“I feared for my life.” the cop thought – or at least said in his court testimony in his trial for manslaughter. Those were the magic words to say to the jury. Then you can justify deadly force. You carry a powerful weapon as your sidearm. You panic, don’t follow proper procedure, and kill this young man – a son, a brother, a boyfriend. While our patients (I like using that word instead of “client” – which to me is more about a financial transaction than one of professional care) – have their moments of anxiety, their moments of panic. But, in most cases they don’t carry deadly firearms or have those firearms pointed at them. We can teach mindfulness awareness, meditation, centering – all those practices that might ensure us from acting impulsively and destructively. And, it works – it helps folks to practice those centering, calming practices. But, bring firearms into the mix and the power dynamic is radically shifted to the one holding the gun. Those of us on the outside, those of us witnessing at a distance can empathize with that feeling of helplessness – shake our heads, try to understand, try to show compassion – but we are helpless in response. What can we do?
Are any of us really on the outside of these issues, these tragedies of injustice? There is a painting by Norman Rockwell (yes, that Norman Rockwell) that depicts a young girl in a fresh white dress and tennis shoes, carrying books, clearly on her way to school. Walking behind and in front of her are men wearing uniforms, and there are signs of violence. The little girl is African American, and the painting is Rockwell’s homage to the courage of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, whose history-changing walk to her new school on November 14, 1960, escorted by US Marshalls, made the William Frantz Public School in New Orleans the first integrated elementary school in the South. The painting’s title is “The Problem We All Live With.” Inequality and inequity are problems we all live with – and we all suffer from, regardless of whatever unearned privilege we may benefit from. An unjust world can never be a peaceful world.
What can we do? Be awake. Resist fear. Participate, speak to listen, work for justice. Practice compassion, kindness. Resist the urge to blame or hate, seek complexity, think contextually, systemically, about interconnectedness and interdependence. To be safe and prosper, we all need equity and justice. We need to come together to ensure that black lives matter every bit as much as others’ lives. And we need to be reassured that police are well-trained and supported, and that they are held responsible when acting on fear, prejudice, ignorance or impulsivity.
There are so many ways to make a difference, and there’s no sitting on the sidelines these days. As was said in another time of turbulence, if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem. We need each other to address these challenges. We need to come together in community, so I am heartened by people’s involvement and passion, even when it is provoked by such terrible tragedies as the killing of Philando Castile.
Well said. We must practice locally with compassion and understanding. And we need to better train police so they don’t get hysterical and jump dangerously and fatally to conclusions in a millisecond. It’s the sickening result of reacting to stereotyped assumptions with deadly results. The whole deadly debacle is a defining example of lack of listening, lack of understanding, lack of a desire to learn from others.
Ken, it seems that lately you are calling us all to practice and promote listening and respectful curiosity more than ever before. Since real listening requires the ability to manage internal reactions and impulses, we are invited as therapists to assist our clients (and ourselves) to increase tolerance for the distress of discomfort, confusion, prejudice, fear. Important practices indeed, because with lethal weapons readily available, impulse takes on a whole new meaning.
Impulse plus fear and prejudice becomes death when guns are involved. As you say, a firearm changes everything. And standing right behind that fear, grinning happily, is Greed. Greed in the form of gun manufacturing, lobbyists with bundles of money, politicians influenced more by the NRA than their own constituents, in spite of the fact that most Americans favor some form of gun control.
It’s appalling that in the U.S. we have many more guns per capita than any other country in the world, an unbelievable 112.6 guns per 100 residents. The country that comes the closest, 76 guns per 100 residents, is Serbia, with Yemen (!!) running a distant third. This atrocious statistic may reflect our youth as a country – we seem to still believe we are living in the Wild West– but the “need” for guns and the availability of guns reflects the infinite greed of gun manufacturers and their skill in making regular people believe they need to carry a weapon to be “safe.” Safe, like Philando Castile…
There’s hope, though. I just heard we Baby Boomers have now been beaten out by the Millennials as the largest living generation. And while 72% of Boomers are white, Millennials are a much more diverse group, with only 56% identifying as white. Millennials seem infinitely more embracing of diversity than their elders, which is encouraging. And many of us of all ages are awakened, rising out of our daily routines to stay informed, to speak out, volunteer, protest, lead – and follow – just causes. Together.
By: Ken Stewart and Brier Miller