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LAPD Officer Hamilton and the Courage of Women : Los Angeles: Bravery is coming to terms with the things worth standing up for in everyday life.

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The tragic death of LAPD officer Christy Lynne Hamilton is a reminder that the struggle for equal rights includes the weight of equal and sometimes deadly risk and responsibility. As women are integrated into traditionally male domains, we are forced to confront how we feel about women dying in service to the public order.

Courage is important to consider in these days of gender revolution. Apparently, Hamilton had it in aces. Not only did she buck complacency by taking on a career change after age 40, but she also took on a culture with a reputation for not being female-friendly. She exemplified honor and the dignity of taking action against the stereotype of a helpless woman. Contrast this with those of us who are too afraid to say something because someone might get angry or call us a name or criticize our looks. It’s true that women have very real fears of violence; we wrestle daily with apprehension ranging from the petty to the profound.

As a self-defense teacher, I have the great fortune to be around women who are committed to conquering their fears. We ask our students to contemplate the question, “What are you willing to fight for?” It’s not only a matter of physical fighting. What are we willing to fight for in terms of values? Quality of life? Social equities? How do we access our heart, our vision?

We’ve all been guilty of falling back on permissible “helpless-female” behavior when it came down to hard situations, whether it was making a difficult phone call, telling someone to back off or checking out a suspicious sound at night.

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It’s important that grown-ups--male and female--come to terms with a fact of life: It not only takes courage to risk your life; it also takes courage to live a free and equal life. Women in dangerous occupations can teach us that. Female police officers are pioneers who dare to take the all-too-real risk of injury or death.

We forget that women actually come from a tradition of courage. For millennia, women died regularly in childbirth; marriage was an act of mortal courage. Countless colonial and pioneer women threw caution to the often-deadly winds, shoulder to shoulder with their male loved ones. Native American women died defending their families and tribes. Slave women endured unspeakable torture; many who escaped came back to liberate others at great risk. Mexican women have risked all crossing a border to make a better life. Many women must brave deadly neighborhoods every day. Women have no shortage of heroic role models.

Hamilton’s life and death can be a reminder that courage is courage only when things are difficult, and that it is not only the province of men. Given the deadly nature of the problems we face--guns, drugs, violent crime, quakes, fires, floods, explosive race relations--we need all the courageous people we can muster.

It sounds so cliched, but we have an opportunity to make sure that Christy Hamilton’s life was not spent in vain by examining bravery in our own lives. When is the last time you had a talk with yourself, your spouse or your kids about what is worth fighting for? Have a moment of silence for Hamilton and then talk about what you stand for. That takes courage.

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