Sgt. Robert McGaha served the Area 4 police district community for nearly three decades.

Sgt. Robert McGaha served the Area 4 police district community for nearly three decades.

Those who recall his commitment to law enforcement point to an officer who turned down opportunities to get off the streets as a beat cop because he wanted to continue to go after the criminals who disrupted communities, hoping to get them to turn from their ways.

He was considered a tough cop who pulled no punches, but one who wanted the young Black men keeping up mayhem in the community to consider doing more positive and constructive things.

Now in McGaha’s own time of need, some of the young criminals – now reformed – that he used to counsel are coming to his aid.

It was Calvin Omar-Johnson’s pleasure to help host a recent fundraiser for McGaha, 74, to help the former police officer pay for a ramp to be built at his south suburban home so that he could enter and exit the home with greater ease. McGaha suffered two strokes since he retired from the police department in 1994, the first one rendering him only slightly impaired, and the most recent one, in 2009, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Omar-Johnson admits to being into drugs and “street organizations” growing up. It was McGaha, whom he described as a stern beat cop in his West Side community, who would admonish Omar-Johnson and others to clean up their act.

He now credits Sgt. McGaha with inspiring him to make an about face in his life.

“He did so much for us in the community, in the 11th Dist.,” Omar-Johnson said of the retired cop. “He was just a tough, firm officer. He told us we need to turn our life around. So he was kinda instrumental in me making some changes in my life.”

Now Omar-Johnson is a community activist and heads the Workship Coalition, an organization that he said advocates for construction and other jobs for formerly incarcerated individuals.

McGaha has some vision issues and has difficulty speaking, but seated in his wheelchair at the head of the table in the private room in Ruby’s restaurant on the West Side, he was attentive and visibly moved by the outpouring of kind words, tributes and financial support he received at the fundraiser.

Former Cook County Commissioner Robert Shaw happened to be dining in the restaurant’s main dining room when he was told about the fundraiser for McGaha. Shaw paid compliments and pledged to give a donation to the cause.

“This officer here, I’m sure … has changed a lot of lives, helped a lot of young people; and that’s important,” said Shaw.

“It makes sense that if he lifted us, we’d lift him,” retired police Lt. Maurice Brown said of McGaha at the fundraiser.

The ramp will cost $8,000 to $10,000 to build and his fiancΘ hopes the money can be secured so that the couple can continue to reside in the split-level home they currently live in. She said she wants to help improve his quality of life.

“He needs to come out and have some kind of quality of life. That goes a long way,” said Barbara Wright, McGaha’s fiancΘ.

She wants him to be able to simply go outside their home and enjoy their big backyard.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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