War correspondent, the late Marie Colvin, was a tough nut…she had to be.
By Caitlin Kelly
It has been a brutal year for New York City police officers — two of whom committed suicide this week alone, nine so far this year.
A friend, Tanzina Vega, is rocking it as host of the daily NPR radio show The Takeaway, and they did a great segment on this; link here.
The show dug into why police officers are prone to depression and to making the terrible final decision of suicide.
A key element, not surprisingly, is a professional culture of silence.
If managers and supervisors don’t allow workers to show tender, difficult feelings — of grief, fear, confusion, anger, revulsion — all of which would be normal reactions to the toughest elements of police work, where can those emotions go?
If fellow professionals sneer at you for being “weak”, you won’t ever show how you really feel, no matter how toxic is it to marinate in misery alone.
A former cop who spoke on the show referred to after-work drinks as “choir practice”, alcohol being one acceptable way to numb one’s feelings after another day dealing with violence, mayhem and death.
This also hit me because journalism offers a very similar culture — long hours, low pay and a lot of stress. It’s hierarchical and macho. The “best” assignments, the ones that win us front page and major awards, are often about witnessing and describing in detail the very worst events — shootings, terrorism, natural disasters.
Some journalists are as exposed to violence and gore as cops, yet we, too, have almost nowhere to let out our feelings of horror and sadness after the story is filed or the broadcast made. And co-workers and managers working on less disturbing material have no idea what it’s like, while those who do can, like cops, often throw up a thick, tight wall of defense, dismissing anyone’s emotions about it as sissy or unprofessional.
When they are human.
In my early 20s, I worked briefly at the Canadian Press, a wire service, and my Sunday night job was “fats” — short for “fatalities”. I had to find the province’s deaths that weekend — like car crashes — and write them into a story.
I began to dread it.
I really hated it when a perky coworker named Judy finally said “It’s just numbers!”
It’s human beings.
The day we ignore, dismiss and bury our grief and rage — whether created by our feelings about work or politics or climate change or family dramas — is the day we turn that violence against ourselves.
Everyone needs and deserves a safe space to air these out.
It’s been a week of disbelief that American police officers are gunned down in cold blood in Dallas during a peaceful march — and disbelief that even more black men have been shot and killed by police as well.
In Dallas, local residents are approaching police officers, many likely for the first time, to hug them and pray with them and thank them for getting up every day, ideally, to serve and protect them.
In normal life, barring bad luck or criminal behavior, very few of us ever talk to a police officer.
Few of us are likely to know one socially unless police work, as it is often is, is part of your own family.
As a career journalist, for whom aggressively challenging hierarchy and questioning authority is key to doing my job well, interactions with police have been been few and far between — I didn’t cover “cops” as part of my job and, more generally, the way police are trained to think and behave is very different from that of journalists.
So how, then, do we ever meet, sit down with and get to know “the other”?
That “other” — i.e. someone whose race, religion, politics, ethnicity or socioeconomic class is wildly different from our own — is someone we really need to know and care about, more than ever.
The divisions, literally, are killing us.
How, then, and where, do we meet one another?
In a world now devoted to narrowed and narrower niches of communication — Snapchat, Tumblr, Reddit, blogs, media slanted in one direction or another — how do we find and listen thoughtfully to other points of view than our own?
How do we sit down face to face and have a civil conversation?
It doesn’t have to be about anything serious. It might be about baseball or music or what books you’ve been reading or your theory about Dany and her dragons on Game of Thrones.
For me, there are only two places like this right now, and I wish I had more.
One is the church I attend, although less and less of late. It is in a small, wealthy, white and conservative town near me. Of those labels, I’m white.
It’s a polite crowd, but deeply corporate and high-earning, with no one who really understands why I and my husband would choose such a poorly paid industry as journalism. What we have done for decades, and done very well, seems like an amusing hobby to them.
I’ve stayed partly because of those differences, although they are starting to wear me down.
