs to start taking a real good look at who our “heroes” are. Bill Cosby. Jared Fogle. Lt. Joe Gliniewicz. 

Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things.

As the same people that were quick to celebrate Gliniewicz have turned to demonizing him (and rightfully so), it’s important to look at this as a much-needed wake-up call – the kind that comes at us perhaps not often enough. Even the best people – the kindest, most well-meaning “good” folks – make mistakes. Good people do bad things – things that they’re not proud of. It’s what makes us human, and owning those missteps is a sign of genuine goodness. I say this as a man that has made many mistakes his life (some that have hurt people) and isn’t ashamed or afraid to admit that. At the same time, there’s plenty of gangsters, thugs and mobsters that have done some good things in their lives – from simple daily acts of kindness, to taking care of “the neighborhood” during times of need. Good and Bad are just residents of another grey area. What’s good and bad depends on the circumstances and who’s looking. It’s all about perspective. 

When it comes to Gliniewicz, we may never know 100% of the story… but it doesn’t matter. For some, he will forever be a hero. To others, a villain. 

I’d like to think that perhaps Joe borrowed a little bit here and there without bad intentions – and things snowballed out of control. But my speculation does nothing to help the situation, nor will yours. In the end, to me, Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz is just some dead asshole that I didn’t know – one whose only effect on my life is that his actions caused both of my daughters’ schools to be placed on lockdown – caused our family and our neighbors to be on alert and in fear – and made sure that other cops that we do know were pulled into unsafe conditions to search for imaginary boogeymen. Like many, I was genuinely concerned for this man and his family… but I didn’t know them. 

It’s time to stop piling-on with the crowd before the facts are revealed. It’s time to rethink our “heroes” and “villains.”

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