I want to write about the lazy, hazy days of late summer. About fingers stained purple from blackberry picking and marshmallows roasted over bonfires at Golden Gardens.
I want to write about Queen Anne and Magnolia neighbors enjoying the bounty of their gardens. About kids beginning to think back-to-school thoughts with a mixture of dread and anticipation.
But I can’t stop thinking about a town in Missouri that is in deep despair. And about the increasingly thin veneer between ease and unrest that is cracking, allowing the pervasive racism that exists in our country to seep through, infiltrating our thoughts, our conversations and our actions.
Instead of preparing to start college in the fall, a young man in Ferguson, Mo., has been shot dead, and his family and neighbors are suffering in ways we cannot fully comprehend.
Because the media exposes us to events that might otherwise remain local, we can’t help but be cognizant of race-based crimes. We know about the July killing of Eric Garner, an innocent Staten Island man, when police used an illegal chokehold, depriving his children of their father.
And about Renisha McBride, a Detroit girl shot in the face last November by a man from whom she sought help following a car crash.
Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012.
John Williams in Seattle in 2010.
And, now, Michael Brown in Missouri and Ezell Ford in Los Angeles — and so many more.
The victims: people of color. The killers: white.
It is much easier to relate to and mourn the deaths of Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall. But think for a minute: What if Garner was your father or your husband? What if Renisha or Trayvon or Michael or Ezell were your children? Difficult to imagine, right? Because these kinds of things don’t happen in our neighborhood.
Or, on some level, do they?
Looks do matter
My husband and I are completing a summer of boat work, the final piece of which is painting and repairing the hull at a boatyard behind Fred Meyer in Ballard.
Six jack stands incredibly steady the massive vessel on its keel, while we sand, prime, repair, epoxy and paint, doing the work ourselves to save on cost. It’s been a daily marathon of grueling work, which leaves us covered in dust, paint and boatyard filth.
Last week, I broke from painting and strolled over to Fred Meyer. Walking through the store, stopping first to get my glasses repaired at the optical shop and then moving on to order grilled panini sandwiches in the deli, grab some ice for the cooler and, finally, make a quick trip to the ladies’ room, I noticed that people were giving me odd looks.
A woman I nearly collided with as she exited the ladies’ room, formed a startled, silent, “Oh!” with her mouth, her eyes wide open.
Looking in the mirror, I saw what she had seen. Staring back at me was my boatyard self: a bandana topped by a backward baseball cap, an oversized, ripped, paint-splattered T-shirt, baggy capris and expensive hiking shoes wrapped in duct tape to protect them from paint and solvents. No makeup on my sweaty face.
I laughed as I finally understood the looks. But my laughter turned to sudden sorrow as it dawned on me that a growing number of people in our society deal with such reactions every day. People for whom the increasing economic divide is proving disastrous. People who are being marginalized through no fault of their own.
A no-fault condition
And then I thought about Michael Brown. Skin color is a no-fault condition. How we are born is an inarguable roll of the dice. I cannot know how it feels to be black, or brown, or poor, just because some woman looked at me cross-eyed in Fred Meyer. But it gave me pause.
People are being killed because of the color of their skin — there is no justification for it.
John Warner, a 22-year-old black man, was killed earlier this month in an Ohio Walmart for holding a BB gun in his hand — shot dead right there in the toy aisle. His last words were, “It’s not real!”
Would the same thing have happened if he were white? I would bet money against it — lots of money. At least enough money to hire someone to finish working on our boat.
Skin color may be a roll of the dice, but how we treat people based on their appearance is our choice. No matter what we learn about Michael Brown in the days to come, ask yourself, was death the penalty? Was being shot in the street in cold blood what he deserved?
The authorities spin stories to make victims out to be drug users, shoplifters and whatever else they can dig up and corroborate. Even if the stories are true, is the punishment for these alleged crimes death?
Brown’s death — as the other racially motivated deaths — was a modern-day lynching, an execution without a trial.
How do we move forward from this? Hopefully, reminders such as the one I had at Fred Meyer last week can teach us compassion for people we see pushing shopping carts down the sidewalk or a person of color in the toy aisle of a store.
Because if the dice had been rolled differently, it could just as easily be you. Or me. Or your children. Or mine.
IRENE HOPKINS (irenehopkins.com) lived on Queen Anne for 20 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.