I am writing to calm myself. I am not angry; I’m feeling rather hollow…and full of dread that Something Awful This Way Comes. In the past 48 hours, two black men have died at the hand of law enforcement…and Dallas is unfolding before our eyes… Texas, a place where there are more good guys with guns and bad guys with guns than anyone can ever count.
I’m thinking back 46 year ago, fall of 1970. My father had recently retired from The State Department and had arrived in Columbus, Ohio to become Director of International Studies at Ohio State. My parents found a nice home in a nice suburb near campus with a lawn and shrubbery. One day my father was gardening in the front yard. A car drove by…and shots were fired at my father.
I had been home from Vietnam less than a year…out of Walter Reed Hospital less than six months. To this day I clearly remember my intentions. I would fly to Columbus, acquire a rifle and ammunition, set up an armed position under cover and lie in wait. For days, weeks if necessary. This was something I knew how to do, something with which I had considerable experience. My anger was not red, it was white hot. That my father would be treated so, after his long service to our country, in the year 1970 was unspeakably polarizing to me…and I felt the need to be personally involved.
Mercifully my younger brother Carl had a two bedroom apartment away from street traffic and he moved my parents there and took up residence in their home. Some months later, the perpetrators were arrested, eventually tried and convicted. Just garden variety racists; they exist in Ohio and Mississippi and probably Maine as well. My father was an accomplished man and there had been a few articles in the local papers, delineating his career in academia and diplomacy. Such attention was sufficient to arouse the resentment of lesser men and propel them to act out their bigotry.
I don’t think about that very often but I still remember the emotion that event generated in me. Nothing else mattered to me; not my recent return to life and health, not my studies to become an actor, not my yearning to put war behind me. I wanted to apply deadly force to anyone with evil intentions towards my family. So I understand how personal rage and grief can overwhelm rational, decent, measured responses.
The two most recent police killings should inspire a House committee to hold hearings on a litany of civilian deaths – largely minority deaths – at the hands of law enforcement officers. This is a national issue, it demands congressional investigation. Regarding Dallas which is still unfolding, we don’t yet know who or why…but initially it would seem to be a response from some people, however aimlessly targeted, to unprofessional (at best) or murderous (at worst) conduct by those tasked with protecting our lives.