My Last Twelve Hours
Last night, as I tried to settle down to sleep, I let myself scroll through the news of the world. There is a renewed conversation about police funding and how the current system might be improved. At about 9:30 PM I heard a loud, profane tirade and rose to see what was going on (since on May 20th, just prior to the awful murder of George Floyd, a white man flung himself against 20 downtown business' windows like a moving tornado, breaking them all).
What I watched from my window was a white man circling inside the intersection of 2nd Street and Madison as he shouted horrible things to his 'girlfriend' who was not present. It was evident that this white male was not in full control of his faculties. 'What should I do?' I asked myself. I'm a white female and am questioning my use of privilege every minute these days--something I'm grateful to the Black Lives Matter protests for teaching me about. I called my neighbor and asked what she thought. Since it just continued and I watched cars try to drive around the man without hitting his moving body, I decided I would call the County Non-Emergency number.
The dispatch officer took down the information and two police cars arrived within 5 minutes (I live in close proximity). They de-escalated the man. He hadn't really broken any laws, other than being a nonchalant pedestrian. My thoughts wandered around the idea of having a different number I could call if I saw someone suffering the consequences of substance abuse. This really wasn't something the police department needed to handle, not if there was an alternative. It felt strange to expect the police department to do anything about this. I told the officer I spoke to that I was mainly concerned about the man's safety, which made me question myself again about calling. When an officer called back to follow up at 10:30, he reassured me that it was a good thing I called--there may have been an accident, or even a death.
This morning I took myself and my dog to her favorite place, the city dog park just 4 blocks down 2nd Street. Our mutual friends were there and we chatted for a little. Then I heard from across the park, on the other side of the fence, "Help. Call 911. I need help." I said I didn't have my phone with me, and asked what the problem was as I walked closer. She repeated, "Call 911. I need help. Someone keeps hitting me." By that time, I could clearly see the woman's mouth was bleeding and her lips were split in several spots. She had blood spots around her clothing and was clearly in pain. "I'll call," I said, and asked for her name. This time, I called 911 and the officer asked questions (which I asked the woman) before assuring me that an ambulance was on the way. I assured this woman in need that help was coming and she waited nearby.
Again, within 5 minutes, police officers and an ambulance arrived. They transported her to the hospital where I later learned that she received stitches in several places on her mouth. Like my call on the previous night, I questioned my motives in calling. This time seemed a little more clear: someone was hurt and was saying someone had hurt her. She needed medical attention. It also turns out that she is in need of shelter. And healthcare. And food. This same woman found me again at the dog park 4 hours later and gestured to me to come to her. She told me she felt much better and had received the help she needed. I asked her if she was safe. She shrugged, and said, "He didn't mean to do it."
My town is a small town. I just happen to live in the very heart of it and see the needs of people all around me. I am no expert on any of these issues, except the issue of being human and THAT, I know, is terribly hard when one lacks the basic security of shelter, food, and compassion. My own life experience has taught me that a well-educated person can go from 'perfect security' to extremely limited security in a very short time, and I know just exactly how much panic it can bring. If my own life experience hadn't taught me this, I might still be skeptical about some of the people I see in need around me. Now I know for a fact that no matter how well you may have been raised, or how many things you did right in your life, or whether you married the right partner, or attended the right church, your life--my life--their life could change in a heartbeat.
These experiences give me insight into the vision of re-structuring our use of police and health services (including mental health). I find myself in the middle of the conversation because of where I live. Some nights I grumble about the street noise and the loud bar across the street, or the drunken person sleeping on the stoop who is blocking my exit with his body and belligerence, or the person who sits on the corner playing the same songs on his harmonica for hours, or the same woman who asks me the same question every time I pass her, "Do you have a dollar to spare?" or even the man who yelled at me at the dog park that he didn't like me and that I am a #@$%#@ and should "tell that to my husband". One could ask, "Well why don't you just move then?" I have dreamed of that, I'll be honest. However, this is what's affordable for me now.
In addition, I don't want to move now. I don't want to just avert my eyes from the needs of others. Today some things are solidifying for me. I want to help build a structure to society that includes a foundation of compassion, equality, inclusivity; one that prioritizes meeting basic human needs for everyone. I'm grateful to those who have already been working on this.