Two Words

I was engaging in casual conversation with someone at work recently (no, I don’t make a living at writing; I have a “real” job) when out-of-nowhere this person flew into a tangent rage about how fictitious today’s news reporting is. “It’s all fake!” they claimed with extreme, vehement insistence. Which particular current event sparked this outburst I can’t say. The Covid. Black Lives Matter. The changing climate. I put a hand up to stop their rant and said, “If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work.” Then I spent the rest of that day wondering exactly why it is that I’ve always chosen to avoid discussions on politics or religion.

I realized it is because we are a country – a world – of extremes. (This is not a recent phenomenon. History has been built and broken time and again from the blind notion of Us vs. Them.) I’ve known so few people in my life who function from a reasonable, rational footing; most live in a place of either one extreme or another, from a highly biased and imbalanced perspective. Yet, I feel, it is only somewhere in-between where respect, dignity, and humanity can be found. Peace in the eye of a storm of hatred and slanted opinions, you might say.

Let me share a little story:  

I work with an African-American. Out of courtesy to his privacy, I’ll call him John. He was out to dinner recently with a white friend at one of his favorite Mexican restaurants. The server never looked at John, barely acknowledged his presence. Never refilled his water glass. All the while, the server kept explaining to John’s friend how expensive their menu items were, suggesting that the two of them (mostly John) might want to dine somewhere else. When it came time for the check, it was given to the white friend under the assumption that he would be paying for both meals. (According to John, this often happens when he’s out to dinner with his wife, who’s white. She’s given the bill, not him.) John calmly took the check and bought his friend dinner. He left a good tip, as well.

After hearing this, I asked John, “What’s the name of the restaurant? So I don’t ever go there.”

“Oh, no. You should go there,” he replied. “The food’s really good. I’ll be going back. And I’ll always pay and tip.” Then, with a grin, he added, “That will be my revenge.”

He didn’t make a scene. He didn’t scream and shout about the injustice. He didn’t burn the restaurant down. Instead, he vowed to take vengeance peacefully. An oxymoron for sure: peaceful vengeance. But it is within those two words that meaningful, sustainable change can be found, nurtured, and grown. Mahatma Gandhi knew this. Dr. King and President Mandela, too.

Now, I’m fully aware there’s a big difference between being treated poorly in a restaurant and being shot or asphyxiated for being any color other than white. But the symptoms stem from the same horrid disease.

So, I have a couple of words for John;

and to the those who have marched and protested and stood peacefully against cruelty and injustice through decades, centuries even;

and those who understand that Police Officers are not inherently bad, nor are activists; who know that the events of late descended from the extremes, from the self-aggrandized agenda of the fringes;

to Police Chief Best for being open to the changes that need to happen through diplomacy and respect for one another;

to Kimberly Latrice Jones and her passionate, enlightening, and prophetic speech that concludes with “they are lucky that what black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.”

To all of you I say, Thank You.

Thank You for standing strong in the eye of the storm and inspiring the rest of us.

To those who were killed without cause in the past ten years –

John T. Williams (2010), a woodcarver of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, shot four times while carrying a small carving knife; Aura Rosser (2014), shot when she refused to put a knife down while being escorted from a house; Tanisha Anderson (2014), slammed to the ground while having a particularly bad bipolar episode; Michael Brown (2014), accosted and shot while walking with a friend; Tamir Rice (2014), shot for playing with a toy gun in the park; Gabriella Nevarez (2014), shot multiple times for reckless driving; Akai Gurley (2014) killed by a stray bullet while walking down a stairwell; Eric Garner (2014), choked to death for allegedly selling cigarettes; Tanisha Fonville (2015), shot on the claim she was brandishing a knife at officers; Freddie Gray (2015), died while shackled in the back of a police van; Michelle Cusseaux (2015), shot when reportedly went at officers with a hammer; Alton Sterling (2016), shot six times after being tasered and pinned to the ground for selling CDs and DVDs; Philando Castille (2016), shot after notifying officer he had a legal firearm in his possession; Botham Jean (2018), shot by off-duty officer when she entered his apartment thinking it was hers; Stephon Clark (2018), shot twenty times when cell-phone he held was mistaken for a gun; Atatiana Jefferson (2019), shot through the window of her own home after a neighbor had called to report her door was left open; Breonna Taylor (2020), shot eight times while unarmed by officers issuing a search warrant; George Floyd (2020), arrested for passing a counterfeit bill, handcuffed and held down with a knee upon his neck for 8:46 minutes until he choked to death

– I’d like to say, I’m Sorry. None of you did anything that warranted being killed. It’s disgusting, nauseating, how many names are listed. And my apologies to so many others I have missed.

Finally, to all those officers whose ignorance and prejudice have tainted policing in this nation with extreme behavior toward non-extreme acts;

to the bureaucrats who looked away;

to the “anti”-fascist protesters who used aggressive, violent fascist actions to undermine the Black Lives Matter cause;

to the unnamed protester who demanded that Seattle Police Officers “kill themselves” and Council Member Mosqueda who supported the unjustified threat; 

to all you extremists,

I have two more words:

Fuck You.

Fuck You for your part in making a world I’m afraid to send my son out into.

Which leaves me with only one word left –

Peace.

Gordon Gravley

 

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