The Terror I Don't Know

In this July 10, 2015, frame from dashcam video provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety, a heated confrontation bet
In this July 10, 2015, frame from dashcam video provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety, a heated confrontation between trooper Brian Encinia leads to the arrest of Sandra Bland after a minor traffic infraction in which the state trooper tried to drag Bland from her car, drew his stun gun and threatened that he would "light you up" in Waller County, Texas. Bland was taken to the Waller County Jail that day and was found dead in her cell on July 13. (Texas Department of Public Safety via AP)

"The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse." -- Edmond Burke

Watching, sickened, barely able to finish but forcing myself to, the video (from the police dash camera) of Sandra Bland being brutalized by a Texas trooper, I flashed on my ten years working with batterers.

Most think it's weak women who are most often assaulted, but inside many homes it's when women talk back, argue, and are 'mouthy' that they're violated. Men abuse to keep women under their control, in check. The stronger the woman, the more violence an abuser will use, because violence works fast.

When you're allowed to use legal violence, it's time for approved abuse.

When you watch the video, you first see the trooper polite and in control. Then slowly his nature unfolds. He asks when she moved to town. (How is this relevant for a missed turn signal?) He orders her to stop smoking (not against the law.) He asks her why she seems upset and then takes umbrage at her answers.

Once Ms. Bland tries to assert her rights, he becomes an enraged bull. Whether it is because she is African-American, whether it is because she is a woman, or a combination thereof, the trooper goes wild at having his assertions, his orders, questioned. He goes from writing a ticket to threatening to "light her up" (use his Taser).

He is in no danger. No law is being broken. But quizzed, he puffs up like an adder and attacks.

This police officer was keeping Sandra Bland 'in her place.' She committed the sin of speaking. She committed the sin of reacting to his ill-treatment. Like the 15-year-old girl thrown to the ground and brutalized at the pool in McKinney Texas, like the 12-year-old girl slammed up against a police car in a chokehold in Ohio, what we have are police officers reacting to being questioned, to raised voices, to the swears of a terrified person. Not to being in danger. Not to the public being at risk.

Men dying while being held in custody, during arrest, are the same: raging bulls fighting against their power being questioned.

I can't imagine the terror of being a parent of a black child, the wife of a black husband, being a black woman.

Worrying every time my daughters left the house, vulnerable to men's sexual violence, kept me glued to the windows waiting, watching for them to get off the train. Were they also black, black sons or daughters, I don't know how I'd ever have let them out of my sight.

But empathy is not enough.

This morning I remembered, once again, the quotation of Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. He was one of the earliest Germans to talk publicly about broader complicity in the Holocaust and guilt for what had happened to the Jews.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

I wish I had magic insight on how we all work together to stop this madness, this killing of our children, our neighbors. All I do know is this: we speak out. We post each time it happens, even as we know our friends have tired of the conversation.

We keep working in every way we can until the terror in our country has ended. Silence is complicity.