I hate the news. In the last few years I’ve stopped reading it or watching it. I’m done. It does nothing but depress me. I know there are terrible, horrific things going on every day, in my town and in every corner of the globe. Me being depressed about them doesn’t make anything better. I feel a little guilty being the ostrich with its head in the sand, but I absolve myself by trying to offer up the same prayer every day: Please bring peace to everyone hurting or suffering today. Boom. All bases covered.
Anything big will make its way to me anyway. I’d heard people talking about Baltimore within the last few days and today I managed to get caught up on what’s been going on. Here’s another reason I hate the news: something notable happens and everyone flies off the handle and suddenly has a really strong opinion in one direction or the other. That’s the thing– everyone seems to lose their ability to think in a balanced way, to consider possibilities outside their normal way of thinking– and everyone seems to come down strongly on either Team Police or Team Minority. Everything on both sides just feeds into this ENDLESS cycle of conflict, hate, and intolerance.
I don’t know why I feel called to write about this. One reason is purely selfish, that I am just SAD about this, just like I was sad about the Ferguson stuff back over Thanksgiving, and feel like maybe if one person reads this and unearths some compassion in their thinking that wasn’t there before, then I have in some teensy way contributed positively to everything. (I am aware that this in itself is an obnoxious, privileged way of thinking. OMG something horrible is happening! Let me say something *EnLiGhTeNeD* and *hEaL tHe wOrLd* by showing everyone how smart and contemplative I am!) I don’t know. Whatever misguided intentions are motivating this, I want to write about it.
Here’s the thing. What if we let go of our “side”? What if we just agreed that this is horrible, and tragic, and sad, for each and every person involved? BECAUSE IT EFFING IS. It’s tragic that it’s Two Thousand Effing Fifteen and we haven’t figured out how to break the culture of violence and across-the-board HORROR that is inner city existence. It’s tragic that people are volunteering to serve in law enforcement– volunteering for a job that puts their lives in daily danger– and being treated like murderous monsters.
No, nobody should break any law in the first place. No, senseless violence and rioting is not EVER appropriate or justified. No, looting is never OK. Yes, police shouldn’t use more force than necessary in carrying out their jobs. Yes, police should expect to be accountable and answer questions when force is used. Yes, there should be humane expectations when force is required, and strict mechanisms in place to enforce those expectations. ALL OF THESE THINGS CAN BE TRUE AT THE SAME TIME. There is not some rule that you only get to pick one thing.
It’s so easy to look at this footage and draw knee-jerk reactions. I just did tonight. Saw some dude climb on top of a police car and just start bouncing up and down on the roof. Which honestly is probably one of the more benign things that’s going on right now. I think the exact thought to go through my brain was: Oh my God, why do people think you can just… DO THAT?! Like, in WHAT world?!
Then I realized, hey, I know exactly in what world people think they can do that. It looks absolutely insane and incomprehensible and barbaric to me, because I came from a different world where people modeled respectable behavior and taught me right from wrong. It can be said with certainty that I, Sarah Becker, Bachelor of Arts, Wearer of Pearl Earrings, Eater of Organic Produce, will live out the rest of my life without it ever crossing my mind to climb on top of a cop car and bounce around on it. I can say with near certainty that my family, my children, my friends, and NOBODY I personally know will bounce up and down on a cop car in their lifetimes.
But what happens when you live in another kind of world, one that most of us can’t even begin to comprehend? The horrible, tragic, EFFING UNFAIR REALITY is that generations of children keep growing up in unthinkable conditions. I want to cry thinking about this– that all these children, all these boys, are born into the world just like everyone else is. Six or seven or eight pounds, umbilical cord stump, a little hat from the hospital. They could grow into engineers or consultants or mechanics or attorneys or educators or plumbers or piano repairmen or just nice members of society– just like you, and just like the other adults you probably hang with, and just like your children probably will. They could– THEY COULD!– but they won’t. Because the odds are already stacking against these babies the second they’re brought home, because they’re not going home to places like you and I brought our babies home to.
Many of them will spend their childhoods without any kind of stability or security. Do you know what that does to a kid? Many of them won’t even have parents in the picture. Many of them will start school already behind from not getting the attention and stimulation they needed as toddlers and preschoolers. Many of them won’t have people who care if they go to school in the morning, or care what grades they bring home. Many of them will spend their entire impressionable childhoods looking around their families and looking around their communities and finding NOT A SINGLE EXAMPLE of an adult who has an education, respects the law, shows up consistently at a job, and generally lives like a contributing member of society. To circle back to the above analogy, just like I don’t know anybody who would jump on a cop car, this kid is looking around and can’t name anybody who would NOT jump on a cop car.
So what, what, WHAT do we expect when these babies grow up? How do we expect them to know the first thing about right and wrong when nobody ever taught them, or modeled it for them? You can hardly blame their parents because their parents were the same. Next these young people will be parents themselves and what can we expect from their children? Nothing but the same. IT’S EFFING TRAGIC.
Then here is where people say, Well I know of this person, or this story of a person, who grew up in horrible conditions and overcame incredible adversity and went to college and now is doing this terrific thing with their lives! If they can do it anyone can do it! As if everything is just that simple. I actually hate this line of thinking. Like taking an inspiration and just saying, well what’s wrong with everyone else, what’s their excuse. When the takeaway here is that some people are incredibly blessed with resiliency and talent and intelligence, and thank God for that, and how tragic for the 98% of their peers who weren’t born with that innate strength and will never know those same successes.
And to revisit the question of expectations in the police’s defense. These police officers are volunteering for incredibly dangerous and difficult jobs in these communities that are just nothing but violence and crime on a daily basis. When entire communities are deciding to “take out” law enforcement, police officers are going to go about their jobs guided by fear and mistrust. DUH. They are going to assume ever hand going into a pocket is a weapon and not something innocuous. They are going to assume the worst case about every situation and– perhaps– overuse force accordingly and accidentally. How do we not expect this? How can we blame them? How can we say we’d do it any differently?
It’s like we dump police officers into these violent, unpredictable neighborhoods– give them a near impossible job of keeping the peace against all odds– and then expect them to respond PERFECTLY in every situation. To INSTANTLY size up situations perfectly, magically read minds and intentions, and respond with JUST the perfect amount of force. We sit at our safe white collar jobs, or in our safe homes, or have safe little Facebook fights about how police officers SHOULD have done it all differently. Armchair quarterback, hindsight is 20/20, EVERY stupid little adage applies here.
And here’s the thing– they do respond perfectly– police make thousands of arrests every day without incident– but it’s an effing dangerous business and the rare thing is going to go tragically wrong. It’s tragic, but in communities full of violence and crime, how can we expect tragic things to NOT happen?
It’s tragic what happened to this Freddie individual. And to the teenager in Ferguson, and to Trayvon Martin. And to every other person I didn’t hear about on the news. There’s not a “but” that follows that. It’s tragic. It’s also tragic that police officers lose their lives all the effing time in the line of duty– here, look— frequently at the hands of criminals, in DELIBERATE, not accidental acts. It happens so often that it’s not even newsworthy like what’s happening in Baltimore. They are mourned quietly.
It’s tragic. All of it, for everyone involved, across the board, start to finish, A to Z. Let us hope for peace for each and every person hurting and angering over this.