Bagpipes played; cameras flashed; flags were waved — and no, this was not a really late Saint Patrick's Day parade. It was, however, a celebration of honor, remembrance, and strength as blue jersey-clad police officers from around the country rode into Mount Vernon's Fort Hunt Park as a final part of the 10th Annual Police Unity Bike Tour. This tour concluded that afternoon on Saturday, May 12.
"Out motto is very simple; it's ‘we ride for those who died,’" said Detective Abbas "Tabby" Tabatabaie of the Mount Vernon Police Department, who helps to coordinate the tour's Virginia Chapter IV.
This three-day tour started on Thursday, May 10 going from Portsmouth to Richmond. On Friday, participating officers rode from Richmond to Fredericksburg. The tour concluded on Saturday in Washington, D.C., after riders enjoyed a picnic lunch at Fort Hunt Park. Once the tour reached its final destination, riders visited the National Law Officers Memorial, which lists the names of approximately 38,000 fallen officers. Each rider wears a bracelet displaying the name of one of those killed in the line of duty.
Though this nearly 240-mile ride on Virginia's Route One was physically exhausting for many officers, Sheriff Robert Knapp of the Fairfax County Police Department, said that the event's purpose lessened any physical side effects.
"You get a sense of family that you normally wouldn't see unless you were at something like a funeral," he said of the tour. "It can be very trying at times, but when people are at their worst, other officers are holding them up."
And these other officers are not just from the Virginia/DC areas. "We have pretty large chapters from Florida and California — everywhere," said Tabatabaie, "we even have a fellow who comes from England who rides for this purpose. It's very inspiring."
If riders need any additional inspiration, all they have to do is look at the bracelet on their wrist, or, as in the case of many riders, remember an old friend.
"I'm riding for Det. Vicky Armel this year," said Sheriff Dwight Greear. Armel, a Fairfax County police officer, was fatally shot in the line of duty on May 8, 2006, a date that Greear pointed out to be days before last year's tour.
"We ride to honor their memory because those officers are heroes and we're not going to forget them," Greear said. He then put back on his helmet, joined his colleagues, and rode on.