We had an interesting and “exciting” event happen last night. We were awakened at 11PM to the sound of screeching tires and the bright, insistent blue and red flash of police lights. It seems someone (or someones, since – spoiler alert – they weren’t caught) stole a car and, when chased, turned mistakenly down our dead end road. They ditched the car and escaped over the fences through our neighbor’s back yard. Within minutes there were more than five police cars on our street and within minutes of that a police helicopter circled low overhead, seeking the fleeing suspects.
We had to send the children into our bedroom since the cops who flooded the streets all had guns out and ready to fire from the moment they arrived on our street. They passed my children’s bedroom windows and, I have no doubt, they would have fired on the suspects if they felt a moment’s fear without thinking about my kids.
If it was about safety, it was about the safety of the officers.
I, at no point, felt worried about the people fleeing from the police. I didn’t doubt they were long gone. I also feel fairly safe in assuming they were kids or young adults who made a stupid decision. Who else steals a Nissan on a Thursday night at 11PM from a neighborhood where everyone has cameras on the front doors?
I don’t think these officers are bad people nor do I think they want to harm citizens. But I do think they’re completely mission focused on subduing those who break the laws at any cost.
There was a police dog in my backyard at midnight.
For a stolen car that was recovered with no damages – they parked it and left it running in my neighbors driveway.
The helicopter flight probably cost more than the car.
And I didn’t feel safer to have it overhead. I felt more afraid and more anxious about what the police would do than what the criminals would do.
I’m not advocating letting crime go unchecked. I absolutely admire the police for recovering the car and for working to keep community’s safe, when that is the priority. It just didn’t feel like that was the priority last night. They had the car, they fingerprinted it and, given the stupidity of the crime, I imagine the fingerprints will be in a database somewhere.
I just feel like the point has been lost. Safety of life is the priority, right? Safety of life for ALL citizens, even the dumb ones who steal cars. I can’t be sure, maybe the people in the car were dangerous, murderous, gang members responsible for trafficking children into sexual slavery. But I doubt it. Those people know better than to turn down a dead end street when they make their mistake (especially since it’s well-signed at the entrance – there were two of them according to the camera on the front door of my across the street neighbor’s house – see cameras EVERYWHERE, one could be a spotter of signs warning of deep flaws in their plan of escape).
We need to rethink if our priority is officer safety ahead of all else. Being a police officer is a difficult and dangerous job and it should be because being the arm of the state should be difficult. If it isn’t difficult we’re all a bit less free. We’re all a bit less safe if the priority is the safety of the state over the safety of its individual members – dumb car thieves included.
Today is September 11. I feel sad and on edge every year on this day. Nineteen years ago I was a first year law student, arrived in Washington DC less than a month before. I lived in student apartments six blocks from the US Capitol. The smoke from the Pentagon rose in the sky and we watched it helplessly from our rooms and from the roof of our building. We observed the tanks that parked on the street for several days afterwards and stayed inside. Unlike this pandemic quarantine, we huddled together and offered each other reassurance that, smoke in the sky to the contrary, the world wasn’t actually burning down. We struggled to contact friends in New York – young law students in Washington DC invariably know people who work on Wall Street in New York.
We collectively mourn the loss of the 2,977 people who died that day. Even more, we mourn the loss of our belief in our safety. That the arm of the state would encircle us and keep us free from harm. People were scared and uncertain and they were angry with the government for not keeping them safe.
I think about that rage and those hearings these days when I consider that interesting event last night and how it made me feel. It made me feel a bit like the tanks on the street corners made me feel – less safe. More aware of my smallness in the face of government priorities.
I’m privileged and I’m not often confronted with this feeling. I can’t imagine the weight and burden of living under these feelings every day and every time I went out in public. Why aren’t we, as a people, more angry that citizens have this feeling.
And I’m angry. I’m angry that the same outrage and intense focus on government failures hasn’t extended to the 192,000 Americans that have died because the long arm of the government failed to wrap around us and protect them. The government that failed us. This isn’t a failure of intelligence, it’s a failure of action. I’m angry that we didn’t act when we could have to eliminate even 1 of those deaths.
We are the richest country in the world. But we have our priorities wrong. We should want to keep everyone alive. The arm of the government should shelter us from outside threats and should elevate us within. We said never again after September 11 and our collective determination has been awesome, largely-successful, and historic. But it isn’t enough. We feel less safe.
The protests aren’t the problem. They’re the symptom. The problem is that we prioritize economic progress for the country as a whole over the safety and health of the individual members of society. On this day where we mourn 2,977 Americans lost, we often lose sight that they were 2,977 individuals. The 192,000 Americans we lost are lost in such numbers that the mind boggles at thinking of them as individuals.
I think of the people I huddled together with on that day. I think of the people I wanted to contact, who wanted to contact me. My mind struggles to come to terms with the loss to the families of the 2,977 and the 192,000 people lost. We need a government that prioritizes those families. The families in a motel in Florida that I read about in the Washington Post, who have nothing – who walk then very edge of despair and complete ruination (read here if you can stand to face true face our American indifference).
How can we stomach it?
So I’m thinking about my safety and the safety of my community and my fellow citizens on this day when we became certain that we were less safe than we thought. Is it because we already came to terms with it that we don’t feel the rage that we once felt about the 192,000 or about the 60-100 in that Florida motel?
There were six cars full of armed police on my lawn last night. Were they there for my safety?
It didn’t really feel like it. And that is a problem.