I never had the good fortune to meet Cmdr. Paul Bauer.
Still, like others, I remain horrified and heartbroken over his death. Everything I read about him indicates he represented the best and finest of American values. A great leader, amazing father and husband, the kind of neighbor who would do anything for you.
But as much as exhaustive superlatives have been used to describe Cmdr. Bauer, there was another side of him unfamiliar to many.
On the surface, in the social justice community, Cmdr. Bauer — a white law enforcement officer — seemed like a stark contrast to the sort of person you might expect would be given entree to a protest community of young, African Americans.
But, amid the anger, challenges, shouts and frustration, something happened. Off the protest grid and away from the police grind, a relationship emerged.
Cmdr. Bauer was a behind-the-scenes coach who encouraged some of the young African American protesters in Chicago. He understood their passion on social justice issues. He understood that unemployed, fatherless teenage protesters did not deserve to be locked up but, rather, could be redirected through coaching and motivation. He knew that “student” and “employee” were better titles than “inmate” or “ex-offender.”
And Cmdr. Bauer was able to do something through conversation that judges, parole officers, ministers and counselors often were not able to do — convince protesters there was a more constructive way to get results.
A young, African American protester wanted to purchase a suit for Cmdr. Bauer’s funeral because he respected the commander that much. He told me Cmdr. Bauer would arrest him and then sit in the room and talk with him about being patient. He said Cmdr. Bauer would pull him to the side and talk to him but also would listen intently to his concerns. This young man told me he knew Cmdr. Bauer for three years and that the commander consistently shared uplifting words.
Who can handcuff, arrest and transport someone to a police station and still be respected and even revered by those he arrests? Cmdr. Paul Bauer was that man — someone whom young, African Americans protesters in Chicago now pay homage to because of his subtle nudging and sincere concern.
The uniform, title and stature of Cmdr. Bauer represented the antithesis of a protester’s mentor. He did not fit the profile of someone who would befriend protesters, but he did just that. His position was not one that normally would have been respected by protesters, but it was. He found a way into their hearts. And they found a way into his.
It is because of this uncommon and unusual relationship that Cmdr. Bauer was able to make an impact on the lives of many young, African American, male protesters in Chicago.
An African American protester referred to him as a mentor and said, “He changed my life by our talks.”
This teenage protester, reflecting on his conversations with Cmdr. Bauer, said, “If he had given up on me and if I had not listened to him, I could be dead.”
The imprint Cmdr. Bauer had on some of the young African American protesters was indelible.
Behind the badge, there was a humanitarian, an advocate and a friend to young African American men. Behind the badge was a man who upheld the law and at the same time extended his hand to the lost, loud, lamenting and left out.
Beyond the uniform, there was a leader who believed there was a bright future for the young, African Americans he encountered. Cmdr. Bauer was the kind of Samaritan who took a few minutes away from his own family to provide wisdom, advice and guidance to a family of protesters.
Beyond the uniform, there was a white man who interacted with African Americans and did not see race or color. Beyond the uniform was a Christian who cared — who looked beyond deafening demands, blaring bullhorns and massive marches and saw a deeper need. He saw young souls longing for a connection to fill a void. And Cmdr. Paul Bauer did just that.
Well done, good and faithful servant. Thank you.
Theresa Dear is an ordained elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and pastoral support minister at the DuPage AME Church in Lisle.