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A burden worth bearing
For many officers around the country, one of the hardest aspects of the job is coming to terms with the reality that donning the badge and uniform comes with a potentially deadly risk. Given the nature of Castro’s work – around 8-10 hours of painting per portrait – his immersion in that difficult truth is arguably deeper than most.
“A lot of times you’ll read these stories about how they’re walking up to a house and they’re ambushed or they’re sitting in their car and they don’t even know what’s coming,” Castro said. “It’s crazy to think that … I don’t work in patrol anymore, but there’s hundreds of thousands of cops that still do it every single day, and they don’t know what they’re walking into. It’s difficult to know that these were the stories behind what happened to them – that was their last moment. It’s tough to think about while you’re painting.”
But for Castro, it’s a burden worth bearing.
“There’s a lot of tension going on between police officers and the general public. This is a way for people who aren’t police officers to see these officers as people too,” Castro said.
Another grim reminder of the dangers cops face every day: the sheer number of officers killed on duty means that despite his best intentions, Castro, who works on the portraits in his spare time and can only do two per week, is having trouble keeping up. He entered 2017 with the goal of painting a portrait of every fallen officer killed this year. He even set up a “Wall of Heroes” bulletin board in his office, where he hangs 3’x5′ prints of each cop. But by March, he was already behind in double digits.
“It’s not like I’m picking and choosing what I want to do. If an officer is killed and I see the funeral is coming up, I’ll try to get it done in time,” Castro said. “I get a lot of requests and it’s not that I’m choosing not to do it; I just don’t have the time to.”
Despite this backlog, Castro hopes that he can meet his goal by the end of the year. And the work doesn’t stop there. In addition to law enforcement officers, Castro has also paid tribute to other first responders and members of the military. He’s even expanded his tributes to include civilians. Earlier this year, Castro honored Robert Godwin Sr., the 74-year-old man who was brutally gunned down at random while he was walking home with groceries.
In memory of
While Castro’s work has received a lot of attention, he doesn’t do it for the recognition or praise. He made it clear that his mission is to honor these heroes and share their stories – he wants the attention on them, not himself.
“I’m not really doing anything other than portraying these officers the way they would want to be remembered,” Castro said.
The only thing he asks in return for his work is that people share these stories – that they spread the word and remember these lives taken far too soon.
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