I was writing a post about life here on the farm as the news rolled in. It is peaceful here but my heart troubled. So today the blog rolls of the farm and into the rest of the world. But first a little history.
Many years ago when my oldest was a baby I apparently matched the description of a local drug dealer. More precisely my car did: red VW bus with a camper top. One morning on the way to work I was pulled over for a busted brake light. Knowing I could not afford the ticket I fixed it as the officer watched on the side of Cooper Point Road at four thirty in the morning. Then the next week a different officer pulled me over because my bake light wasn’t as bright as the other light. Checked my name and ID, asked to search my car, and moved on. Again no ticket. Then again the next week another pull over the excuse of which I cannot recall.
Things escalated; Then there were the slow drive-bys of my car on the street, being followed and questioned in a grocery store parking lot while I was holding my infant child. Soon I was staying home more, looking over my shoulder constantly despite the fact that I was not engaged in any criminal activity. I left for work early to allow time to be pulled over and talk to the police. A dark creeping fear spread over every outing; I was poor and one ticket could mean financial hardship and so I balanced exercising my rights against the math of potentially losing a weeks salary. I avoided the main roads, stayed off the freeways watched my speedometer and counted to three at every intersection. It was hard to find joy in my life because every peaceful minute meant I was invariably closer to the next flashing blue lights, “show me your papers”, questions of where I was going and who my friends were, did I have any drugs in the car and how much cash did I have in my possession.
On the fourth early Tuesdays pullover I finally asked the officer to give me a ticket. I told her that I was certain I had come to a complete stop at that intersection and I would like to speak to the Judge about the constant harassment and have them explain why they had pulled me over or asked to search my car ten times in one month while never citing me for anything. I was polite, she was polite, she said I am just doing my job. I told her I was just trying to get to my job and I was tired of adding half an hour to get to my commute because of this.
In all of this there was no violence, no handcuffing while we talked, no outright threats beyond the typical “we could search your car” kind of thing, but I was also white, well spoken and educated. I affirmed my rights without aggression. As one of my friends said “you smelled lawyered up to them” so that is as far as it went. And still the impacts on my mental health were evident. At the last conversation every part of my brain was screaming and my hands gripped white-knuckle on the steering wheel and I am sure my voice cracked. But that was it, just a month and it ended as soon as it began.
Now imagine a lifetime of that, and worse. Where any interaction with the police is hazardous, where simply going to work or the store involves the possibility of prolonged questioning, dehumanization, body searches, pulling your pants down on the street and exposing you in the most humiliating ways possible? What would be the impacts of that on a person? What if there was no recourse? I asked to see the judge because I believed that they would treat me fairly, what if I hadn’t had that hope? Would I have held myself in check then? Where would my life be now if I hadn’t? If I had “looked threatening” to that deputy on a dark road?
Today in this country there is a lot of anger held by people who have every reason to be angry. And I see a lot of people judging that anger, while others attempt to co-opt the moment towards their own ends and honestly they all make sick. How can a person (left or right) try and steal a moment of suffering to incite more suffering? And how can people who have never feared death at the hands of the state for their appearance, never worry about being shot for; writing a bad check, getting skittles at the store, wearing a hoodie, holding a cell phone, buying a legal firearm, carrying a legal firearm, driving legally on a public roadway sit in judgement of those who do? Why do we ignore the problem and then condemn the reaction? if we abhor the actions of traumatized people the first thing we need to do is stop traumatizing them.
I see lots of folks posting links to people like John Lewis, and yes John Lewis has earned the right to speak, but if you are sitting in your comfortable house, ensconced in a privilege you did nothing to earn but inherited by the color of your skin as I am doing writing this, then if you cannot be loving at least be silent. Set your timer for eight minutes and meditate on the breath denied so many for that time. I do not understand this suffering, but I at least know how deep my lack of knowledge really is. I encourage you reading this to look not at the actions of others but the judgement of your own heart.
Peace founded on justice would be enduring, while peace founded on oppression is a facade that will always fail when pressured. I want a world where every life is valuable, where every person is treated with respect. Until then there may be moments of calm, but no true peace.