The challenge of engaging with “the other” — beyond stilted chit-chat — is initial discomfort. They might have grown up somewhere far away you’ve never seen or attended a college you’ve never heard of. Maybe they didn’t go to college.
They might out-earn you by a factor of 10, or vice versa. Your collar might be white, blue or none, because you work, as we do freelance, at home in a T-shirt.
The discomfort of “the other” — and theirs with you! — is the point of friction we have to move beyond to create and enjoy dialogue, understanding and friendship.
Just because it’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not well worth the effort.
The other place I frequently meet a wide range of people and experiences is with a group of men and women, ages 20s to 70s, who play softball on Saturday mornings. We’ve been doing that since 2001, an unimaginably long time to do anything in a world that changes daily.
In a time of economic and political disruption, even chaos, it’s a haven of comfort and familiarity — even as it brings together a disparate group: a retired ironworker, several physicians, several lawyers, several editors, a gallerist.
After each game, about a dozen of us sit under a tree at a local cafe for a long lunch, whose conversations can turn surprisingly personal and intimate.
It’s not some Kumbaya moment and the group could be even more diverse — people find us through our friendships, generally.
If you never meet or talk to people who are very different from you, how can you credibly listen to their experiences and concerns, giving them the same validity you do your own group(s)?
I grew up in Toronto, one of the world’s most multi-cultural cities, in a country whose population of immigrants remains higher than that of the U.S. — 20.6 percent.
In the U.S., with 10 times the population of Canada — it’s 13.3 percent.
Statistically, there, your odds of encountering someone very unlike you — in your classroom at school or college, on your hockey team, in your apartment building, on the subway or bus — are high in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver. Calgary now has a Muslim mayor (as does London.)
So it’s normal to know, like and respect people who worship on different days, wear different clothing, eat different foods. They’re just…different…not, per se, a threat.
When Jose and I think about moving elsewhere for retirement, our first question is not just “can we afford it?” or “what’s the weather like there”?
It’s — how comfortable will he feel as a man with brown skin?
Donald Trump’s dog whistles of hatred and racism are deeply shocking to many people, in the U.S. and beyond.
My husband is of Mexican heritage, and well established in his field so the taunts can’t hurt him professionally.
But they are a disgusting way to dismiss a nation of people whose hard work has helped the U.S. for decades, if not centuries.
In a time of relentless, growing fear and xenophobia, I hope you’ll keep talking to, listening to and staying close to “the other”, however that plays out in your life.
They came — like Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Association Journal who I randomly met this morning at the cafe at St. Pancras Station as we were both about to board the 8:19 Eurostar to Paris — from other countries to show their solidarity. He decided, last-minute and spur of the moment, he had to cross the Channel to lend his support in person.
They came in six-inch stilettos and black leather trousers, teens to seniors, a river of humanity that started flooding across the city by 1pm heading to Place de la Republique.
I joined them today — although to say that I marched would be inaccurate. There were far too many people to do anything that energetic or forward-moving.
We shuffled. We stood still.
We sang the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.
I left the Ile St Louis at 2:00 pm with no clear idea where exactly to head — or if there would even be any room for me anywhere near the planned route. I got to the nearest Metro station, (all free for the day), but started to see a river of people streaming east through every narrow street and every wide boulevard.
It was very clear they were all heading for the march, and were heading there en masse.
It was extraordinary to see so many people literally flooding every street with such determination to join one another.
It’s said that 1.5 million people were out on the streets of Paris today.
I believe it! I am so lucky to have been one of them.
I ended up thronged on a boulevard with the Place de la Bastille maybe a mile south of us; we could just barely see its distinctive gold statue gleaming in the sunshine.
A group of people carrying an enormous fabric pencil, (sagging in the middle a bit), started walking nearby and we all wondered what to do.
“Follow the pencil!” someone shouted.
People shouted “Char-lie, Char-lie, Char-lie!”
People stood in their windows looking down on us in amazement, one group of guys unfurling a banner that read “Liberte”, which was greeted by cheers.
