A Taste of Their Medicine

A few nights ago, I was driving home from work at 11 pm. I was mildly irritated to discover that a long section of the interstate was closed for some unknown reason. I would have to spend a good portion of my 25 mile commute on surface streets. Ah well, there was nothing for it but to settle in and endure a great deal of zigging and zagging through Seattle. Thank heavens for Google Maps.

I was wending my way through downtown when I turned a corner into the intersection of Bellevue and Olive, and suddenly found myself right in the middle of a protest march. About 200 people swelled into the intersection and surrounded my car. I couldn’t move forward. I couldn’t move back. I was trapped.

It was a peaceful enough protest. They weren’t doing any damage, but they did look angry. They were carrying signs, mostly related to defunding the police, and they were shouting, “No Trump! No KKK! No racist USA!”

I believe wholeheartedly in every one of those statements. I genuinely do. But these protesters didn’t know that. What they saw was some random white woman. It would be easy to think I’m part of the problem. And in essence, I am, since I’ve unwittingly propped up the status quo for my entire life.

So there I was, trapped in my car, desperately hoping that this crowd wouldn’t see me as the enemy. If they did, there’s nothing I could have done about it. Every movie I’ve ever seen where a car is surrounded by a mob flashed through my mind. They could have easily trashed my car or rolled it over. I was completely at their mercy.

I did the only thing I could think of to do. I called my husband. As if he could save me, 25 miles away. But it was good to hear his voice. At least he’d know why I didn’t come home if the worst happened.

The traffic light cycled at least 5 times, but I was going nowhere. My heart was pounding. I felt like I was going to throw up.

And then I had an even worse thought. If the cops showed up right now, this would probably turn into a riot, and there’d be teargas and rubber bullets. And I would be trapped in the thick of it, with nowhere to go. Oh, God, please don’t let the cops come right now.

Yeah. Let that sink in for a bit. I was terrified that the cops were going to show up.

At one point, the crowd started marching down the street, away from my car, which, in fact, no one had touched. I heaved a huge, shaky sigh of relief and prepared to move forward, out of the traffic snarl. But then, inexplicably, they all rushed back into the intersection and engulfed my car again. I felt like crying. I just wanted to go home.

That crowd felt like one big, organic, unpredictable entity to me. I didn’t know what was going to happen. And then finally, just like the parting of the red sea, the crowd separated and let traffic flow again. The incident probably only lasted 10 minutes, but to me it felt like an eternity.

I headed home, feeling nauseous from the adrenaline dump. I fought back tears as I merged onto the interstate south of town. I felt like I had survived something that I never expected to encounter.

And then I realized that this is what it must feel like to be black a lot of the time. At the mercy of the majority. Trapped. Afraid that you’ll be seen as the enemy. Terrified that the cops will come. Surrounded by the unpredictable. Misunderstood.

That night, the universe forced me to take a big old draught of the medicine that is poured down the throats of black people every single day, and I didn’t like it. Not even a little bit. In fact, it made me feel sick.

But in terms of enlightenment, it probably did me good.

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Forever Changed by George Floyd

I’m alone at work on my drawbridge. It’s 8:30 in the morning and the sky outside is so dark grey that it feels like the sun had gone down. Lightning and thunder crash all around me. The sideways rain disorients me. It’s as if gravity no longer exists.

I came to expect this kind of weather every day Florida, but I can count the number of times I’ve seen lightning in the Pacific Northwest on one hand, even though I’ve been here for nearly 6 years.

It feels like my nerves are on the surface of my skin. Even a slight breeze feels agitating. The atmosphere is highly charged. And this fucking pandemic doesn’t help. I’m so over it. I’m so done.

Masochist that I am, I decide to read the news. It seems like the whole world is on fire due to what happened to George Floyd. I already know it’s about police brutality and injustice, and I’ve been righteously indignant for days now. But for some reason I feel the need to actually see the video. I feel like I should bear witness.

