Yesterday, I shared a video on my Facebook page from a hand-held camera capturing the police killing a second young black man in St. Louis with nine shots. I shared it in the spirit of sharing truth, however ugly, to create change. I watched the video several times, and each time the loud burst of gunfire from police officers filled me fear. It is a horrible sound. This morning, I read an opinion piece in The Guardian about that very video, and after further thought, decided to take my post down. How necessary is it to share a man’s death so easily on social media? To motivate change, provide awareness,yes, but as we all know, our attention on posts and the amount of snippets of information is small and fleeting, in a world where we too frequently turn to Wikipedia for a summary instead of library research. My next post on Facebook, posted this morning, also came from The Guardian, and it was an appreciation of musician Kate Bush. This is what I mean by fleeting.
In the novel I am working on, a character easily and unremorsefully kills his victims with a handgun. I found myself interested in this character, because he is so different from my sari-clad grandmothers, and young women grappling with living in a global community usually populating my books. I let him be a madman who hears God, and his murders are a result of what he sees as divine instruction. That is who we expect our killers to be: madmen; misguided, angry, powerless people with guns; family members seeking revenge, using bullets for language. Not policemen. Not the people my mother always told me to go seek help from if I were lost or in trouble.
I grew up in the culture of Vietnam, Watergate, Dr. King’s and President Kennedy and his brother’s assassinations, the FBI harassment of Yoko Ono, among others. I grew up with tremendous mistrust of those in power, beginning with my parents. Yet over the years, every time I see a policeman, I think of what my mother told me. Other mothers told their sons to always call a policemen “Officer,” or “Sir.” Be as respectful as possible because the deck was already loaded against them because of skin-color.
It was anger and passion that makes a man shoot someone multiple times, not just once. How does one react in a crisis? I know I have snapped verbally or been sarcastic towards airport ticket agents (before 9-11, that is) and I know I have gotten so angry at fellow drivers that I once drove straight to a bookstore after catching myself cursing at the rear-view mirror to get a book on Anger Management. (When you read a book called Anger on a train, people are very polite towards you, and don’t want to sit next to you, I found.)
Anger, rage, and violent passion.