Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Southern Discomfort

It's an understatement to say the U.S. is going through a difficult time right now.  I've always believed that there is more good than evil in the world.  I'm not going to say the heightened agitation between law enforcement and it's citizens doesn't exist. Yet I'm not going to get pulled into a "them" vs. "us" mentality which accomplishes nothing. I still smile and speak to strangers, no matter their race or occupation.  After all, it doesn't take anything to be kind.

Yesterday, that smile got wiped off my face momentarily when I was thrown into a situation like I've never encountered.

As the Line Dance class finished and began leaving, one of the younger women came into my office.  Very hesitantly she said, "I think you should know there are a couple of cars outside the fence with some young men in them.  They're just....sitting there."

If you've ever worked with senior citizens you know they have two responses to young strangers just hanging around: (a) viewing them as a threat while clutching purses and scurrying to the car or (b) marching up to the individuals to demand an explanation while commanding them to get on their way.  Honestly, their Plan B scares me the most.  Coming from a generation raised to listen to their elders, they are not prepared to be ignored or scorned.  Or worse. 

I casually walked outside with the woman, mostly to reassure the pair of women hovering anxiously by the door.  I watched them get in their cars and called out a friendly, "Have a good day!" loud enough for our uninvited guests to hear.  Because now there were three vehicles and four guys glaring at me.  I went back inside to advise the remaining women I'd walk out with them...mostly so Plan B didn't get put into play.  My presence made the women act normally, even though the men scowled.  I stayed there until each car made it's way out the drive.  Why?  Because our center is surrounded by a fence with one way in...and the same way out.  The men, while parked outside the fence, had chosen spots on either side of the driveway.  The way they looked at each car clearly showed an attempt to intimidate the drivers.  As the last car passed, I heard them laugh.

In the past, I would've called out, "Can I help you guys?"  Obviously not senior citizens, there was no reason for them to be there.  Yesterday, I did not.  Because, as much as I hate it, the world is not a nice place right now.  Too many people are angry about too many things.  As the guys surrounded one vehicle to bob up and down to music which had some pretty vulgar lyrics, I went inside without a word.

About five minutes later, I went out the back door to put something in my car.  I noticed one of my seniors had yet again manipulated the chain on our parking row, pulling one section toward the ground in order to step over it rather than walk down to the entryway.  As I tugged it back in place, the music was turned up louder, this song worse than the first.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw three of the men turn towards me as they screamed in unison, "Kill that bitch!  Kill that bitch!"


One of the first things I learned from law enforcement friends is when NOT to engage.  Pretending I hadn't heard them, I simply turned and calmly walked at a normal pace back into the building.  They wanted a reaction. I wasn't gonna play.

Back in my office, I glanced out the window, which gives me a semi-obstructed view of the front gate/drive.  Two of the men were now marching back and forth across the driveway, pointing at the building.  One kept pulling his shirt up over his head, then down.  Repeat and march.  Their expressions reminded me of a kid smiling as he pulled wings off of flies.  My inner voice, the one my law enforcement pals always said to listen to, was clearing it's throat.  I know, I huffed back at it.  I needed to at least tell my Dept. Head what was going on, even though I was safely locked away in my building.  In the past I would've simply asked what they needed, then politely advised them to move along.  But I didn't.  I hesitated.  Not because I was white and they were black.

Because I didn't want to cause trouble.

My center is the only truly integrated one in our system and we jokingly refer to ourselves as the United Nations: black, white, British, Irish and Scottish.  (We use to have Cuban and Filipino, but God needed them back).  Our center was built in 1956 as a school for black kids; a monument on the front lawn testifies to such. I've even got a photo of the original school posted on the hall bulletin board. My seniors have lived through WWII, the Civil Rights movement and worse.  We've learned from each other, had discussions on how to make life better.  The bottom line is, no matter what they've faced in life,  all have come to the same conclusion:we're in this together, so we need to work together.  I agree.

No, I hesitated because, for better or worse, I feared asking a Deputy to join us might be like adding a match to gun powder.  Six officers cover a shift, meaning only one would be driving into a dead end to confront four guys with an attitude.  

There's too much anger in our world right now.  Though purposely taunted,  I had the the choice of refusing to respond.  I called my Dept. Head and calmly related what had been going on for the past 20 minutes.  He was shocked.  I heard concern in his voice.  He chose to call our contact at the Sheriff's Department. 

I went back to work, wondering how in the world we fix this country.  A few minutes later, the men starting yelling at the top of their lungs and racing their car engines.  I sat at my desk.   I felt tears burn my eyes.  Not ones of fear but of frustration.  What the hell is wrong with people?

Taking a deep breath, I reminded myself  how many GOOD people I know.  How they vastly outnumber the four idiots outside my window who thought yelling at a short white woman made them big, powerful men.

The group revved their engines once more and were gone.  Ironically my fear for the Deputy's safety didn't pan out.  In fact, I waited an hour and never saw a Deputy.  Then again, maybe he'd driven by trying to locate our building, which is set back off the road, and they'd seen him, causing them to move along without a confrontation.  

If you'd told me 10 years ago I'd have to attend a mandatory training on "What to do in an active shooter situation", I would've suggested you see a doctor for your paranoia.  Instead that training reminded me that we do have a choice when thrown into an odd situation.  And sometimes non-confrontational silence is the best one. Some will view that as cowardice.  I see it as refusing to stoop to someone's level when they try to intimidate.  

So today I will continue to see the glass half full and believe most people are good.  It's my job to be vigilant and keep my seniors safe while they are at the Center to have fun.  Yesterday, as uncomfortable as it got, I did my job while keeping my dignity.  And everyone went home.


maurcheen said...

I keep telling myself the same thing, there are more of us good people than them bad people. Way more. The world is a frightening place right now, but I have to believe the good will prevail.
When I was a kid Ireland was a frightening place to live, not all of it but enough to make a little singing fella find it hard to sleep at night.
Know you are loved.

maurcheen said...
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Ponita in Real Life said...

Oh man, what an uncomfortable situation to be in. I'm glad you kept your head and didn't engage them. And that you saw your seniors safely to their cars. And that the sheriff didn't get there before they left. But most of all, that you are safe. You *are* loved, by many of us here. It is a frightening time on this blue sphere and I hold all those I know close to my heart, in hopes that it will help keep you and all of them safe. xoxo

hope said...

maurcheen: that's why I'm glad to have you, my blog neighbors, to talk to. You're there to tell me when I'm wrong and give me a hug when I need it. Funny, when I saw your name this morning, I heard you singing "You've Got A Friend". ;) Thankful for you. x

Ponita: right back at you...y'all are the voices of reason that bring the world back into balance. Thanks for the support and love...who doesn't need that? :)