About 7 years ago, I wrote an essay called 'The Moment of Death' about a deadly confrontation I witnessed when I was living in Brooklyn around 1992. I wrote the story about 8 years after the fact of it happening, and so now it is quite some time since the actual event. I don't know whether that incident took place after or before the LA Riots, but I am inclined to believe that it was before. It certainly happened before my own brother became an LAPD officer. I wrote it having never fired a gun and in the days before 9/11 and my subsequent lessons. Today I am more of the man I wanted to be then. My conclusion is different.
In The Moment of Death I concluded:
god does know why people take the desolate train deep into brooklyn on foggy, lonely mornings. there are human beings there who must be cared for. it may be a complete turnabout from our standard notion of rush hour into midtown, or perhaps it's a continuum of the same idea of daily work. as proud as we are of our job struggles, our creativity, our productive lives, we must realize this as our great contribution. for most of us, this aggregation of work does not result in life or death of our creation outside of our own families. this is as it should be, for we are not all warriors or shaolin priests. so taking the gun in hand cannot be a part of the same rote commercial exchange as the rest of our consumer activity - because the most disciplined mind i possess or can imagine possessing will, mastering the moment, use it for it's ultimate destructive purpose, without hesitation. even if we had no such mental mastery, the gun directs all of our passion to the single end of spitting deadly projectiles. we, like the dirtbike kid, are not meant for such things. our contemplation is too shallow, the meaning in our lives would be shattered and squandered by killing. killing is simply too large a deed for us to bear. we would be rightly crushed by our own action.
and so, almost ten years later, i have finally put these thoughts to the page. i suppose i would just be getting out of prison now, hopefully with the same wisdom. or perhaps i would have been released long ago, or perhaps never even arrested by a society eager to see me as a 'warrior'. but my mama didn't raise me to kill black children, or any other kind of human being. so i reject such instant, fake honor. and i reject it when people tell me it is my right to bear arms. that's not what my arms are for. i could only accept the honor of being a warrior as my duty, and i know that this is not my life's duty.
i might hope to learn a little more kung fu, but perhaps if these paragraphs can touch just one person...
I wasn't raised to be a man of action and a protector in this society. I have written over 6000 essays and political cartoons here at Cobb, but I've only stopped about a dozen fights and crimes. Today I am prouder of the stopped fights and crimes than I was, and perhaps in retrospect to the wisdom I have acquired in all that writing and reflection on the events at Virginia Tech I have come think myself accursed that I was not there and hold my manhood cheap.
How many of us have had that same feeling of remote bravery? Watching Roots didn't we think, "man let me have been a slave, I woulda.."? I have written that we expect courage of police and of soldiers. Is that such a foreign virtue? Does it become something else when those of us not sworn to duty feel it stirring within us? No it doesn't become something else, and it shouldn't feel odd. It is the same value and it's good for society because of what it is and what it makes us when we express it.
I have lost my contempt for the middle class and for bourgie aspirations. It is because I have become those and surpassed what small expectations I had for myself and now I am obliged to protect them. I remember where I come from and I remember the cynical feelings of isolation. Yes I sung the lyrics to Living Coulor's cynical 'Tell Me How to Get to Your America", but now that I've gotten there I can't be so snide, and I marvel now thinking about it how they managed their millions repeating those lines. Maybe that's why they eventually broke up. Rebellion is for youth.
I have come to accept something about my civil duty and responsibility to the public to my fellow countrymen. In dropping the persona of my bohemian self, in becoming a husband and father, in becoming a middle aged man, I had to acknowledge my own power to be an example, more than I ever thought I'd have to be. Way deep down inside I knew the truth of the phrase 'civilization is where you put it', but I always thought when it came down to it, it would fall to the professionals and experts. I should have known better. It takes all of us, not just rhetorically, but really.
I couldn't say I wanted to be a police officer. I wanted to be a 'bhuddist cop'. I didn't want to disturb my inner peace through the action of bringing peace into the world. I was a bumpersticker pacifist. And because of that I inverted that latent desire in people I didn't respect from courage to cowardice.
Yes I want to own a gun, not to be any old pistol-packing vigilante. But I start to wonder about the men who do, just as I wonder about the men who drive Porsches in my neighborhood, and the men whose sons I admire in the local Scout troop. What is my relationship to my neighbor, and how have I let them down by not knowing them better? What are the slim tendrils of curiosity that I can work into bonds of mutual interdependence? Today I know something I didn't know in 2000 or in 1992.
I'm responsible for war and peace in my community, and I have no right to cry over a loss that I never invested in.