“We lost Mike.”
That’s how word passed – person to person, neighbor to neighbor – last Thursday afternoon after Boston Police found their colleague, Officer Mike Baker, dead in his home near Adams Village. He left us at age 42 in an act of self-inflicted violence that will likely never be explained or explainable.
The loss is maddening because Mike, who otherwise seemed upbeat and healthy— was obviously unwell on the inside. Fr. Sean Connor, who tried to ease everyone’s pain at Mike’s funeral Mass on Wednesday, compared whatever drove Mike’s fatal act to a “cancer.” The illness caused Mike to leave behind a family, especially his wife and three kids, who needed him to stay with them. In truth, many of us are angry at him for not doing that. Many of us are also disappointed in ourselves for not seeing this coming. How did we fail him? Could we have prevented this tragedy from happening?
But mostly we’re just sad and anguished for those closest to him.
I’ve struggled with how— or whether— to publish this article in the Reporter. I knew Mike from the time we were teenagers at the Boys and Girls Club on Deer Street. He was high-energy, quick-witted, personable, and street-smart. He had all the makings of a great cop, and that’s what he wanted to be.
As a friend, I encouraged it – I even wrote him a letter of recommendation – because Mike was the kind of person I wanted protecting this city: A St. Peter’s kid who was tough but without false bravado. He genuinely liked and cared about his neighbors, no matter what their circumstance or color; he was compassionate and caring. And he could relate to the kids he encountered on his beat, because he was one of them. His instinct was to put people at ease, even in their toughest moments, which is when most people have cops enter their lives. He was a giver.
Mike was also a natural performer, someone who loved to be on stage and to make people laugh. So for much of his adult life – even after he joined the BPD – he moonlighted as a stand-up comedian. He was hilariously funny and his brand of humor was particularly insightful about growing up as an Irish-American kid in the city in the 1970s and 80s. Mike had opportunities to take his career on the road, and he did club tours on occasion, but he was grounded here and being a Boston police officer eventually became his true vocation.
I felt better knowing Mike was out there watching out for us. A couple of years ago, after a blizzard, I spotted Mike on my street helping to push stranded motorists out of the snow banks. We talked for a long time that day about the ups and downs of the job – how some days he loved it and some days he didn’t. He loathed the idea of body cameras for police because he felt it would change his rapport with citizens. And, in his joking way, he laughed about how he’d answer nature’s call while wearing the device.
I don’t know for sure whether the job contributed directly to Mike’s demise, but I sense that over time it played a role. Our police force has lost several good men and women this way – and as one cop told me this week, “perhaps it’s time” to talk about it more.
This week, the focus has been on consoling the people closest to Mike. An online fundraising effort to support his family led by his comrades has raised over $100,000 in just a few days. Hundreds of police filed by Mike’s casket at Tuesday’s wake at O’Connor’s in a show of solidarity that Mayor Walsh said was the biggest turnout he’d ever seen by police for a fellow officer.
Losing Mike is a huge loss for the police community because he was highly regarded as a cop, but more so, because he was liked as a person. He made people laugh, even if he was suffering inside.
At Mike’s wake and on his funeral program, his family included the “Prayer of a Clown,” which concludes: “And, in my final moment, May I hear you whisper: ‘When you made My people smile, You made Me smile.’”
Mike’s life ended tragically. We’ll choose to remember him as he was in his prime: A husband, father, son, brother, coach, comedian, and devoted public servant. And, always – quite proudly – a Dorchester kid who always found a way to make us smile.
– Bill Forry
In 2006, Mike Baker wrote a column for the Dorchester Reporter about being "Originally from Dorchester." It's been re-published several times and shared often in recent days— and gives a glimpse into Mike's wit. Read it here.