We’re an hour southwest of Charlottesville, and I was horrified but sadly not wholly surprised as events unfolded there in Emancipation — formerly Lee – Park yesterday.
A friend who has worked for the State Department in some pretty dicey locations abroad — a man still in his early 30s — sent this message: “Let there be no confusion: this was deliberate terrorism. My prayers with victims. Stay home.”
This is not just about Charlottesville, nor even mainly so. This is about all of us and our divided nation. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.
In the 24 hours since, two more messages, if you will — one of hope, one of warning — and a prayer.
The warning, from “The World of Evan Osnos” (New Yorker), in an essay on the Chinese dissident Xu Hongci: “What is the precise moment, in the life of a country, when tyranny takes hold? It rarely happens in the instant; it arrives like twilight, and at first, our eyes adjust.” (Like the proverbial frog dropped first into lukewarm water on the stove?)
To that, I would say, find and read “The Dark Valley,” a scholarly study of how fascism arose and World War II followed in the 1930s. We’re seeing something all too similar.
On a more hopeful note, yesterday NPR was talking with Volusia County, Fla., sheriff Mike Chitwood, who is requiring de-escalation training for his deputies following a rash of shootings. He’d built a successful police department in Daytona Beach, he said, in part by requiring all prospective officers to take a course in the history of racism — because, he said, “We are a racist country, have been from the start.” He had a good deal more to say — identifying the racism implicit in the theft of native American homelands and destruction of their culture as well as slavery, Jim Crow and all that has followed it.
Chitwood also served in the Philadelphia, Pa., police department. He spoke about getting retrained, as an officer, how not to be trigger happy. About how just a split second can tell you that a man is pulling out his wallet and not a gun. About how police involvement in communities doesn’t stop with visits to schools, but requires constant feet on the street.
Can’t find the newscast — and his reputation as “top cop” in Daytona may not hold up — but as events were unfolding in Charlottesville — and as that city’s police failed to de-escalate a situation that many had foreseen — it did offer a sliver of hope.
At least someone, somewhere, in a position of some authority is thinking: Thinking about how incidents like what happened yesterday do not arise out of thin air. Thinking about the long, thick and tangled legacy of racism in this country, and what we can and must do to dismantle it.
Last, this from NYC, from a friend who’s been a parishioner at St. Clement’s, located in what used to be called Hell’s Kitchen, for many years:
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together in mutual forbearance and respect …