People wore French flags and European union flags and one man had painted the French flag on his left cheek.
Many many people wore badges or buttons saying “Je suis Charlie” and many store windows held signs saying “Nous sommes tous Charlie” — we are all Charlie.
Despite the unprecedented volume of people, the mood was calm, quiet, committed.
Even though I avoid all large crowds in the U.S., here, today I never felt scared — security helicopters buzzed low overhead all afternoon and the streets nearby were lined with police and police vans, both local and national.
There were dozens of journalists and photographers, as it was a historic event.
What struck me most was how relaxed and pleasant the crowd was, at least during the time I was in the very midst of it, from about 2:45 to 4:30 p.m. when I peeled off and headed home.
No one pushed and shoved. No one showed rage or fury or any sort of anti-Muslim fervor. We simply wanted to be there.
There seemed to be no organizing principle or bullhorns or leaders.
Just millions of people of every ethnicity and age and sexual preference who cared enough to come out on a cold, sunny January morning to show their solidarity with one another, with the French journalists shot dead this week by terrorists and to remind the world — as many posters said, in French and English:
The funeral for the boy swelled to capacity before its scheduled start time at 8:30, prompting many of the thousands who could not get in to gather behind police barricades, crowding neighborhood streets as they waited to pay their respects to the young boy, Leiby Kletzky, whose remains were discovered earlier in the day. Throngs of police officers and members of a local security patrol group, the shomrim, kept order as a steady stream of visitors poured into the courtyard, adjacent to a school between 16th and 17th Avenues, within two blocks of where the boy lived. One of the shomrim volunteers estimated close to 8,000 people were in attendance.
That the alleged killer is a fellow Jew, that it happened within the confines of Borough Park, a heavily Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood where many small children live, has made the horror even worse.
The murder is terrifying for every parent, every child, everyone — and I have no kids — who deeply values trust, kindness, the benevolent stranger who will, when you are wandering and scared, help you.
Not kill you.
This story hit me hard because I have, many times, placed my trust — as a woman, alone, often in foreign countries — in strangers. I have gotten into their cars and trucks, have accepted spontaneous invitations into their homes, stayed in their apartments and houses. In not one instance, ever, was I scared, threatened, propositioned, aggressed.
I made friends, ate some great meals, had wonderful adventures. In Palermo, 26, alone, I met two men in the vegetable market, the Vucciria, like me out taking photos. When I ran out of film (these were the 80s) one gave me a roll, a generous gesture when color film overseas was costly. Astor and Nini invited me to their apartment for lunch. I was alone, female, carrying Nikon cameras. A total mark.
I went. Lunch was amazing: fun, a few others for company, and then they dropped me off at the TV station where I had an interview later that day.
It could have ended very badly. It did not.
The problem every parent faces, and each of us must negotiate — at every age — is when, where and how much (if?) to trust someone we do not know, have recently met and whose motives appear kind and helpful.
They can be evil. They can be a predator.
I know this, too, having become, home in New York, the victim of a con man, a convicted felon who brought me a pot of homemade soup, who showered me with affection and lavish praises…all in order to gain access to my credit cards, finances and who knows what else.
The police and DA laughed at my naievete, shrugged off the fact he’d committed six felonies in the time I knew him (from opening my mail to using my credit card to forging my signtaure) — and left me with the sad, dark and undeniable knowledge that monsters do live among us.
I picked my sweetie up last night at 7:00 p.m., coming off the commuter train from Manhattan.
Unusually, he said, “I have something I need to tell you. Let’s sit for a minute.”
He had been walking through Grand Central Station, (also called Grand Central Terminal) to catch the 6:20. GCT at rush hour, if you haven’t experienced it, is a very crowded place, people rushing, running, slipping across the weathered floors, skittering crazily down the steps to get to their train on time.
It’s become a lot worse in the past year because so many people, selfishly, stare into their Blackberries or Ipods or Itouches or phones while they walk — imperiously expecting you to see them coming and, as if they were royalty, step aside.
