The most indelible image from Wednesday’s terror attack in Paris is of Police Officer Ahmed Merabet sprawled on the sidewalk with both hands raised in supplication.
"Do you want to kill me?” asked one of the two masked gunman.
"No, it’s OK, chief," Merabet said.
Merabet had already been immobilized by a bullet to the groin. His hands were empty and the gunman who was running toward him likely recognized that this cop of Tunisian extraction was a fellow Muslim. The gunman hardly broke stride as he nonetheless shot Merabet in the head, killing him.
“[Merabet] was on foot, and came nose to nose with the terrorists,” Officer Rocco Contento, the police union trustee at Merabet’s station house in the 11th arrondissement, later told the press of the fatal encounter. ”He pulled out his weapon. It was his job, it was his duty.”
Among the 11 people the gunmen killed inside the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine was another police officer, Franck Brinsolaro, who was serving as a bodyguard for the editor. He was shot before he was able to pull his weapon.
Brinsolaro had a twin brother who is also a cop. Philippe Brinsolaro afterwards voiced his grief and fury to a scrum of reporters and TV news crews
“The whole of France must mobilize against the horror that struck our country yesterday. You can’t attack freedom of expression, attack the authority of the state in this way,” he declared.
He also said something that Americans should keep in mind given the continuing tensions here between police and some communities:
“Sometimes you get the feeling that the police are misunderstood by people but it must not be forgotten that yesterday’s gesture shows that a policeman is ready to intervene at any time when he has to protect the nation.”
Yet, as heartrending as it was to see a man whose twin had just been murdered, the video of the helpless Merabet on the sidewalk was what made cops everywhere feel as if they were watching the cold-blooded killing of a brother.
“Barbarism,” said retired NYPD Officer Jim Smith on Thursday. “The guy was obviously down. He wasn’t a danger. He was assassinated just like Liu and Ramos.”
Smith was referring to Detective Wenjian Liu and Detective Rafael Ramos of the NYPD, who were murdered in Brooklyn by a gunman bent on killing “pigs.” Smith attended both funerals as a cop and as the husband of Police Officer Moira Smith, who died on 9/11. A famous photograph shows her leading a bleeding businessman to safety before returning to the burning South Tower to rescue more people.
At Liu’s funeral on Sunday, Jim Smith had stood with his teenaged daughter Patricia, who serves as a student peer counselor for others who have lost a parent. Her mother’s spark lives on in her, undimmed.
Now, 13 years after Muslim extremists killed Moira Smith and thousands of other innocents in downtown Manhattan, Muslim extremists killed Ahmed Merabet and Franck Brinsolaro and 10 other innocents in central Paris because they felt the magazine’s cartoons had insulted Allah.
“This isn’t over,” Jim Smith said on Thursday.
The murdered Brinsolaro had two children. Merabet had none and the thought of him leaving nobody behind makes his smiling picture on a memorial Facebook page all the more wrenching.
In that photo, Merabet has a big smile that spreads across his whole face and lights up his eyes. He looks like a man who should have had kids, but now never will.
Yet that does not mean his spark dies with him. One Facebook posting read:
“Me, who is not usually on good terms with the police, I am very shocked. Rest in peace and thank you for having given to us a beautiful brotherhood with your act of bravery.”
Another said: ”A TRUE HERO...A MAN OF GOD...A HERO FOR ALL...NO MATTER YOUR FAITH...”
On Twitter, people from around the world expressed their solidarity with the murdered staff of Charlie Hebdo by joining #JeSuisCharlie. A man named Dyad Aboud Jahjah then declared:
“I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so. #JesuisAhmed”
Thousands more joined him. One quoted a biographer’s famous summation of Voltaire’s views on freedom of speech.
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Another tweeter had seven words to say of the brave cop who had a smile that filled his whole face:
“This is what a Muslim looks like.”