Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon passed away yesterday after a month-long with COVID-19 at the age of 65. The following is an essay by Stephen Henderson that reflects on this loss:
This has been a year so filled with tragedy and sadness and pain that all of us, I think, are just staggering through these last few days, hoping for a better 2021. Day after day, week after week, the sickness and death wrought by COVID-19 has brought all of us to our knees, crying out in ineffable anguish for some relief.
The numbers have piled high — infections, hospitalizations, deaths — to the point where it’s difficult to imagine a week or even a few days going by without terrible news darkening our lives.
And just as we are beginning to see a tiny sliver of light on the horizon, the arrival of a vaccine that will save hundreds of thousands from dying, we are still reminded, bitterly, of the wickedness of this disease, the random theft of life that it imposes on us, our families, our communities.
Benny Napoleon, the sheriff of Wayne County, is our latest prompt. Word came late last night that Napoleon lost his fight with COVID-19, a weeks-long battle that arced the way so many others did. At times, we’d hear he was getting better. Then we’d hear he was flagging again. And then, finally, yesterday, that he was dead.
We’ve dealt with these tremendous losses all year, and marked the personal tolls of each of them.
But COVID deaths right now seem particularly cruel — because infections shouldn’t be this high, nine months into the pandemic, and because we seem so close to the dawn of post-COVID life.
How many people, like Napoleon, will die within reach of the vaccine? How senseless does it feel to be losing people the way we still are, even as we celebrate the arrival of the vaccine, no less enthralling than the manna that told Noah, in the Christian Bible, that a new day, a new world was being heralded.
Listen: Warren County Executive Warren Evans, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and Stephen Henderson remember Benny Napoleon.
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell is a Democrat from Dearborn representing Michigan’s 12th Congressional District. “Benny helped me think differently, he helped me look at things through a different perspective. The community has lost someone… who loved the people in this community,” says Dingell of Napoleon’s death.
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans was longtime friends with Napoleon. “Our careers mirrored each other’s; we were both law enforcement guys our whole careers, and I think it was law enforcement that got us both focused… we went to law school together. He’s been a great person and friend,” says Evans. “He wasn’t someone being careless,” Evans adds and notes that Napoleon was very careful amid the pandemic and that this week is especially hard for Wayne County as longtime Commissioner Jewel Ware also just died recently of an apparent heart attack.