I live in a realtively safe neighborhood in the Midwest. There are occasional burglaries. There are occasional domestic disputes. There are occasional fires. But, I feel safe where I live. I feel safe raising children in our area. There is a reputation that echoes in any racially diverse neighborhood that crime rates must be higher, or that safety must be a concern. Every time we've accidentally left our garage door open at night, our kind African American neighbors have called to remind us to close it. Every time we've hungered for a sweet treat, our Greek neighbors have supplied us with baklava. I feel safe calling my neighborhood home.
And yet, yesterday I stumbled into Surreal World.
I was out running (or walkunning as I should call it, that half running/half walking twilight that I have entered post-Grayson whereby my body doesn't know how to complete a good three mile run, and I end up half-staggering, half-limping the last mile). I was out running when I entered a strange world which involved hammers and pepper spray. In the midst of my exercise, while wearing headphones, I entered a battleground of sorts and I cannot shake this from my mind.
I have a habit on especially hard runs (as the last several have been for me) of focusing my attention on the pavement about three feet in front of me, of concentrating my effort on the ground only a few steps ahead, as a way of continuing each step. And with the headphones on, I was merely conscious of the 95.1 FM traffic report and the hot sun giving me even more premature age spots on my nose when I looked up and was about ten feet away from another reality.
There were forty or so youth, each of those I saw being African American. There was yelling. There was confrontation. There were girls wrestling on the yard of a suburban home. There was a boy being chased by a hammer-wielding man-child. There was a young woman crying out, "Help me, help me, I've been maced!" Traffic in the street was at a standstill. I had stumbled into a wonderland of sorts. This was not my home.
And even as I pulled the earphones out of my ears, and stopped to see what was happening, even as I noticed the maced girl being assisted by a neighbor, and another burly man yelling, "Break it up! Break it up!" even as I saw the stopped mini-van driver whipping out a cell-phone in what I can assume was a 911 call, I was aware that I was just an observer. My skin color set me apart. My status as 30+ year-old-woman made me different. While I was worried about these fighting youth, I was not afraid for my own safety.
How does a Christian walk into these places? What could I, a midwestern white woman do to stop the violence? Would the hammers be turned on me if I did more than slink by? Could I be an instrument of peace?
I don't know. I simply don't know.
I hurried home. I wanted to do what I could, which was to call the police. But before my route was finished I saw four or five police cars circling our neighborhood, and so I knew that part had been accomplished.
I am a middle-class white woman whose color protects her. Where am I called when violence erupts? And how do I follow the teachings of a peace-filled Christ? How do I heed the immortal words of St. Francis and sow love where there is hatred?
The answers to these questions both challenge and scare me.
I pray for those holding the hammers. I pray for those who see the violence in their eyes. God help us all.