Tonight, my sweetie, a man of medium height wearing a pale winter jacket, barely brushed a stranger’s left sleeve as he walked past. The man, a Caucasian, middle-aged, casually dressed, not visibly drunk or high — recoiled with a hugely exaggerated motion. When my partner tried to politely move past, the man leaned into his path, then stepped in very, very close and, shouting at the top of his lungs, said: “Don’t push me!!!”
My partner, a Buddhist who has been in many tense news situations as a photographer, including a war zone, said calmly but firmly, “I didn’t push you.”
The man was, he said, so close he could have spat into his gaping maw as he shouted even louder, with scared bystanders watching: “Yes, you did!” Then ran away.
After a 40-minute ride, my partner was shaken and still deafened. The event was so quick, there was no time to call police — GCT is filled with them, and with uniformed soldiers with sidearms. Where were they?
I, too have been the victim of sudden, vicious verbal violence, both in public in New York, and when I worked retail here, which sped up my decision to quit that work.
In both instances, he and I could tell that our attackers were quite probably mentally ill, Who knows the real source of his volcanic rage — his marriage ending? A terrible diagnosis? Being out of work for years?
As much as we feel compassion for people so tortured by their own demons, these encounters are truly terrifying and left us both shaken for a while afterward. Both of us were badly bullied by strangers when we were younger, which has left its own deep scars.
The policeman, only three years on the force, was Eric Czapnik, a Polish immigrant, and the alleged assailant, Kevin Gregson, who is said to have stabbed him outside a hospital at 4:30 a.m., is a former officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, formerly working in Regina, Saskatchewan. The young officer was ambushed and stabbed, with no apparent motive, while sitting in his police vehicle.
Ottawa, a normally calm and placid city, Canada’s capital, where people skate to work along the Rideau Canal, is stunned by its first cop-killing since 1983.
Reports The Globe and Mail:
The slaying sent shock waves through the 1,800-plus uniformed and civilian members of the Ottawa Police Service, which had not lost an officer in the line of duty in more than a quarter-century.
Constable Czapnik was a Poland-born immigrant and father who had been with the force for just three years.
He was stabbed in the neck, a police source said.
The two officers had apparently never met before and no motive in the slaying was immediately apparent.
Mr. Gregson was a Saskatchewan-based RCMP officer who pleaded guilty to uttering a death threat and pulling a knife on a Mormon church official in Regina in 2006, court records show.
He received a conditional discharge after pleading guilty in a Regina court.
Mr. Gencher described his client as “associated with the RCMP.”
He was expected to appear at Ottawa’s downtown Elgin Street courthouse later Tuesday or possibly Wednesday.
“The officer was at the hospital on an unrelated call when the incident occurred,” said Constable Alain Boucher.
A civilian woman police officer — and firearms expert — saved the day by being the first to fire at Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, reports The New York Times:
As she pulled up to the center, the officer, Kimberly Munley, spotted the gunman, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, brandishing a pistol and chasing a wounded soldier outside the building, said Chuck Medley, the director of emergency services at the base.
Sergeant Munley bolted from her car and shot at Major Hasan. He turned toward her and began to fire. She ran toward him, continuing to fire, and both she and the gunmen went down with several bullet wounds, Mr. Medley said.
Whether Sergeant Munley was solely responsible for taking down Major Hassan or whether he was also hit by gunfire from another responder is still unclear, but she was the first to fire at him.
Sergeant Munley, who is 34, is an expert in firearms and a member of the SWAT team for the civilian police department on the base, officials said.
I interviewed several women like Munley — well-trained law enforcement and military professionals, highly competent with firearms, prepared to do whatever is necessary under fire — for my book about American women and guns. Despite popular fantasy to the contrary, many women are exceptionally accurate shooters and steely enough to handle the job even when injured; Munley was shot three times and is the hospital in stable condition.
