This is not a political blog, but, in the aftermath of the police murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I have decided that I have to speak out here.
Several years ago, a state trooper pulled my car over because he didn’t like the way I paused before pulling onto the highway (which, by the way, was not illegal). He asked to see my driver’s license.
My bag was on the back seat of the car, and I could only reach it by getting out of the car. I opened the door. (This was a BIG mistake.)
The cop pulled a gun on me.
I am a small-sized, white senior citizen woman. If I’d been a young black man, I probably wouldn’t have survived the incident. As it was, I believed (and believe) that a cop who pulled a gun on a little old lady could go further. The wrong move on my part could have been fatal.
Doing my best to be calm and mindful (and still, very still), I said,” Officer, if you want to see my driver’s license, I have to get it out of my purse, which is in the back seat.”
The danger switch in his brain suddenly turned off. He asked me why I took so long to get onto the highway, and I explained that the habitually heavy traffic on that part of the road made it necessary. He looked at my driver’s license; he told me I could go. I drove very carefully.
This line begins a famous poem by Pastor Martin Neimoller about the cowardly behavior of German intellectuals after Hitler’s rise to power. In the poem they take the trade unionists and the Jews. It ends:
“Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
The message of the poem fully applies to the present. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer, in a recent dissent in Utah vs. Strieff ( a Fourth Amendment case regarding whether an otherwise illegal police stop could be justified by an outstanding arrest warrant) describes those regularly targeted by the police as “the canaries in the coal mines, whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere.”
Girls and women know they may be sexually harassed, molested, raped, or otherwise attacked for being female. In 2013 more than 1600 women were killed by men. (That's reported deaths.) The Orlando massacre represented the greatest number of LGBTQ people killed in one incident but not the first.
Neimoller and Sotomayer point out that as long as any group can be violently targeted, no one is ultimately safe. To me, this means that when you stand up for the rights of others, you stand up for your own rights.
This is true not only politically but spiritually. Many religions share the theme that to relieve suffering is a spiritual obligation. Buddhism teaches us that all of life is interconnected.
This means that even if we can’t directly experience the suffering caused by a particular injustice, we share it. When we acknowledge that sharing, we are moved to relieve the suffering. This is not white or male or heterosexual guilt, it’s the understanding that what happens to one happens to all.
What action stems from that awareness? I’m seeing that question asked more and more on social media lately. I’ve seen some answers, too. For me the only answer is a question.
That question is: “What does love ask me to do?” Everyone must find their own answers, and those answers can only be discovered through mindfulness.
For tomorrow, Monday, July 11, my answer is to attend a march and rally in Springfield, MA to protest the recent killings.
If you find an answer or answers to direct your life, please let me know by posting.