Farewell to fallen officer

Thousands joined together yesterday to bid a somber farewell to slain Highway Patrol Officer Patrick McDonald. McDonald is the fourth Philadelphia police officer killed in the line of duty in the last 11 months. The 30-year-old was gunned down last Tuesday in North Philadelphia by Daniel Giddings, a recent parolee from state prison who already had a warrant out for his arrest for assaulting several police officers. Giddings was later killed during a gun battle with police.

McDonald's send-off was stirring and unique, to say the least. Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey announced during the funeral Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul that he was promoting McDonald posthumously to the rank of sergeant. Hundreds of motorcycle cops from up and down the East Coast were a part of the motorcade that carried McDonald to his final resting place at Resurrection Cemetery in Bensalem. A high-ranking cop told me it was the largest motorcade the police department had ever seen.

The murder of McDonald, a hard-scrabble football player and lifelong resident of Morrell Park in Northeast Philadelphia, has left many in the city reeling. To his brothers and sisters in blue, McDonald's death was another crushing reminder of the dangers they face and the willingness -- if not downright eagerness -- of thugs to pull a trigger when they spot a cop. To residents who still admire and respect police officers, McDonald's death inspired them to reach out and show their support.

When I was in the Northeast Monday night for McDonald's viewing, I couldn't go more than a few feet without spotting encouraging posters displayed in front windows, flags lowered to half mast on front lawns and little blue ribbons tied around trees. The desire to express some measure of solidarity spread around the city. Some folks stood outside of their homes yesterday and saluted the funeral motorcade. Heck, it's even noticeable here, where I work. The ivory top of the old Inquirer building is bathed in a blue light during the evening, and the folks running our Web site turned philly.com's "dot" blue yesterday.

I've had a few people tell me they think McDonald's murder will act as a tipping point of some kind, and force cops, elected leaders and judges to take a new or radical approach to putting the squeeze on violent offenders. Maybe. One discouraging number to keep in mind is that McDonald is one of 13 cops who have been shot in just the past two years. We've grieved again and again for the Fallen Five and raised our collective hands in the air, shouting about change and action.

Question is, will all of the emotions in the city lead to more than just words this time?