SINCE SPRING 2006, Matt McIntyre has raised nearly $54,000 for the families of Philadelphia police officers who've perished in service to the city.
He's done it mostly by selling shirts printed with each slain officer's name.
Navy-blue ones for Gary Sker-ski. Blue and navy ones for Chuck Cassidy. Gray tees in memory of Isabel Nazario. Heavy white ones, in honor of Steve Liczbinski. Long-sleeve versions for Pat McDonald and Tim Simpson.
How many shirts, in all, have been sold to raise money for the families of these fallen sentries, their names a roll call burned into our collective consciousness?
"Thousands, easily," says McIntyre, 42, standing amid the boxed shirts that crowd the basement of the Winchester Park Cape Cod in Northeast Philly that he shares with his wife, Sharon, and their two kids.
"I haven't done a count recently. But thousands, yeah."
It was never Matt's intent to become known as "That T-Shirt Fundraiser Guy." He's busy enough at his job as a stage carpenter at the Kimmel Center and as an active member of the local Stagehands Union and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
But he felt desperate, back in May 2006, to do something to show the family of Officer Gary Skerski - murdered while responding to a bar holdup - that they did not grieve alone.
In the terrible months since, how could he not do the same for the loved ones of those whose deaths have rocked us like aftershocks?
Now, with the brazen murder of Officer John Pawlowski Friday evening, Matt is again in fundraising mode.
Not just to support another family in mourning.
But to keep himself from succumbing to a sense of defeat that is, I fear, numbing the rest of us to a culture of violence that is beyond rage, beyond tears, beyond action.
The monster who cops say killed John Pawlowski is a career criminal who learned that our justice system isn't serious about keeping sociopaths like him away from the rest of us.
Every day, repeat thugs like Rasheed Scruggs plea-bargain their way out of expensive trials and lengthy sentences so that our clogged courts and teeming prisons might get some breathing room.
Judges who've lost all judgment give chance after chance to the twisted, in whose eyes they mistake for goodness the cold glimmer of manipulation. And they set them loose in a city unable to monitor the comings and goings of so many miscreants at one time.
The dysfunction is set against a grinding backdrop of poverty, greed and parental absence that feeds a growing subculture that has no respect for their own lives or the lives of others.
And the cost, during this awful stretch, has been not just the lives of seven fine police officers.
It has weakened our belief that those in power - our judges and legislators - have any will whatsoever to do what they must to keep us safe.
So what do we, the defeated, do in this moment of reality?
The only things we can do, without second-guessing ourselves.
We throw another police funeral to end all police funerals. We hold fundraisers to support families for whom funds will never repay the lifetime cost of the empty seat at the dinner table.
And, if you're someone whose heart is as big as Matt McIntyre's is, you enlist your wife and kids, again, to help you orchestrate a T-shirt sale to end all T-shirt sales.
You bulk-order from a vendor who, by now, knows to expect your call within hours of an officer's death.
You keep meticulous records in manila folders of the shirts you drop off at rec centers, the FOP, the AOH and VFW halls.
You sweat over every penny and dab at tears as you write a check to the family.
You begin to fear, with the death of each new police officer, that this unpaid, part-time job you've taken on will never end.
And that all the city will have to show for the lives we've lost is another T-shirt. *
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