If you've read a bit of the material here on KIR, you may already know that I'm a psychiatric nurse. To be more precise, I'm a Registered Nurse, working in a small acute care pediatric and adolescent psychiatric hospital. We see pretty much everything come through our doors ... including much of the rainbow of physical and social aggression. And right now we're in the midst of a cultural change at work. We're re-tooling our staff to better de-escalate conflicts, with the goals of drastically reducing the frequency, duration and intensity of physical managements (holding kids so they don't hurt themselves or others). Some of the folks I work with are skeptical of our prospects for success, but not me. I have known this kind of thing works since I was three and a half years old.
When I was three and a half (a guesstimate), I lived in what was, I suppose, a ghetto. It was a poor section of Newburgh, New York. And circa 1972 there was a vicious looking little race riot boiling one evening when we came home. I was at that age where a boy couldn't see anything but the tops of trees and telephone poles from the front seat of a car -- in this case, mom's gleaming white Corvair (which was genuinely deadly, and I do speak from personal experience on that point). So, here we come, in an automobile that was perhaps every bit as deadly to drive on the open road as it was in the middle of a riot -- a little white boy and his skinny white mom.
Mom eased to a stop at the end of our street. I remember the crowd of yelling black people swarming around the car, bricks and sticks in hand, their bodies pressed by the mob into precarious balance over the hood, filling my view in a sea of writhing rage. They were out to punish Whitey. And there we were.I just sat and watched them, transfixed by the spectacle.
Mom rolled down her window, leaned outward and started talking to the nearest people in the crowd. She had a way about her. She was telegraphing that she accepted them, wanted to know what was upsetting them, respected them, and trusted them with her life. And she managed to do this in a way that didn't even come off as weird. It wasn't like she was handing some Aztec Priest the sacrificial knife and baring her chest to offer her heart in some insane act of white guilt. She just felt that the safest and best way for her to handle the situation was to act like the friend and neighbor she truly was.
Within seconds, a slender black man in a light colored button-down short sleeve shirt off the left front quarter of the car shouted out something like "I know her. She's cool." The crowd began to part at the nose of the car. Mom eased the vehicle forward and drove us at a crawling speed through the entire mob ... and home.
So, it's sad to me when I see the heavy-handed responses of law enforcement and hear the choruses of dismissive and combative voices rise up across much of America, against Ferguson's protesters. There has been plenty of ignorance and unnecessary violence to go around in this situation -- and more ignorant violence is unlikely to resolve it. I feel something like this when I see a de-escalation faltering on the hospital floor. And I do what I can.
On this note, I'd like to leave the more angry elements of law-abiding white America with something I hope they'll consider. Look at the video of police officers pointing loaded carbines at unarmed protestors in Ferguson and ask yourself why nobody's shot the officers doing all that gun-pointing. Would the officers dare point automatic weapons at the average crowd of seriously pissed-off white people? Probably not. There's even some chance that officers threatening to shoot unarmed white protesters might be confronted by heavily armed and even more pissed off families of white protestors in remarkably short order. The internet would be on fire with stories of the patriotism demonstrated by such an act of rugged community support and proper exercise of Second Amendment rights in extremis. But what happens if you switch the color scheme? Black radicals? Gang bangers? What's the language? What's the message? Where's the recognition that we're all equal under the law? Where's the recognition that our countrymen are simply our countrymen?