Then some guy shot up a movie theater in Colorado and 12 people died. And a nine year old girl in my town was found on her tippy-toes, strung up by her own jumprope in an attempted hanging, a homeless couple accused of the assault.But before all that happened, I was going to talk about the front page of a recent local paper. Left hand column: Local high school coach had sex with student. Right hand column: Local photographer deported to England for assault and battery on a 7 year old girl. Center column: Community remembers woman murdered by her intimate partner.
Somehow I hoped to work this in: after striking class a few weeks back, one of the guys said, “We should go down to the Flats and practice.” Meaning the decaying core of our sister city, where drug and gang-related violence is rampant. Where the residents are poor and Puerto Rican.Then there’s the Freeh report. And the cognitive dissonance everyone’s having about Joe Pa being awesome at football and sucking at humanity.
So this is what I have to say about all that. There are a lot of different kinds of violence. It’s hard to parse them all out—random stranger attack, attachment exploitation, domestic violence, street crime, child sexual abuse.If there’s a common thread it’s this: our abject terror, our desperate wish that we could control and distance ourselves from what is ugly and hateful and ruthless in our fellow man, and our unwillingness to talk about gender and masculinity, about race and class, causes a kind of cultural dementia about what is real and true about violence.
We won’t look it in the face, even when it’s on the front page of our newspaper. Here in the priviledged county seat the white folks will tell themselves they have to go slumming in the brown town to find violence. While down in the Flats the mamas bring their babies inside early these hot summer nights because they’re not excited about trading punches, they’re worried about stray bullets catching their kids. And here, there, and everywhere, men who are loved, trusted and respected by women and children violate that trust with inappropriate touching, sexual contact, and life threatening harm.Sure, there’s more street violence down in the Flats. But maybe that’s because, in the absence of a lawful economy, an outlaw economy has taken hold. We don’t have to go down there to test-drive our striking or self-defense though. I could start a bar fight in Paradise City any night of the week. All I have to do to practice self defense is send my daughter to school, to the general store, out to jump rope.
Perpetrators are not other than us. Sometimes they are mentally unstable, alienated, angry—but they are our own mentally unstable, alienated, angry. They are our neighbors. Yes, even if they are homeless. We need to know that they are in our midst and use our resources to help them. We need to keep weapons out of their hands—as much for them as for their potential victims. So that no one ever again makes the measure of his life the glorious technicolor murder of his neighbors.The perpetrators of violence are our neighbors. Yes, even if they are young men of color with guns and we are wealthy white folks practicing our punching at a tony gym. But so often, no matter who we are, they are our coaches and teachers and friends and sweethearts. They are our own.
It hurts the sports fans to hear that Joe Pa covered for Jerry Sandusky—and for other acts of violence perpetrated by his players—in thrall to the glory that is football. I wish Penn State had left his statue in place. It would force us to hold in our heads this paradox: a man might accomplish great things and also condone, or even conduct, violence. It would remind us that the monster is among us, that we love and respect him. It’s the only way we will begin to take rational, effective action to protect ourselves and our kids against monstrosity.We need to raise our children as if they are growing up in a dangerous world. We need to talk about the real dangers. The jump-rope hanging splashed all over my Facebook within hours, worried mamas wondering how to keep their kids safe in our charming town. The movie theater massacre splashed around the world. But I didn’t hear any water cooler chatter about the coach who slept with his player. I hadn’t heard about the respected community member—with a history of sexual assault—who touched a little girl in the grocery store. My phone didn’t start ringing with anxious parents wanting to sign their girls up for self defense, wondering, “How can I help my daughter pick a partner who won’t murder her in cold blood, leave my grandbabies without a mama?”
From here, to Colorado, to Penn State, to England, to everywhere there are men and women and children and adults, people are being hurt at another human’s hands. Most often, but not always, by men. Most often, but not always, by someone of the same race. Most often, but not always, by someone they know.How do we keep ourselves and our kids safe from all this? We say it out loud. We make it transparent that we are living under siege, that violence is the fabric of our lives. If we are women, queer, trans, of color, poor, disabled, children, or any combination therof, we believe to our bones that we are at greater risk, we reject blame for the injuries done to us, we help each other get real, get angry, get safer. We learn to fight with mind and heart and voice and body. If we are men, hetero, cis, white, wealthy, able-bodied, adults, or any combination therof, we learn how to be allies. We stop giving passes for boundary mistakes, violations, sexual aggression, physical assault, to the most privileged among us. We stop equating masculity with ungovernable impulses and physical domination and start celebrating the compassion and courage and strength and generosity of men.
I don’t have a wrap up to this post. It is the open dialogue of my life, the open secret of our common destiny: We humans hurt one another. We witness this hurt. We can know who and how and why if we begin to tell the truth about it. It is in our hands to help one another.