Don’t watch it, unless you’re okay with being fundamentally changed. But watch it, because we all need to be fundamentally changed. Either way, it’s disturbing.

Floyd is lying on the ground with three cops on top of him. One has his knee on his neck. His full body weight is pressing down on him. Three on one, with a man who is already handcuffed, for a confrontation that was never violent in the first place. A fourth cop is standing over the action, protecting the other cops from the crowd.

The cop with his knee on Floyd’s neck is willfully choking him. He’s gasping for air. Calling for his mother. Begging them to stop. The crowd is telling them to stop. Saying this isn’t right. Saying blood is coming out of his nose. Saying there’s nothing in academy training that teaches you to do this… strangle someone on the street.

I watch for more than four minutes as he gasps for air. Four minutes is a long time. Stare at the clock for four minutes. Do it for George Floyd. You’ll see. Four minutes is the average length of a drawbridge opening.

This is very triggering for me. I used to live with someone who had to fight for every single breath he took. I know how terrifying it was for him. I know how helpless I felt. I feel helpless now.

The man is subdued, for God’s sake. Why won’t they stop? This isn’t necessary. There’s no need for this.

In my loved one’s case it was a health situation. There was nothing, really, for me to fight against. In Floyd’s case, if I had been on the scene, I’d want to wade in there and kick that cop in the head until he was dead. Anything, to let this guy breathe. Anything. Why isn’t the crowd doing that?

Because the “protecting” cop/thug has a gun and mace and a night stick, as do the other three. They are not listening to reason. They would not tolerate physical intervention.

Why won’t neck cop get up? Because the crowd is taunting him, calling him names? Is it a point of pride, not to listen to the crowd? Is he showing them who’s boss? Is this man’s life worth proving the point that you’re the alpha here? Why won’t he stop? My God! Stop! I hit the desk with my fist.

I’m crying as I watch. No, I wouldn’t kick the cop until he was dead. That’s not really in me, even at my most desperate. I would have been on my knees. Begging. Trying to appeal to their humanity.

But there is no humanity in them. You can tell. They’ve lost it. They are animals. They are in predator mode. They are very quiet. Very focused. They’ll have their kill. Because they can.

And just like that, about 4 minutes in, you see Floyd’s life leave his body. He’s clearly, obviously dead. The man is dead. I’ve never seen someone’s life disappear before, up close and personal. I’ve never seen that exact second. He goes from being a man to being dead, just like that. He’s gone.

My God, I have just witnessed a murder. I’ve never seen a murder before. And this defiant man gets paid to protect and serve us. He is a murderer in a uniform.

The murderer stays on Floyd’s neck for at least another three minutes. Why? To make sure he’s truly dead? To make sure he’s past the point of return?

I cry as the rain beats against my window. I watch as they pick George Floyd’s body up like a piece of meat, dump it on a gurney, and roll it away. Like he’s nothing. Like he never was anything.

It feels like everyone in a position of power is insane. And that’s terrifying. What do you do when you feel helpless to stop a power structure that’s gone mad?

I understand why the world is on fire right now. I get it. We are past the point of a plea for reason. The people in power have absolutely no desire to do the right thing. Peaceful protest doesn’t cut it. I don’t think burning and looting shops is the answer, either. Those business people didn’t do this to Floyd.

But we all prop up the system that allowed this to happen to Floyd, and that system has made it clear that it has no ears. It won’t listen. And fire, man… fire removes the old, twisted growth. Fire makes way for the new. Fire allows us to start over. But the best fire in this instance is metaphorical. Literal fire would muddy the message. No. we need the slow burn of peaceful yet demanding protests by reasonable people who are trying to make people in authority be reasonable as well. We need to turn up the heat and increase the pressure for justice to finally be born in this country.

Destruction and violence shouldn’t be necessary. I don’t condone it. But we do have to start over. We can’t continue to pay people who think that they’re then allowed free reign to stand on people’s necks. It’s not right. It never has been.

A sailboat requests an opening, and I come back to the here and now. Why would anyone be out in this weather? Why risk it?

