America…Where Do We Begin?

I can’t sleep. Again. Tonight I’m thinking about how, in the city where I live, the police shot and killed a 34-year-old unarmed woman today, with her 1-year-old in the back seat of her 2-door sedan. I’m thinking about how I’ve driven those very streets, gotten stuck in tourist traffic on those avenues, turned around with frustration and exasperation at those barricades. I don’t know what will be revealed in the days ahead about this particular person and what she was hypothetically going through, but we’ll never know for certain, will we? She was killed, in her car, with her daughter in the back seat.

As usual, I appreciate Petula Dvorak’s quick and thoughtful column on the craziness in this world. I noted one commenter in particular on this column who observed that “If she [the driver] had been a moose, or a bear, they would have used a tranquilizer dart.” Yep. We are so threatened by one another, these days, that we take each other out first, ask questions later, questions that are mostly unanswerable when the subject in question has been taken out of the equation, out of any possible conversation.

What is going on in our country? Our elected leaders can’t pass a budget, can’t resolve a conflict that is negatively impacting thousands, if not millions, of lives. But when the police “successfully” manage to work together to kill a woman in a car without first stopping her and assessing her in any way, this is celebrated. “Police said the incident showed the success of the huge security apparatus that Washington has built since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. ‘The security perimeters worked’ at both the White House and the Capitol, Lanier said. ‘They did exactly what they were supposed to do.’”

Guantanamo Bay prisoners

They did? This is exactly what was supposed to happen? America, I say, (recognizing that by that moniker I mean the United States of America, in a Ginsberg way, not all of North America, not Central or South America. I can speak only for this country, the one in which I was born, my parents were born, and my grandparents were born, including my 90-year-old grandmother who laments that this is a country she “used to be proud of.”) America: is this who we are, now? A country which refuses to pay our bills because we don’t want to have to provide health care to our citizens, a country which shoots people first and asks why they went “off-the-rails” later—when it’s long past too late to do anything about it, a country which imprisons people indefinitely who have never been convicted of anything (Guantanamo Bay, remember? Anyone?)?

How did we get to this point? Was it always this way, or has there truly been a shift in our country? Do people like me (thirtysomething, middle-class, white, overly-educated, engaged-citizen but busy-with-my-own-life) feel a sense of ownership of “our” country anymore, or do we mostly tune it out? If we did want to do something about the violence in our country today, where would we begin? If we wanted to create some space for healing, where do we begin? Where do we begin?

I have no idea what the police officer who shot the person who may indeed have been Miriam Carey is feeling tonight. But I wonder if he or she isn’t feeling some remorse. Was it really necessary to shoot-to-kill? Maybe that’s where we could all start: some remorse. Some wondering if there isn’t a better way. A better way than scoffing or sarcasm or throwing up our hands in disgust (yes, I too watched this week’s popular Jon Stewart clip critiquing the GOP Shutdown, and I laughed. But afterwards, honestly, I felt a little…bored. I mean, hasn’t Stewart been doing various versions of this same routine for years now? How long can we keep scoffing at each other and have it be entertaining?).

There have got to be some other ways. I don’t yet know what they are. But as I try again to get some sleep, I’m going to conjure up Jill Bolte Taylor’s hands lifted up into the air in the TED talk that I watched tonight while doing the dishes. I was compelled by the feeling in her voice to set down the dishes midway, turn off the water, and come over to my computer and watch her—speaking, feeling, expressing, hoping…that her experience, her vision might impact the world. Her experience was an experience of our genuine interconnectedness. Her experience affirms for me what keeps me awake tonight: it does impact me, and it should impact me, that there are people being held as prisoners by my country without being tried, and that other citizens of my country are force-feeding them because they are on a hunger strike to demand their rights. It does impact me that a woman my age-ish, with a daughter the age of my daughter, perhaps did not receive the attention or care that she should have and, thus, lost control of herself in the nation’s capitol and was shot to death in her car. 

Jill Bolte Taylor: “We have the power to choose, moment-by-moment, who and how we want to be in the world. …I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world, and the more peaceful our planet will be.”

Let peace begin with me. Let lament begin with me. Let a refusal to rush-to-blame begin with me. Let the practice of non-reactivity begin with me. Let new ways of being, of engaging, of listening, of questioning, of reacting, of feeling, of persisting, begin with all of us. Let us reach out and ask one another what we need in our lives, if we need help, how we can help. Let us assume not that everyone we know is well, but that everyone we know is struggling, struggling deeply, with something. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Whoever said this, whenever it was said, it echoes through the ages with truth. Perhaps this truth is one place we can start when we wake up tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, to a new day.

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  • Scott Prinster

    Heather, thank you for your call to greater kindness in our interactions — I agree that Miriam Carey should have been helped long before this terrible incident made her a household name.

    We should definitely ask about the necessity of such a militarized and trigger-happy society, and whether our increasingly violent responses have in fact made our lives safer and happier.

    However, I also want to suggest that we religious leaders can help bring clarity to this conversation by not misrepresenting the problem. If someone has already hit an officer with her car, drives 80 mph through the city from one federal building to another, and is aiming her car at me, I do not consider her “unarmed” — she is wielding a 4000 lb weapon. And if a moose or a bear were coming at me in a speeding car, I would not take the time to ask about its psychological history or weigh the possibilities of a tranquilizer dart. We do ourselves no favors by being disingenuous about the actual situation faced by the officers in the moments when they fired upon Carey.

    Your larger questions are so important, and I’m grateful for a circle of colleagues who call us back to our better selves. I want to suggest that we are called to be not only gentle as doves, but wise as serpents as well.

  • AnaisSaisNin

    Whatever the reason, this was a terrible situation. I wish someone could have helped this young lady before things got this bad, to where she did this. I feel for her and her family. And I am thankful that her child was not killed, and no one else was as well. It seems like now, Violence is an American Value/National Past time. Well guys, as an American, I will never give up on us. Look at how far we’ve come since its founding.. through wars and revolutions and movements. Yes, we must pray. But I don’t want it to take the place of “doing!”

  • reonimation

    Did you watch the video? They had her stopped in a parking spot and the police were surrounding her to end the situation calmly. She CHOSE to squeal out of that position and almost hit several policemen. Those policemen have lives and families too. This woman was putting everyone’s life in danger. We don’t need to understand why. Why is a luxury when innocent lives are in danger.

    Shame on you. I appreciate your opinion and you are free to it, but why do we need to understand what made every criminal got to where they are? Does this womans past make her actions acceptable? Had she killed someone because the police did not take the shot when they did, where would your blame lie then?

    This woman acted this way in a locked down area during a heightened security time due to the shut down. These officers acted properly. Had I been within her drive range, I would have wanted protection that these officers gave.

  • nanomanoman

    To be honest I think you are labouring under a delusion. The world, including America, has always been like this. There have always been random incidents like this, there have always been political absurdities and injustices – 40 years ago black people were still living in an apartheid nation and the US was embroiled in a self-defeating war in Vietnam. The Manson Family was up to no good and there were riots in Stonewall, and so on. For every age in every nation you could have a why oh why. However there are differences now – communications technologies that bring the world closer, and a loss of certainty perhaps in Western identity that feeds in to our angst. 40, 50, 100 years ago people were living in the same world here on earth but perhaps they had a clearer spiritual and moral compass with which to understand and navigate it.