April 8, 2015

All Lives Matter

Bear with me, y'all. I'm supposed to be cleaning. I'm supposed to be getting ready for my first ever writerly business trip, and I'm supposed to be excited.

I'm not.

Because I just watched video footage of a man dying, and I can't get it out of my head.

By now you've read about the shooting that took place in North Charleston - not too far from where I live - on Saturday. It's a story that's been told over and again in the past few years, and that it takes place in my own back yard is part of the reason it's under my skin, of course.

The story itself, though...it's enough to get under anyone's skin.

For another white police officer has shot and killed another unarmed black man.

This time, there was video footage. 

Contrary to the shooting officer's initial account, in which he claimed he feared for his life when he pulled the trigger of his gun eight times, the footage (shot by someone so stunned he can't stop repeating, "Oh, shit..." over and over again) shows....well, it shows an unarmed black man running away from a police officer, who then shoots him eight times in the back.

Horrible.

It gets worse.

When the man is down on the ground, the officer goes to him...shouting, all the while, "Put your hands behind your back." 

And he doesn't go to him to help him. He doesn't go to administer lifesaving first aid.

No.

He handcuffs him. 

The police officer handcuffs a dying man, and he leaves him there, lying face down on the ground.

It gets even worse.

For then the police officer walks back to where he stood moments earlier, where the two men scuffled, apparently, over the use of a Taser. He picks up the Taser, which has been left behind. He carries it to the dying, handcuffed black man, lying face down in the dirt. 

He drops the Taser beside the man.

Yes. The officer shot someone. Killed someone. Didn't administer even the most basic first aid. Handcuffed him. And then he purposefully altered the evidence so it would look like he shot in self defense. 

I'm horrified.

****

Not long ago, I read the classic WWI novel by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front. It was a new read for me. I've studied WWII at length, but this was really my first time delving into the horrors of the trenches of WWI. 

It's an all-around beautiful book. A tragic book. A horrific book.

The narrator is a soldier named Paul who fights for the German Army for no reason other than that he's a German boy of fighting age. He doesn't fight for any particular ideology. He doesn't fight to save anything in particular.

In the end, he fights simply because to not fight would be to let down his comrades, those soldiers fighting beside him. He fights because they fight, and they fight because he fights.

One scene in particular stands out to me, especially now. In it, Paul has just stabbed a French soldier in hand-to-hand combat after they both fell into the same trench during a shelling. They're trapped int he trench, alone together. The Frenchman takes his time dying; Paul tries to help him, tries to bandage his wounds.

And now, the Frenchman is dead, and Paul is full of remorse. He says, 

The silence spreads. I talk and I must talk. So I speak to him and say to him: "Comrade, I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible too. But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony - Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert..."

****

I wish that every person who will ever old a gun would read that passage. I wish every soldier, every police officer, everyone who has the potential to kill, would see those words. Would feel those words. 

For we are all just brothers and sisters, really. We all share this planet, this world. We all will die someday, and though our Gods may tell us that different things await us after that final breath, none of us really knows

Human lives are lives. Not abstractions. And as such, they matter.

Black lives matter. White lives matter. Brown and yellow and red lives matter. Rainbow lives matter.

All lives matter.

If we throw away the rifles and the uniforms and the colors and the religions and the genders and the sexual orientations....you could all be my brothers and my sisters, and none of the other garbage would matter.

You ARE all my brothers and sisters.

None of the other garbage matters.

****

I'm headed out of town tonight, leaving Charles and Zoe behind in Charleston. 

I'm suddenly nervous about this.

Will there be massive protests, surrounding what looks to me like an obvious murder? The police officer is behind bars, where I believe he belongs. He's been charged with murder. These are important steps, toward justice and, hopefully, appeasement of all the rage that is certainly (and rightfully) thundering through my city right now. 

But will there be riots?

Am I leaving my husband and child behind in a tinderbox, surrounded by matches that could alight at any moment?

I truly hope not.

I trust my husband will keep my child safe.

****

I still can't believe what I watched this morning. I can't believe someone could kill with such capriciousness. 

I'm so glad, though, that the video exists. 

Without it, I fear a murderer would be walking our streets even now, claiming to keep my fellow Charlestonians safe, while acting in a way that is truly opposite.

****

Please, Charleston. Be safe this week. Be smart. 

For we are all just brothers and sisters. And today, one of us is dead, and together, we will all mourn.

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