On a regular old day in August, John Crawford picked up a toy gun from a shelf in Walmart and proceeded to go lazily about his browsing through the store while talking on the phone. A call was placed to 911 about a black man with a gun and when the police arrived he was shot and killed. (Read the Full Story Here)
On Halloween day, I was casually walking down the street with a power rangers shirt and a Toy Foam Sword sticking out of my back.
I noticed a car pulled over to the side of the road and a police car pull up behind it. Assuming this was a run of the mill traffic stop, I continued walking — unbothered. The police officer got out of his car and instead of walking towards the other driver he approached me. I thought the officer was amused by my Halloween antics, so I playfully raised my hand and said “Greetings officer of the law!” This action led the officer to briefly think (as he recounted later in the interaction) that he was dealing with a crazy person — so of course he reached for his gun.
In that moment I was given an opportunity John Crawford was not given — the opportunity to take account of the situation, switch my demeanor, and “act appropriately” after realizing that the cop (and the undercover cop with him — and the 4 other squad cars that arrived moments later) were on the scene because of ME. They had me surrounded because someone saw me walking down the street with a weapon and called the police.
I’m not going to get into the racial undertones of these incidents, boy I want to, but I won’t. I’ve sat with this for a couple of weeks, waiting for the lesson to kick in — waiting for Life to reveal what it wants me to get out of this encounter.
At first, I was sorely dissapointmed in myself for not being more aware, more awake to the possibility that a police officer walking towards me was not a game. After all of the reports about unarmed black men and women being shot and killed (or choked to death, or tasered for sitting on a bench, or arrested for running to school) because they were PERCEIVED as a threat; after all of my own conversations about the police being out of control. Here I was walking around as if it was completely obvious to any onlooker that I am possibly the least likely source of harm to any creature in the area — big or small, human, animal, or insect.
I blamed myself for not seeing myself as the threat that others may take me to be.
That turned out to be entirely too self-centered for this practice of mine. Let me tell you something — the practice of Compassion is not a game. The ability to challenge the depths of my compassion will be put to test again and again because, to put it bluntly, human beings in their current form suck. To put it less blunt and with less judgement: human beings in their current form are in a constant state of suffering. Which means the old saying “Hurt people, hurt people” is always relevant.
It’s easier to have compassion for things and people that do not directly affect me. When I wrote that compassion piece about George Zimmerman, I meant it. When I said I would hold Darren Wilson in compassion as well, I meant it. And even the guy who called 911 on John Crawford, lied about what he was doing in that store, directly contributing to his murder (yes, murder) — even he can come inside this circle. And here is why: It must be a living hell to go through life carrying so much hate, suspicion, guilt, malice, disconnection, and grief. I can see their suffering through their actions when I am not distracted by the process of thinking about how I am personally affected. This does not excuse the actions of those who cause harm (#arrestDarrenWilson, #arrestRonaldRitche), I don’t want to get caught up in justifying or defining behavior. Actions are married to their consequences and what these people have done will walk beside them for the rest of their days. The compassion I hold is for the person — the one who has been fooled into believing they are separate from God — the one who has been convinced of their superiority over others, inevitably leading to feelings of inferiority and despair — the one who is desperate for some meaning, some lasting satisfaction, some agreeable answer to all of their unconscious questions — the one who hates hating but doesn’t know any other way — the one who can’t find a home in a universe that was literally built for, by and through them. I hold a place of love and compassion for this person. Jesus said “forgive them for they know not what they do.” I’m not Jesus but I am willing to follow his instructions.
It took me a minute to get over myself and realize that the 911 call about a possibly dangerous guy walking down the street with a sword wasn’t about me, it was about the caller. It was about his fears, her feelings, their biases, and all of our delusions wrapped up into a panicked or mischievous or outright devious attempt to exert some control on the world. Therefore: May he be happy. May she be free from suffering. May all beings be released from all delusion of separation.
That’s the lesson I’m taking away from this encounter. Stay woke, yes…stay woke to the suffering in the world because it is bound to reach me in some form no matter how peaceful I think I am. Stay woke to the deficit of compassion in the world because I will be continually called upon to fill the void. Stay woke to intolerance, resistance,weariness, and dissatisfaction in myself and in others.
I don’t know…that’s all I have to say about that.