How This Story Ends

Last month I wrote about listening and comprehension. Telling that story reminded me of something I witnessed on vacation last year that could have turned deadly but seemed to end well.

It was listening and understanding that saved the day.

My adventure pal and I were enjoying breakfast at a Denver diner when I noticed her watching something over my shoulder and then suddenly heard raised voices.

There were two men arguing and a waitress trying to calm the situation.

To be more accurate, one man was refusing to wear a mask and the waitress was handling it when another man decided to step in and take charge. The dispute escalated quickly and the cops were called.

I hate to say it this way but these are relevant details to the story. One man was black. He refused to put on a mask while he waited inside for a carry-out order. I’m convinced that his issue wasn’t just about the mask.

The other man was white. After hearing some of the names he called the other guy, I’m convinced his issue wasn’t the mask either.

At one point, they both started taking off their shirts and yelling about taking it outside. The waitress was doing her best but she was small and these two large men were not listening to her words of reason.

We were finishing up our meal but felt trapped as the scuffle was happening near the door.

I didn’t think that it would get out of control but you never can tell these days. You don’t know what’s on the hearts and minds of the people around you and you certainly don’t know about strangers.

The waitress somehow took charge. She got the white guy to back off. She convinced the other man to sit at a table and began talking to him in a calm tone, explaining the mask rule.

The cops came. One black and one white. Both calm and respectful. The aggressor left. The other man maintained his seat at the table. He had some choice words to say to one of the cops about being a sell out.

They listened. They asked questions. They were respectful while remaining alert. These guys were clearly trained, well trained on how to deescalate a bad situation without using force.

They used those skills and brought the temperature back down to a manageable level.

Paramedics came and so did a clipboard toting woman who looked like a social worker.

I don’t know what this man’s real problem was or why it was manifesting itself in a petty argument over a mask. I hope that he got the help he needed and is doing better now.

I have turned this event over and over in my head. This all came in November, on the heels of a turbulent summer that informed us just how far we have not come in the realm of race relations.

In another city, with another person leading the response, this very bad situation could have turned lethal.

We paid our waitress and snuck out the door when it seemed safe to do so. There were adventures to be had and they didn’t need us rubbernecking when there was a man clearly under duress.

We stopped to snap a couple of pictures outside and then we saw it. Across the street, the most beautiful mural of all that we saw in a city that is known for incredible public art.

This stunning mural depicts George Floyd. This is the man whose violent death, whose desperate call for his mama, sparked protests, conversations, and we can hope – reform.

It was a magnificent moment of clarity on that cool November morning. I am grateful to those officers and to the others who responded to help this guy.

I am grateful to be telling you a story of success and potential rather than one of tragedy.

Listening. Communication. Respect. It made all the difference in how this story ends.

Stop Looking The Other Way

The colorful photo is of the road in front of my house and peonies from a start from my grandmother. But I don’t intend to talk about pretty flowers today. The photo is merely here to get your attention.

It’s rare that I have thoughts that I don’t know how to express. This space is nearly always reserved for positive ideas and happy pictures. After all, there are many people in the world spreading negativity without my contributing more.

But something happened this week that I need to talk about and I don’t know how. A man died in the street, begging for air while police officers held him down in the name of law and order.

I didn’t watch the video at first. I knew how it would end and I didn’t want to see it.

Like many, I looked the other way.

But it occurred to me that social injustices are allowed to continue because otherwise good people look the other way.

So I watched the video and it was horrifying. His name was George Floyd and three police officers pinned him to the ground while one of those officers pressed his knee into the man’s neck.

He didn’t appear to be resisting. Instead, he sounded almost polite in the way he said “sir, I can’t breathe.”

He begged for air. He called out for his mother.

He was murdered in the street by the very people we rely on to protect us. Cameras rolled while it happened.

There are good cops in this world just as there are bad ones. I know many good cops who are appalled at what they saw.

Was George Floyd breaking the law? Maybe, but no human being deserves to die in the street, calling for his mother while another person squeezes the last breath out of his body.

This has to end.

I have friends who are black and I worry for them. I worry for their physical well being and for the mental strain of living in a country that turns a blind eye to the systematic racism and brutality directed squarely at them.

One of my friends travels for a living. He has a good job, mentors others, helps anyone that he can and is a good person. He stays in nice hotels when he travels but I worry about what will happen to him out walking the block or two from the Hilton to the good vegan restaurant down the street in a strange city.

I cannot imagine living in a world where jogging in my own neighborhood could get me shot. I cannot imagine being followed through the park by some obnoxious person because they think I don’t belong there. I cannot imagine being afraid of the cops, terrified of getting pulled over for something so simple as speeding because I very well could end up dead.

Sadly, racism probably isn’t any worse today than it was ten years ago. The masses just know more about it. There are more people with more cameras at the ready, more avenues for distributing the horrifying images of ignorance and hate.

Underneath our skin, we are all made of the same organs and bones. Cut us and we bleed. Hurt us and we cry.

Remember that the next time you want to judge someone for their skin color. Remember that the next time you see someone being abused because of their skin color. We are all the same inside. We all deserve better.

And yet, we all have such different experiences in this world. My experience as a white female in Appalachian Ohio is much different than what a black male would have in the same place or in an inner city.

Friends, I’m tired.

I’m tired of hearing people blame victims who inherited decades old systematic problems and circumstances that most white people can’t begin to comprehend. I’m tired of seeing headlines about people committing evil toward each other. I’m tired of protesters not being heard and of all the excuses for cruelty and ignorance.

I’m tired of a discourse that makes it sound as though these crimes of racism in our country are perfectly normal.

There’s nothing normal about this level of hate.

George Floyd was 46 years old. He had moved to Minneapolis in search of a better life. Isn’t that what we all want?

What’s truly frustrating is that I don’t know what to do about it. These wounds and divides will not be easily fixed. I will say though, that it’s easier to hate people you don’t know.

We all would be well served to seek out people who are different than us. Get to know them. Invite them into your world so they can get to know you too. Speak up when you see injustice and if you can’t do something to make someone’s day better, don’t go making it worse.

Stop looking the other way.