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In these volatile times, it might be difficult to find stories about civilians showing their respect for police officers. Daylan McLee, for instance, has been lost in the shuffle.
That’s a shame, because he risked his life to save an officer from a burning cruiser. And he didn’t hesitate for a second — even given a past with police that would have given some pause.
McLee, 31, was at a Father’s Day cookout in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, on Sunday, according to The Associated Press. When he heard and felt an explosion, he initially thought it was a small earthquake. Then, someone came running in to tell him that there’d been a car crash outside involving a police cruiser.
Without hesitation, McLee ran out to the scene.
He managed to pull the injured police officer from his cruiser just as the flames began coming into the car.
“I don’t know what came across me, but I ripped the door open and just pulled him to safety across the street,” he said.
The officer involved was identified as Uniontown Police Officer Jay Hanley.
“He was asking not to be moved. Not to be moved. His leg,” McLee told WTAE-TV. “Then we started to see the flames start to come inside of the car from the bottom, and I knew we had to get him out. Another officer tried to assist me, and I just ripped the door open and we started dragging him across the street before the car ignited or anything serious like that.”
“I know this man is my brother through Christ, and I couldn’t leave him behind,” McLee told KDKA-TV. “There were people outside screaming. We felt it in the house. It was like a jolt.”
After being rescued from the fiery crash, Hanley was flown to a hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia, where he underwent surgery for a serious leg injury on Sunday and Monday.
Police are crediting McLee with saving the officer’s life. Hanley’s sister has called McLee to thank him, as have the police chief and several officers.
This would be interesting enough if it weren’t for McLee’s history with police.
“I haven’t had the best past with law enforcement,” McLee said.
This is painfully accurate. After a March 2016 fight outside an American Legion Bar, McLee ended up spending a year in jail — even though it turned out the reality of the situation was much different than police painted it.
In fact, in late 2018, McLee filed a lawsuit against four Pennsylvania State Police troopers for wrongful arrest.
The incident began when his sister called McLee to say she needed a ride home since she’d been drinking and there was a fight there. McLee confronted the combatants upon arrival, disarming a man with a gun in the parking lot. He threw the weapon aside.
However, as McLee left the scene, a state trooper opened fire on him. McLee, the trooper claimed, had pointed a weapon at him twice.
Security footage would later bear McLee’s story out: He had disarmed the man and discarded the gun long before the trooper fired at him. A jury acquitted him on the charges, but he still spent a year in jail.
“That was a year away from his children, and a year away from his mother, who was ill at the time,” the AP report noted. “She passed away last year.”
McLee was also caught up in an incident with plainclothes police officers several months back; he said they never identified themselves as police and, guns drawn, approached him at a porch gathering. He ran and only stopped when he says they identified themselves as police.
“He said he was charged with fleeing and resisting arrest, but said during that arrest an officer kicked him in the face through a fence, splitting his lip. He said the use of force was caught on a security camera and he plans to fight the charges,” the AP reported.
And yet, despite all this, despite the debates about race and policing in America, despite the fact that McLee is, per the AP, “a Black man with tattoos visible on his neck and arms and twisted dreads that reach below his chin,” there was never any hesitation to save a fellow human being, despite the grave risk.
This is who we are as a people. We may forget that. We may forget when someone is wronged by police and spent a year in prison. We may forget when we stare through screens with falling statues and clouds of tear gas. It’s easy for it to slip our minds as everything collapses. Americans are good, strong, God-fearing people.
Talking to WTAE, McLee captured what this was all about.
“Human life,” he said. “A lot of crazy things are going on in the world, and I haven’t had the best ends in life, but I know the value of human life. You can’t replace it.
“It’s Father’s Day. I’m not sure if he has children, but I know he has family, and I’m pretty sure they’re glad to have him there, and I’m glad he’s home, or going to be home.”
There are divides to be bridged and problems to be solved in this country. We can’t pretend that race and policing aren’t one of them. But deep down, we’re one human race that values human life.
You might not hear much about Daylan McLee. However, what he did on Father’s Day is the essence of who we are as a country. That’s something we need to hold on to.