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Unspeakable gratitude for public safety professionals

Flags flew at half-staff over the State Capitol and throughout Gwinnett County in late October. Memorials poured in and people lined the procession route after the funeral for Gwinnett Police Officer Antwan Toney. He was shot dead while investigating a suspicious vehicle. He had been with the police department since October 2015.

Charlotte J. Nash

Officer Toney was a native of Southern California. He was a member of the 94th Gwinnett Police Academy and was loved and respected by everyone who knew him.

Officer Toney was the fifth Gwinnett Police officer ever killed in the line of duty and the first since 1993.

I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of grief and support from our community. A patrol car was parked in front of police headquarters as a memorial to Officer Toney was quickly covered with flowers and stuffed animals. It’s obvious that the people of Gwinnett County deeply appreciate the police officers, the firefighters, the sheriff’s deputies, and the corrections officers who keep us all safe 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

They leave their own families to protect us… or to rescue us… or to provide emergency medical care on the way to the hospital. They work long shifts at odd hours, even on holidays. Sometimes they put their lives on the line. For us.

We know it’s not an easy job. We know their days can go from dull to heart-pounding in a split second. We know they run toward danger while the rest of us run away.

I speak to our police and fire academy graduates several times a year. Each time, I express my gratitude for their willingness to serve the people of Gwinnett. I express my respect for their courage and dedication to duty. And I express my admiration for their ability to accept the unknown and unknowable aspects of the job. I hope they know how deeply I mean those words.

I don’t like adding names to our Fallen Heroes Memorial. I wish we never had to do it. But seeing those names permanently etched in black granite – some dating back to Gwinnett’s earliest years – reminds me that a few brave and honorable men and women will always step forward to protect the rest.

I am so grateful for those few. And so devastated when we lose one. But when the whole community stands together in grief – expressing it as best we can – I realize I am not alone. Someone has our back. Someone like Officer Antwan Toney.