Too Big and Too Cold

 

 

While student teaching a year ago, I discussed with my students the happenings in the book Number the Stars, in which a young girl and her family flee from the Nazi’s in war-torn Denmark. In a written response, one of my students argued: “safety is an illusion that we all keep.” She remarked how the author uses a distant relative’s safe house as a symbol of safety, but the family continues to feel terrified of the Nazi’s reaching them. She mentioned how the mother wades into the ocean to get on a boat and is in despair, claiming that the ocean is simply “too big and too cold.” This nine year old then went on to describe how, at some point, the world is just too big and too cold for everyone who lives in it.

Is she right?

I grew up never quite knowing this feeling. I remember finding comfort any time I had a nightmare, knowing that my dad was just a few bedrooms away, and he would protect me from anything that could hurt me. The boogie man, ghosts in my closet, my creepy neighbor who once stole my undies- you name it, he would defeat it. It was the same with the police. I always thought, if it’s over my dad’s head, that is was the police are for! There was always someone to protect me. Undoubtedly.

This past school year I  was given many opportunities to reflect on my privilege in comparison to my students and their families. Students began telling me about their experiences with police, their experiences of violence in their community, and more often than not, the intersectionality of these two. These kids, and so many- too many- like them grow up having the illusion of safety ripped out beneath them before their feet even hit the ground for the first time. Forget the literal sense of being protected; for a moment let us focus on the idea. Is it not this illusion which keeps us sane?

As a nation, we continue to chase this safe house, this illusion of safety, and slapping new faces on it. The War on Drugs! Harsher drinking and driving laws! Gun Control! Gun control! GUN CONTROL!

Until we can all discuss the reasons in which many of Americans have given up on the safe house illusion, we are still losing in my book. There is no safety without people believing in those who are meant to keep us safe. Right now, the world is too big and too cold. The tide brings with it systemic racism, bullshit politician mumbo jumbo, income inequality, classism, and fear. It retreats. It returns, bringing with it more and more and more fear.

The more we ignore the tide, the more our illusion of safety- an illusion we love so much-fades into darkness. The world is too big and too cold.

 

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Black, White, and Red All over

Classic dad humor. My dad used to ask, “What’s black, white, and red all over?”

Wait for it….

… A newspaper! (Get it? Read, not red.)

Hah. Now I look around our country, and black, white and red seems like a pretty accurate color palette. Racism, violence, fear and blood-boiling anger are being brushed across our landscape at a rate many of us can hardly keep up with. If you ever wondered what you would do if you lived during the civil rights era, stop wondering. This is happening now.

Black, white.

And red. All over.

This Thursday morning, mother of 26 year old Mario Woods was found weeping over the blood stained cement in the Hunters Point neighborhood where her son, Mario, was killed the day before. A suspect in a reported stabbing earlier that day, Mario was confronted and ultimately killed by 10 police officers. Over twenty shots were fired.

“He almost made it home,” she said.

Today I had to walk into school, just a few blocks down from where Mario was shot, and have a crucial conversation with my fifth graders. Some of my students had seen a video of the police officers shooting Woods. A few of them had no idea about what had happened, and were startled by the news. A few were at the scene of the shooting and witnessed everything.

In our circle, when one student claimed that he felt worried, I asked why. He said that since he was an African American male, he feared that one day this may happen to him. I nodded in response, anger welling up inside me. I knew that I could not look him in the eye and guarantee that as long as he stayed out of trouble, he would never be confronted by a police officer with the same hostility they showed Woods. All of my students have seen the news this year. My African American students (about half of my class) know that the stats are not in their favor.

In a letter writing activity to the Chief of San Francisco Police, one of my students wrote eloquently:

” Dear Chief Suhr,
I feel sad because your officers killed a person, instead of just thinking of a solution. And I know he did not follow directions, but they should [have given] him another chance. And that’s why I write this letter. Please next time try to solve the problem. ”

In my class, we talk a lot about solving problems. My school pushes students to be independent and to work really hard when they have an issue, rather than taking the easy route. The student who wrote this is ten years old. He comes to school and works hard every single day. He solves problems. Out of all of the perspectives I’ve seen on this incident, his is the one that has stuck with me the most; he presents an untainted worldview that is compassionate, yet rational.

God is not a solution. We can not simply pray for the communities that are affected by all of the terrible gun violence and police brutality that is going on. A nice gesture, but not a solution. It is not enough to accept that these things happen and hope that it will get better.

It is not okay to make the judgement to take someone’s life and later claim that the suspect lunged toward you. At KIPP, we do not accept excuses. We do not take the easy way out.

When it comes to death, there is no grey area. Put away the guns and find a solution.

No more red. No excuses.