Thursday, April 16, 2009

From Iraq to Oakland

I feel like my family is beginning the healing process from the shock of the police shootings in Oakland. Of course the families of the fallen have infinitely deeper trauma and our first thoughts and prayers must go to them. But still, 3/21 hit B. and me hard, harder than when people he knew were killed in Iraq. That makes sense, of course, because everything that happened on 3/21 was “closer to home” in all senses of that phrase: B. was there, on duty when it happened, B. was close friends with two of the four officers killed. It hit me hard too because even I knew Erv and had met Dan, and because but for random chance, it could have been me standing next to a coffin with a flag over it. Have I said that a bunch of times? I'm sorry to belabor. It haunts me...

It made me think about a couple things. We as a society have come such a long way in recognizing that the troops need our support whether or not we agree with our country’s foreign policy. But the immense outpouring of support after the Oakland shootings notwithstanding, in many circles, the respect for the difficult dutiful job of the soldier in wartime has not been extended to the difficult dutiful job of the police officer every day.

I am not trying to say police officers are perfect and never make mistakes, or are never mean and scary, or even that blatant misconduct doesn’t occur. And I – shamefully – understand better than most the flat, cardboard cut-out view of the police because while I was an activist in college and the years after, I largely shared it. In Love in Condition Yellow, I describe my attitude “Barrett is part of a monolithic bloc of impassive guys with bristly mustaches and mirrored sunglasses that I generally try to avoid.”

What I’m trying to say is it’s worth digging under that stereotype to the rich complexity underneath, and it would be worth it for our community to do that vis a vis the Oakland Police Department, just as it’s worth it to dig below racial stereotypes to the rich individuality.

What I find particularly upsetting is the notion that by humanizing one side, we are somehow against the other side ie. by humanizing police officers, we are somehow in opposition to low income communities of color. This is not right. In fact I think it is just the opposite: the gentler we are with ourselves, and with others, the more impact we can have for positive social change.

I dug around a little on-line and found an interesting article about how back in 2003, the Madison, Wisconsin police force invited Thich Nhat Hahn to provide a five-day retreat for the city's emergency workers. It was called “Protecting and Serving Without Stress or Fear.” How cool is that?

The lady that organized it, herself an officer and a practicing Buddhist, was drawn to action because she saw the day-to-day toll police work took on officers and their families: higher than average rates of divorce, higher than average rates of suicide. I wonder if I could contact her and find out how it went. That led me to poking around to see if there are any organizations to support police families much in the way there are to support military families. And the brief answer is: virtually none. When a police officer is killed, the Oakland Police Officers Association stands by them and advocates for them. In fact, Renee Hassna of the OPOA is incredibly dedicated hard-working lady and I take my hat off to her. But I’m talking about day-to-day support, networking, community-building for families of working officers.

When I get a chance – because book promotion is taking almost all my time right now – I want to interview a few people to get ideas on how to translate some of the military family support ideas to the police. I also want to explore how we might better equip our police officers – and their families - from a mental health perspective, to manage the challenging emotional aspect of their work. I would love to hear your ideas!

Now, for Love in Condition Yellow news: the book is shipping from Amazon, and should be hitting bookstores any day! If you are inspired, I need Amazon, B&N, Indiebound, and reviews.

I am excited to announce I will be participating in a Book Club roundtable on Slate with two lovely and talented military spouse writers: Lily Burana and Alison Buckholtz!
Got a glowing review in the magazine ForeWord, but it’s not quite out yet, so I can’t quote specifics. I look forward to seeing Bay Area people at the Book Launch party at Books Inc. in SF on Friday, May 1st. I am deeply grateful for your support!
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