A few years ago I was pulled over on I-70 by a Colorado state trooper just inside the state line from Utah. I’d been visiting back east, and didn’t think twice about saying that when he asked where I’d been. “Coming home from Virginia,” I said. What? Oh. Well, I sometimes go around the mountains instead of over them when there’s snow on the passes.
He asked for license, registration, proof of insurance. I handed him my license and got worried when I couldn’t find registration or insurance in my purse. The Mothership was up to date on both, but it was winter and I hadn’t yet stuck the year on the license plate because of snow, mud, and inherent laziness. That’s why he stopped me. A routine traffic stop.
“I’ll have to look in the glove compartment,” I told him, and he nodded. “I have a gun in there,” I said.
Can you see where I’m going with this? I was a white woman and he was a laid-back Colorado state trooper on a virtually empty interstate through the desert, instead of I a black man in a city, any city, and he a frightened urban cop.
“Nice and slow,” he said, or something less cliché. I put the holstered pistol on the seat where he could see it and rifled through the papers, and still no proof of either. He took my license back to his car, ascertained that I was insured and registered, and cautioned me to be sure and put those proofs in the glove box as soon as I got home. I gave thanks.
I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said about the shooting of Philando Castile during a “routine traffic stop.” My heart breaks for him, his family, his community, for all the innocents shot these past days, these past years, by cops who lack the training, skill, wisdom, compassion or decency to make the right call in so many complicated, fraught situations. And my heart breaks for the police officers shot in Dallas, in Grand Junction, Denver, Pittsburgh, in Any City, USA. Not to mention how I feel about Orlando, Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown and other mass shootings and random snipings by lunatics.
I fear the escalation of violent reaction (or reactive violence) in our culture, in our world. From routine traffic stops gone horribly awry to all the wars raging across the planet, our human violence is out of control. The fear and despair that settled over me on 9/11, as I watched Manhattan in chaos on TV and the Pentagon smoking from my parents’ patio, has only been buried by years of living in this peaceful valley, it has not been dispelled. The certainty on that Tuesday morning that I’d witnessed the first volley of World War III has not dimmed in the least. We are in it.
And the reactive violence that spawned and spurs this globally now spreads like contagion through the streets of our cities, foreboding some weird kind of civil war. Fear, rage, and the uncontrolled grasping that underlies them are not cultural traits, they are human traits. I hope, though “hope is slender and for fools,” that we as a species can put the brakes on this entropic crash, but it is sure hard to believe that the powers of love and simple human decency can turn this spiral upside down.
Though daily I am grateful for my many blessings, for life, water, flowers, bees, trees, dogs, and kittens, for shelter, beauty, music, love, community, I don’t really know how to live in this world. All the good food and all the good friends can’t put my heart together again.