JOHN BRUBAKER of North Yarmouth finished his 50-mile walk to raise money for a nonprofit organization that supports the families of police officers killed in the line of duty.

JOHN BRUBAKER of North Yarmouth finished his 50-mile walk to raise money for a nonprofit organization that supports the families of police officers killed in the line of duty.

TOPSHAM

After a rash of police shootings across the U.S. last year, John Brubaker of North Yarmouth decided the best way to help law enforcement was to take a walk in their shoes.

This past weekend, Brubaker covered 50 miles wearing police tactical boots between the police stations in Kennebunk and Topsham to raise money for families of police officers killed in the line of duty. It was his second time taking the walk.

Brubaker started the first Blue Ribbon Walk exactly one year ago Sunday, he said, and since then it has taken on a life of its own. Last year there were 20 Blue Ribbon walking groups and virtual walkers in 17 states, and there have been an additional five states this year.

Over the course of the two events sponsored this year by Starbucks, $10,000 has been raised for the Concerns of Police Survivors — also known as COPS — a nationwide nonprofit organization that helps rebuild the lives of survivors of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Law enforcement deaths doubled in 2016 and rose 20 percent this year, according to Brubaker.

This year the walk was moved to Route 1 so the group could meet more people. One woman they met who donated money was worried about her daughter, a law enforcement officer currently in Florida, where Hurricane Irma hit.

A dozen walkers had dwindled to one near the end of the walk Sunday evening. While crossing the Frank J. Wood Bridge from Brunswick into Topsham, Brubaker said the impetus for him creating the fundraiser was the police “assassinations” in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in July 2016 resulting in the death of eight officers. The shootings were days after a black man was fatally shot by police in Baton Rouge in a confrontation that sparked protests and a national debate over race and policing.

Many of his college lacrosse teammates are now police officers. He called one of those friends, Bill, after the police shootings and asked how he was doing.

“He said, ‘I appreciate your asking. I’m doing fine. You ask any other cop, he’ll tell you he’s doing fine. Ask us how our wives and kids are doing when we leave for work in the morning,’” Brubaker said. “It used to be in the back of their mind, is daddy going to get home safely and now it’s in the forefront.”

Growing up, Brubaker said officers were revered but today they are targets. Calling law enforcement the one profession that protects the public from itself, “there’s absolutely no reason why they should ever feel like they’re a target, so I wanted to do something,” he said.

As an author, he often writes about leadership.

“So, I thought what if we lead by example,” he said. “It’s a metaphor. Literally walk a mile, or however many miles you wish, in a police officer’s shoes.”

Along the way walkers shake the hands of police officers, “and say thank you and let them know that there is a strong contingent of the public who still respect and admire and appreciate them.”

While some have labeled the Blue Ribbon Walk as political, “it is literally the least political thing possible,” Brubaker argued. “It’s not about blue lives matter versus black lives matter versus all lives matter versus anything. I was just so fed up with this us versus them sort of rhetoric that we’re seeing.”

“Go on social media and you’ll see it,” he continued. “I’ve never seen a hashtag solve anything, a Facebook post change someone’s opinion, so I wanted to do something physically active that had a visual presence.”

When the officers are at the kickoff of the event, there is a moment of silence and walkers shake the officers’ hands. Society as a whole tends to run on an “appreciation deficit,” he said. There are many ways to raise money, “but it’s the actual boots on the ground, pardon the pun, face-to-face communication, letting them know we care.”


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