Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Getting a Little Scary, Isn’t It?

Dear Senator McConnell:

I was sad to see you reverse your decision regarding earmarks, not because I am a big fan of earmarks but because it means one of three things: 1) you don’t know where you stand, 2) you blow with the wind, or, 3) you realize how unsafe it is to oppose Rand Paul and his tea people. I wrote something last week about how none of us can possibly feel safe but didn’t send it to you because I didn’t think you would care. Now that I suspect you might be worried about having your head stomped or ending up in a mysterious plane crash, I’ve decided maybe you should see my thoughts about violence, how the legal system does not protect victims, how your party (including the tea annex) has purposely incited fear and disgracefully condoned violence, and how society has been numbed to very real threats after eight years of being hyped up to fear unreal ones.

Years ago, I suffered a physical attack. I recovered, although particular incidents can resurrect accurate memories of the emotional pain. The part of my experience that feels relevant today is that it took at least six months for me to feel like myself again. Before the attack, I was independent, emotionally and physically strong, and fearless. I thought I knew myself well enough to predict how I would react in any given situation, and that there was nothing I could not handle. I learned quickly that I was wrong about that because I did not react as I would have predicted that night, and I almost decided prosecuting was too much trouble. Consequently, my reality was shaken to the core.

The legal system, which is not set up to wait until victims are physically and emotionally ready to deal with these things, caused as much pain as the assault. Things that people assumed to know about me because of the assault were also damaging. Fortunately, for me, the media was not involved and few people knew what happened to me.

This isn’t really about me but I thought I should qualify myself. This is about all of us, and why I think we cannot possibly feel safe until we address a few serious problems. Stephen Colbert should appreciate that I’m doing my part to keep fear alive, at least until we address the dangers of blaming victims, refusing to get involved, and pretending we don’t see or hear what is going on around us.

A couple of weeks ago, grown men tackled a young woman to the ground and stomped her head before a political debate. Contrary to disappointing rumor, that girl was not and still is not self-serving. She says this is not about her, either. And, though her message is one of forgiveness and love, she is generous enough to allow this story to belong to all of us and to understand my need to do something with it in order to address broader problems. I will do my best to honor her by making it as little about her as possible, by ending with a message of love, and by calling on the public and the media to take responsibility in turning around this violent climate.

Starting with what we know and resisting the urge to make up what we want to be true will be a good first step. In the case of the young girl who was attacked, I know that a physician, police officers, and a large crowd of people stood within feet of this attack and did nothing to help her. I know that another woman reported that this candidate/physician had treated her inappropriately in the past and that his defense was to blame the person who repeated this story and claim that it happened years ago. And I know that this physician/candidate (now a Senator in Kentucky) claimed he didn’t know the men who attacked the girl until the public identified them as his campaign coordinator and volunteers, one of whom he had posed with for a newspaper photo when the man endorsed him, that Gun Owners of America support this Senator, and that he says he has a mandate from the Tea Party, a group known for making violent threats and intimidating others by sporting weapons in public.

I know this scares me.

What I don’t know is why the woman from the past decided to play down her story. So, again, I allowed a personal experience to influence my thoughts. Recently, a young man threatened physical harm to my daughter, and he called on friends to help him do it. He posted on the internet that he was seeking retaliation and people who were not present stated that my daughter must have done something to deserve this threat. When I defended her and pointed out how wrong it was to blame the victim, the only person to speak up told me I should take the high road and stay out of it. When a detective was assigned to my daughter’s case, she feared repercussions if she pressed charges, and defeated since, instead of defending her, witnesses decided not to get involved.

Following the attack before the debate, I watched the public do the same to the victim. People created details that suited their imaginations and said she deserved this attack. Some left these comments on the internet, below videos of the attack, denying what they saw with their own eyes.

What should concern all of us is that one internet site that boasts "news status" with Google allowed a contributor to post an article and comments that were not factual. When I approached that contributor with the facts, she refused to correct them and banned me from commenting so I could not defend the young girl myself. I reported this to the owners of the site and said that I thought it was socially irresponsible to allow the contributor to endanger this girl with her lies, and they allowed the dishonest post and comments to remain.

Even if each of us did what people accused us of doing - I said something my attacker didn’t like, the girl at the debate meant to harm the Senator with the words on her cardboard poster, and my daughter was rude for not allowing drunken teens to drive away when she forced them to leave the house where she was babysitting – what kind of people believe physical violence is justified in these cases? Who is comfortable knowing that the physical abusers feel empowered by the fact that others condone their behavior, or will not get involved because they fear being hurt, too? How about knowing that sanctioned news sites allow people to print what they want and incite hatred and violence toward you in the discussion that follows?

Who can possibly feel safe knowing that even in a crowd, people can attack and no one is going to help? How is the girl with the poster supposed to leave her home now that the video has circled the globe, and people who recognize her and know that others will cheer them on if they decide to physically harm her for holding opinions they don’t like?

How can anyone be comfortable knowing that, even should victims want to prosecute, they are forced by the system to take action when they are most vulnerable and least able to do so? How many violent crimes go unreported, or how many attackers are never brought to justice because they (and the public) have scared their victims into silence?

How are decent citizens of Kentucky supposed to feel safe with a Senator whose friends stomp heads to keep away dissenting opinions? How are any citizens of this country supposed to feel safe knowing that a man like this is in the Senate, voting on legislature that will affect their lives because people either didn’t want to get involved, protected him, or were afraid to say anything?

The young girl who was attacked before the debate made an extremely kind public statement regarding her willingness to forgive her attacker. I know she is sincere because, like her, I had no trouble forgiving the man who attacked me. Forgiveness is for the person who is doing the forgiving, and it is healing. It isn’t so easy for me to forgive on the larger scale, though, if forgiveness means walking away as though this did not happen.

If I hadn't been too sick to get out of bed, I would have been there the night the young girl was attacked. I would have jumped in. I would have done something. I plan to jump in now, with words. If we don’t wake up and use our voices and our pens to fight violence, we might be forced to watch many more incidents like this one – or worse, since we have one more Senator who is against gun control and a lot of people out there who seem to think they can use the second amendment as their first amendment.

I hope that we, as a society, can send love and positive energy to the victims of this crazy time we are living in, and that we can begin loving our neighbors enough to get involved. Refusing to accept unacceptable behavior is an act of love. The same as we teach children right from wrong to protect them and help them grow into successful adults, we must tell adult bullies we will not accept violence, threats of violence, lies, or people who blame victims.

Now that you - a man who has in one week been thrown under the bus by George Bush and forced to reverse his own opinions and adopt those of Rand Paul – are in this with the rest of us, I hope you will carefully consider your responsibility to THE American People that you speak of so often, and how you can help resolve this problem for us. Someone has to stand up to the bullies and I can think of no one in a better position to do so.



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