As I’m about to raise the bridge, I hear a dog barking, frantically. I delay the opening and look for this dog. Probably longer than I should. Definitely longer than I normally would.

I don’t want to kill this dog. I’m desperate not to kill him. But I can’t find him anywhere, even though I hear him. That’s really strange. Why can’t I see him? I think I’m in shock.

Traffic is backing up. Finally, I’m forced to do the opening and hope for the best. My stomach is in knots. The sailboat floats casually though as if nothing is happening. That’s privilege for you.

I close the bridge. The lights turn green. All is go. I watch an unmasked jogger with a prancing, barking labradoodle puppy on a leash cross over. I’m feeling irritated.

And then, holy jumping Jesus, I’m encased in a ball of white light. I’m covered in gooseflesh. I step numbly back from the electric operating console. That lightning strike was so fast and so close that I didn’t even hear the thunder.

And now I’m watching the launch of the first crewed, private rocket as SpaceX delivers astronauts to the International Space Station. What a contrast. So much ingenuity in space, so little here on the ground.

Everything is different, now.

But I’m still breathing. George Floyd, a fellow human being, is not. May he rest in the kind of peace that none of us who are living in this hellish status quo should enjoy.

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After an emotionally and exhausting day which included the writing of this post, I got in my car to commute home in a downpour. Less than hour later, that very interstate was shut down by rioters, and Seattle, too, began to burn.

Please know that I make a distinction between protesters and rioters. We had a peaceful and lawful protest in Seattle for four hours. Then all holy hell broke loose. People were hurt. businesses were destroyed. Just like the officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck, people were doing criminal things, taking advantage of an already tragic situation, just because they could. This did not strengthen the message. It added to the thuggery. It demonstrated even more of what needs to change in this world.

Stay safe, everyone.

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Cop Avoidance

Back in the early 80’s I was studying abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico. It was one of the high points in my life. I learned so much about myself and the wider world. It had a profound effect on how I see this planet and its many inhabitants.

I felt very safe in that welcoming community. It’s a college town, bustling with students and culture, and everyone made me feel at home. I made several friends that I’m still in contact with to this very day. The only times I didn’t feel safe were those times when I should have felt safest of all—when the cops were out.

I can’t speak to what the atmosphere is like now. I haven’t been there in decades. But I can say that when I lived there, when people saw someone in uniform, they tended to quietly disappear down side streets. The area would become eerily quiet, the air full of tension.

You couldn’t blame them. These men often looked intoxicated, and they sported automatic weapons much of the time. There was an air of lawlessness about these law enforcement officers, and the balance of power was quite obviously skewed in their favor. You didn’t want to piss them off.

One time I went dancing in a club there and a cop shot a boy out front. Shot him dead. Just like that. I never knew the full story. I never saw any protests. I just knew there was one less student in Guanajuato that night.

This rattled me because, rightly or wrongly, I had grown up in white America. I was taught that cops were your friends. “Officer Friendly” came to my school. He told us that if we ever got lost, we should seek out the nearest policeman and everything would be okay. So being afraid of police never crossed my mind until I went to Mexico.

I hadn’t thought about this in years, but just the other day I realized I’m starting to feel this way in this country. Between the random shootings and the way the pipeline protesters are being treated, it doesn’t feel safe to be around law enforcement anymore. And Trump wants to escalate that to an alarming degree.

I don’t want to live in a world where I have to hide from public servants. I don’t want the balance of power to go past that tipping point, but it’s getting awfully close. Just saying.

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Pipeline protester being arrested. Sufficient use of force?

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Stop and Frisk

I find pretty much everything that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth to be outrageous. But when he claimed that New York City needs to reinstate its old stop and frisk policies because crime increased after their policy was deemed unconstitutional, I nearly hit the roof. These lies are just more of his “be very afraid” tactics, and they make me sick.

