Saturday, July 16, 2016

A white ex-Dallasite reflects on the killings of 5 white Dallas police officers by an African American: "We do the things that come to hand"

A few years ago, while living in Dallas, I had a harsh encounter with a Dallas police officer--an encounter that scared me and made me angry. I had gone to DFW Airport to drop my wife off for her flight, and I pulled into the designated parking area for my wife's departure gate. A Dallas police officer blocked the entrance and told me to drive to the next parking area--about a half block away. I asked if I could stop just long enough to allow my wife to get out of the car, and the officer screamed at me. "Get out of here right now," he bellowed.

I was shocked by the officer's menacing rage, and it made me mad. I thought about confronting him and getting his name so I could file a complaint, but I knew if I did I would probably wind up in handcuffs with my face on the pavement.

In the months to come, I continued thinking about this incident, which I internalized as an assault on my human dignity. Why was the cop so irrational? Why did he block me from parking where I am normally allowed to park? Was he reserving the parking lot for a VIP? Was he on edge because of an oncoming crime? I didn't know.

And I recall thinking how much angrier I would be if I were a young African American or a Hispanic. I think I would have assumed the officer's rage was triggered by my race.

Then a few months later, I had another encounter with a Dallas cop--this one in downtown Dallas. I was driving to St. Jude's Chapel on Main Street for noon Mass and I inadvertently made an illegal left turn right in front of a Dallas cop in a police car.

I didn't wait to be pulled over. I immediately parked at a curb and waited for the officer to approach me. Before the officer said anything, I apologized, telling him I recognized that I had made an illegal turn.

The officer's response surprised me. "Are you OK?", he asked. I told him that I was. "Do you know where you're going?", he asked me next; and I told him I was headed to St. Jude for noon Mass.

Then he asked a final question: "Do you know how to get there?" And I told him that I did.

The officer then wished me a good day and waved me on.

This brief exchange completely neutralized the smoldering resentment I had harbored toward the Dallas cop at the DFW airport. I felt like the Holy Spirit had intervened on my behalf to heal a small but festering wound I had been nursing.

I realize of course that the second friendly cop was asking me questions to determine if I was drunk or otherwise impaired. But he did it in a courteous and respectful way. He had no way of knowing that his demeanor restored that part of my dignity that a DFW cop had deprived me of when he yelled at me a few months earlier.

This brings me to the terrible shooting incident that took place in Dallas not long ago when Micah Johnson, an African American, killed five white Dallas police officers who were guarding a peaceful protest demonstration. What prompted Johnson's insane rage? Had Johnson been treated rudely by a white cop sometime in his life?

And this caused me to ask myself what I can do to reduce racial tensions in my own home town--Baton Rouge, where a white police officer shot and killed a black man just a few days before the Dallas shootings.

The troubles of this world seem overwhelming. In spite of all the public rhetoric, racial tensions are getting worse in the United States, not better. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing in this country. Terrorism can strike anywhere: in a movie theater, a nightclub, a seaside promenade. What can I do to help make the world a better place?

Dorothy Day asked herself this question while locked up in jail, and this is the answer she came to:
When I lay in jail thinking of these things, thinking of war and peace and the problem of human freedom, of jails, drug addiction, prostitution, and the apathy of great masses of people who believe that nothing can be done--when I thought of these things I was all the more confirmed in my faith in the little way of St. Therese. We do the things that come to hand, we pray our prayers and beg also for an increase of faith--and God will do the rest.
So, like the kind Dallas police officer, let us do the things that come to hand. Let's treat everyone we meet with respect and courtesy, let us look for opportunities to perform small acts of kindness, let us follow the little way of St. Therese and Dorothy Day.

That's really about all most of us can do to make the world a better place; but, as Dorothy reminds us, we must trust that God will do the rest.

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Note: My quotation of Dorothy Day comes from Loaves and Fishes. I italicized part of the passage for emphasis.