On 9/11, a woman cop helped to keep former NYC mayor Rudolph Giuliani alive — his bodyguard of nine years and a 28-year NYPD veteran, Patty Varone. She told me her astonishing story and it leads off my book chapter called “In The Line of Fire.”
Tough, brave, well-trained women shooters are everywhere. Luckily, Munley was driving past Fort Hood yesterday and jumped into action.
While suburban parents are freaking out about whether or not to allow their kids to walk to school, the big news story now on this coast, and making national news, is the discovery of the body of Annie Le, a 24-year-old Yale grad student who was to have been married this past weekend — but was instead found dead, her body stuffed inside a wall of the lab. A fellow grad student told The New York Times it requires three levels of security to get into the basement of the lab building, including two swipes of a security card.
The prime suspect is a lab technician who had an unrequited crush on her, according to the New Haven Independent, someone who had access to the lab but who is not a fellow student. While the standard narrative now unfolds of a “promising life cut short”, her $160,000 in scholarships and her academic dedication, a young woman’s murder, at Yale or anywhere, raises larger questions for every woman and the women, of all ages, she cares about.
How, where and when — if? — can a woman protect herself from harm? It’s an issue we don’t talk about much, in a serious way, because it’s deeply frightening and can make you feel powerless and overwhelmed. Danger feels random, when for more than 90 percent of women, it’s not. They are usually killed by someone they know, and usually a man with whom they have or have had a relationship. When some men can’t have the woman they want, they claim the ultimate prize instead — her life.
I learned a lot about violence against women, hearing things I wish I hadn’t, and hadn’t known men can do, when I spoke to women around the country for my book on women and guns. One woman was shot point-blank in her own suburban California driveway, her husband shot dead beside her because he only had $8 in his wallet, not enough to satisfy the criminal who followed them home. Today, a trained counselor, she helps other women cope with trauma. Hers was a random attack, but it’s usually a man who decides he owns you — no matter how the woman feels about this — and is going to have you, or else.
Here’s my wish for every woman, of any age. Don’t trust appearances. You need three security cards to get into the basement lab which makes you feel safe and secure. Right? Who’s in there with you? Are you alone? How quickly and easily can you get out? I don’t advocate paranoia; none of us can live like that all the time. But I do advocate thinking and acting like a member of the Secret Service, men and women exquisitely trained to observe their surroundings in detail, to watch faces and body language, to anticipate danger before it happens and figure out how they can, or will, avoid it.
I say this from personal, brutal, terrifying experience. A convicted felon came into my life 10 years ago. I was lonely, broke, struggling, low on confidence. Vulnerable. He had — I would only discover after four months’ dating him and hiring a private detective, a former NYPD cop — served time in Illinois, made the front page of all the Chicago papers for his crimes there, even appeared on American Journal, an early reality TV show. After I realized what he was and bought the tape of his television appearance and showed it to my Dad, he had one immediate reaction: “He’s so little!” The criminal was; maybe 5’6″, with hands and teeth almost childishly small. His most powerful weapon? He didn’t look threatening.
He opened my mail, stole a credit card, used it, forging my signature….a total of six felonies by the time he was done with me. The local police and the DA refused to take my case. No one was going to gallop to my rescue. No one. All those years of believing in authority and their right and ability to help me. Gone. I changed my locks and phone numbers and all my bank accounts. I did not date for four months. I did not let a man I did not know very well cross the threshold of my front door for 12 months. I was terrified to answer the phone for months, slept at a friend’s house for a week or two, learned how to drive while looking to see if someone was following me.
This will sound unreal, but the felon gave me a present. It’s a book called The Gift of Fear which contains an entire page listing male behaviors that, to many women, look social, friendly, even flirtatious or kind. They are also time-tested and highly efficient ways to win a woman’s trust, then commit a crime against her. It’s written by a security expert and I think every woman of every age should read it. It would have saved me an enormous amount of time, money, heartache and terror. It would have, the felon knew, saved me from him.