According to this article in the New York Times, crime has decreased since stop and frisk has decreased. You can still be frisked by a cop, mind you, but there has to be reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Gone are the days when cops can just frisk you because they don’t like the way you look. Theoretically.

The fact that Trump thought that this police state policy was a good idea just shows what a low opinion he has of the general public, and also what kind of country we could look forward to if we elect this man. I’m fairly certain that Trump has never been frisked in his life. I’m equally certain that if he ever were to be, there’d be a lawsuit.

I was frisked once. I was 19 years old, standing in line to see Rocky Horror Picture Show, and this low-class rent-a-cop frisked me. Thoroughly. It was an outrageous violation that I will never forget. It is but one more thing that has tainted my view of cops overall. Being just a kid, I didn’t raise hell. I would now. (But then I suspect he wouldn’t be interested in feeling me up now. Because that was exactly what he was doing, and he made quite sure I knew it.)

The upshot is that it was a physical and public relations abuse that I have carried with me for 32 years. I’m sure that is the case with every innocent person who is violated in that manner. It just adds to the ever-increasing tension between the police and the public. Who on earth would think that this is a good idea? Trump and his minions, apparently.

Oh, yeah, and the Vero Beach police in Florida. My late boyfriend and I lived there for two years, and he got stopped and frisked no fewer than three times during that period. Each time he was riding his bicycle. That’s all. Just getting some exercise on a balmy Florida evening after a hard day at work.

Because of medical issues, Chuck wore his hair long and had a beard to mask his lopsided face and the missing portion of his skull. He slurred his words. But a more intelligent, decent human being you will never find. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.

But simply because he didn’t look like a high class upstanding republican, three times he was pulled over, yanked off his bike and thrown down on the hood of a police cruiser. I think it made me even angrier than it did him. He was kind of used to being misunderstood. I wonder what he’d think of the public’s decreasing opinion of cops in general if he were alive today.

Please vote, everybody.

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MAKING America Great

I have no idea why, but I’ve known a lot of ex-cops in my lifetime, and have had some disturbing conversations therewith. I strongly believe that certain jobs attract certain personalities, and I have to confess that I’ve always been sort of creeped out by the cop culture, as much as truly I appreciate that thin blue line. I’m hoping that the attitudes and/or actions that I describe below are the reason these individuals are ex-cops, but who knows.

Many years ago, I worked for the Florida Department of Transportation. I was standing outside my office with an ex-cop, watching one of the prison crews load their equipment onto a truck. (FDOT contracts with prison crews to do minor work such as landscaping and pothole repair.) He said to me, “Man, I wish we still had the hot box for when they act up.”

When I asked him to elaborate, he said that right there on that very spot they used to keep a tiny metal shed, so tiny that you had to squat to get into it, and when one of the prisoners on a crew would misbehave, they’d stick him in there for “a day or so”. Every once in a while someone would go by and hit the metal walls with a stick “for fun” to make the guy jump while he was in there sweating and dehydrating and cramping up beneath the brutal Florida sun. “They’d behave after that,” he said with a hint of nostalgia in his voice.

I was horrified. Shades of Cool Hand Luke.

Another ex-cop posted a picture of a flattened human being with tire tracks across his torso on her Facebook page. She thought this was hilarious. It actually made me feel kind of sick.

A third told me he wished the city cops had as much “leeway” as the county cops when dealing with vagrants. “See, the county cops will just beat the hell out of them and they’ll leave and never come back. Whereas the city cops have to be all polite.”

And just the other day I heard about a trick that some cops supposedly employ when they want to pull someone over but they have no valid reason. It’s called a wrist rocket. Apparently that’s a slingshot that they use to take out a person’s tail light.

I can understand the desire to make America great. But when your idea of “make” is to “force upon” rather than to “bring about”, you’ve crossed the line into very scary Donald Trump territory. Not all of us have the same definition of great.

Is there any wonder why some police have such public relations issues? And as a friend of mine commented on Facebook, “Is no one being taught the Constitution anymore? No one?”

