So I just returned from a family trip to northern Minnesota, where we spent a week on a lovely lake with no wi-fi, no internet connection and spotty cell coverage. As I sat back down at my computer for the first time in days, I was all ready to write a haha-insightful post about the joy (or sheer horror, if you asked my teenaged son), of being cut off from most of the outside world in a log cabin with no television, a malfunctioning toilet, bloodthirsty mosquitos and the world’s lumpiest sofa/bed.
Then, I read the news.
A man shot during a traffic stop. A black man. A human being, who by all accounts was a good man, hardworking and kind, loved by the schoolchildren he worked with for more than a decade, dead on the side of the road.
My heart sank. Philando Castile was killed in a town I’d just passed through the day before with my own children in the back seat of my car. Suddenly, the toilet that wouldn’t stay flushed seemed trivial and stupid. I wasn’t in the mood to crack jokes anymore. I felt saddened. And sorry. And truth be told–helpless and guilty.
Because here’s the thing–as I blissfully drove through St. Paul, it never occurred to me that I could be pulled over and shot. Heck, I’ve been pulled over–twice when I was in my twenties–for having a tail light out, just like Castile’s alleged infraction. Both times, the police officer changed the light for me. I never felt threatened. I was never perceived as a threat.
That, I now understand, was a luxury I enjoyed as a young, white woman.
Now, let me just pause and say–being a police officer is not an easy job. It’s often dangerous and difficult, and I have great respect–and am thankful–for those who protect and serve, and do it well. I am married to a federal law enforcement professional, have worked with several police officers as a newspaper reporter, and count many as friends. I would trust any of them with my life. I truly believe that the vast majority of people who enter law enforcement fields do so because they want to uphold the law. [ETA: And as I got ready to close my computer down this evening, I saw the news coming out of Dallas about the officers shot at a rally and my heart has sunk even further.]
But, I’m also aware that we have a problem in this country. Somehow, we seem to have become more trigger-happy, more polarized and opinionated (two minutes scrolling the comments section on any news site is enough to confirm that). I guest it’s easier to spew hate and fear when hiding behind a keyboard. And it’s easier to pull the trigger when you don’t see the humanity of the person in front of you.
I started this post wishing I had answers, wishing people could be good and kind to each other. That we weren’t all so disconnected in so many ways. That maybe if we stepped away from our computers, the 24/7 news cycle, our preconceived notions– if we set down the guns–maybe we could actually connect and see each other’s humanity.
I guess that’s why this tweet from wonderful middle-grade author Kate Messner really resonated with me today:
Just donated to @diversebooks. I keep hoping if we see more of one another in stories, we’ll see one another better in the real world, too.
— Kate Messner (@KateMessner) July 7, 2016
I agree, Kate.
And I will do my best–as an author and a mother and a human being–to speak out against injustice. To listen–really listen–to what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. To raise my children to do the same.
And I will keep hoping, as well.