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Little Brother is Watching You

While social media may be sucking the life force out of us in many ways, it also has its advantages. I am convinced the holocaust could never have happened in 2016. Those of us who legitimately didn’t know what was going on back then would know now, and those of us who were pretending not to know would have no excuse. And holocaust deniers would look even more idiotic than they already look, if that’s possible.

Everyone who has a cell phone or any internet device is now a potential reporter. That’s why the bad cops among the good ones are getting so much attention. Like cockroaches, they don’t do well in the light.

The Arab Spring would not have spread to so many countries a half century ago. There was no easy way to pass the word. There was no way to let others know that you felt the same way about things as they did.

Before police jurisdictions could share information about unsolved cases, it was easier to be a serial criminal. And while the rich and powerful still seem to be able to do their dirty deeds with impunity, the power of public opinion gets stronger with time. Little Brother is watching you.

The thing that countries that like to censor their citizens don’t seem to realize is that sharing information is always a good idea. Unless, of course, your motives aren’t pure. But censorship is a lot harder when the number of avenues of communication are increasing by the day.

I genuinely believe that the reason we as a society seem more cynical and dissatisfied and put upon than ever isn’t that things have gotten worse. It’s that it’s more obvious now. Even if it has been forever thus, one of the things we’re more readily able to share these days is that we’re pissed off.

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[Image credit: swtnlaw.com]

Cop-ophobia

Growing up, I was taught that policemen were your friends. If you got lost, find the nearest police officer. He would help you. As law-abiding as I always have been, I assumed that all cops were Officer Friendly, and I maintained that view until I was 18 years old.

So imagine my shock as an exchange student in Mexico, when a policeman appeared on the street and every man, woman and child disappeared. Where was everybody going? I quickly figured it out when I realized the man was clearly intoxicated, and was carrying a semi-automatic weapon. And then another officer shot and killed a boy inside a crowded local disco that I had just left an hour earlier. I learned, like the rest of the citizenry, that it was best to avoid interactions with the local constabulary whenever possible. This was a new feeling and I didn’t like it.

I was relieved to come home to America where law enforcement, I thought, was much saner. Then an off duty cop frisked me way, way, way too intimately as I was going to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show. And a few years later, when stopped for speeding (guilty as charged) the officer stuck his crotch in my open window, inches from my face, as he supposedly wrote my ticket on the roof of my car.

And then over the years I have seen evidence of both arrogance and contempt from police officers, and it seems that you can’t read the news today without coming across a story about police brutality. The folks that are there for our safety don’t seem to be particularly safe themselves, and that’s terrifying. So forgive me if you really are Officer Friendly, but if you pull me over, I’m going to keep my hands on the top of the steering wheel where you can see them, and not move a muscle until you instruct me to, all the while thinking, “Please don’t hurt me”. Because I don’t trust you. Can you honestly blame me?

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[Image credit: pinterest.com]

Bigger Fish to Fry

Today I reported a con artist to the police. It was your typical Craig’s List con, a guy offering a house to rent at a price that was too good to be true. But I figured what the heck? Never hurts to ask. So I contacted him.

He tells me the address, and gives me this story about how he and his family moved to another state and he’s not worried about the amount of rent as much as he wants a good tenant that he can trust who will take care of the place as if it were his or her own. Naturally the place is locked, but I can go by and look in the windows, and if I want to rent it, I can fill out this form that asks for a ton of personal information, send him 500 dollars, and he’ll mail me the keys. Yeah, right.

I went on line to the city property records and discovered that the house was owned by land trust, so the guy probably thought it was vacant. But out of curiosity, I drove by. Someone’s SUV was in the driveway. It’s occupied. The tenant most assuredly does not know that his address is being used as a scam, because that would just draw the police right to his door.

So I decided to play a little game with the guy. I wrote back to him, acting all excited. I told him that I drove by the house on my way to work. I didn’t get a chance to look in the windows, but just from the outside I could tell that it was a cute little place, and I loved the neighborhood. (And in point of fact, it was a cute place. I would have liked nothing better than to be able to rent it.) I told him I was definitely interested. One question, though. If I rented the place, would I be able to remove the tire swing? I’d hate to attract the neighborhood kids, and God forbid one of them got hurt. That would open us both up to liability.

He responded almost immediately by asking me to fill out his form again. I said I would, but he hadn’t answered my question about the tire swing. He responded again. “Yes, you can take down the tire swing.”

Busted. There is no tire swing, and the owner would know that. So I called the police and reported this. I figured it would be a slam dunk. We had his IP address and his cell phone number and the ad he placed for an address that we could easily prove not to be his own, but instead they told me there are millions of those scams out there, and there was really nothing they could do about it.

That’s the frustrating thing about cons. The cops have limited time and resources to pursue this stuff, so they tend to look the other way. They have bigger fish to fry, and the petty con artists know this. It makes me sick to think that somewhere, some little old lady is having 500 dollars of her social security check stolen from her even as you read this.

So I decided to mess with the guy one last time. I e-mailed him again and told him that I had just busted his scheming, con artist butt, and that the police would be contacting him directly. Within seconds, his add was pulled off Craig’s list. I cheered.

I know he’ll just create a new account and pull this same foolishness under another name in a different city, but for a brief, shining moment, that ad was down, so someone didn’t get conned. And he probably had to change his prepaid cell phone number. What a hassle. For a split second, the good guys won. And it felt really, really good.

Incidentally, NEVER respond to a Craig’s List rental ad if a) they don’t list the address right up front,  b) the price and/or amenities seem way too good to be true,  and c) the property manager is not local. The funds you save could be your own.

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[image credit: lifehacker.com]

Just Another Day in My Life

So I went over to my friend’s condo to check his mail while he’s out of town. It was early in the morning, and I pulled up at the bank of mailboxes and stepped out of the car. Then I heard this scream. Not an excited scream like two teenage girls who are playing around. Not even a movie scream. This scream made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. I got back in my car and locked the doors.

Looking over my shoulder, I noticed a nearby condo door that was wide open, and I could see two pairs of feet. These people were rolling around on the floor, obviously locked in mortal combat. I immediately dialed 911. I was describing the events to them as they were unfolding, but I got the sense that they thought this was a crank call, probably because my cell phone is from another area code, and because, well, the story got very strange.

What happened next was that they took their fight outside. At first I assumed the small woman was the victim, but then she ripped the shirt off the guy…no wait. That was not a guy! That was a woman, now topless, defending herself on the front lawn. And the little woman was throwing all her possessions into the yard while screaming as if she’d been bludgeoned.  And then little woman threw an iron straight at naked woman’s head! It shattered in the parking lot (the iron, not her head).

Meanwhile I’m hunkered down in my car while talking to 911 and trying to be invisible in spite of my front row center location. It seemed like an eternity before the cops got there. By the time they arrived, naked woman had put on a shirt and had walked away. I talked to the officer on the phone and told him what I witnessed from the report. But neither of them would admit anything, so he decided not to press charges.

Finally I drove away, and since the road is one way and I had to stop and check in on my friend’s condo, it took me several minutes before I had circled back around to the front gate. I was thinking that I live a relatively sheltered life. I mean, things like this just don’t happen to me. Thank goodness they don’t, too, because I was getting nauseous from the adrenaline dump.

As the gate slowly opened up for me, who do I see but the little woman with her 12 year old child in tow, waiting for me.  She takes one look at me and lunges for the car, cursing and screaming like a banshee. She must have seen me talking on the phone during her little boxing match. But now, seeing her fury directed at me, I must admit I nearly soiled myself as I accelerated away. It’s so ironic that this woman now clearly wanted to go for my eyes when I had gotten involved originally because I thought her life was in danger.

The last thing I saw was the look on her child’s face. She was mortified and my heart broke for her. What will her life be like with that type of role model? It makes me sad just thinking about it.

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