Opinion » Guest Opinions

From the Far Margins

You people are a threat to us

by

Let's say your people were being shot in the streets. By "your people" I mean people of Polish descent, Irish people, northern Idahoans, those born in Chicago or Mountain Home; people with brown hair and blue eyes; fathers with three children; people who served in Vietnam; members of the LDS church or Catholics—your people, whomever they are, are being shot in the streets of Boise and other cities on an oddly frequent basis.

What would you do? Your people are 10 percent of the population and they make up 40 percent of those shot dead.

For whatever reason, Americans spent their childhoods steeped in television portraying your people as slackers, welfare-mooching drug dealers, murderers and criminals. Your people were always the bad guys in the movies or the expendable ones who got shot or somehow died before the film was over.

When there were heroes in movies and cartoons, they never looked like your people; never sounded like you, never had your address, hair color, pictures of the pope in a locket or wore your sacramental underwear. They were the bad guys.

So as anyone would do, some Americans—including those who would become police officers—came into adolescence with the idea that you aren't quite human the same way they are. It's true a few of your people made it onto the police force. They came to see themselves as exceptions to the rule. They were, like everyone else, doing their job; following through on calls from respectable neighborhoods when your people showed up to a party or to visit a friend and someone was afraid an evildoer was there to rob, rape, pillage or sell drugs to their children. It was a tragedy. Everyone was afraid of your people.

It became harder for your people to get jobs or rent houses in nice places. Schools where your people lived decayed because the others were afraid to teach there. Your youth lost hope when the college entrance exams reflected others' lives, not yours. Your kids began believing they were worth nothing. Some did like downtrodden teens everywhere do—they did drugs and grew angry. Every time they did and were caught doing something wrong, they were held up as examples of the truth behind the stereotypes surrounding your people. Ten times as many kids of other groups could be breaking into homes and stealing stereos to support meth habits, but your kids were the ones who made news.

The media likes to have a bogeyman for us to fear because we watch more television when we're afraid.

Anchors loved the close-ups of your angry faces and your fists in the air when you protested. If one car was set on fire, it was broadcast nationwide. Every time one of your people was shot, your people grew more angry. It was bad enough the way you were portrayed in the media. It was bad enough how much everyone was growing to hate you. But we—the others—said the shootings, violence and hostility wasn't our fault—and that made you more angry. More of your people began to march and gather in the streets after shootings. Even the old and respectable, the movie stars and sports figures who looked like you took up symbolic acts of protest to say, peacefully, this is unjust. So we called you terrorists.

In little towns, your children painted murals in parking lots calling out the injustice but they, too, were seen as engaging in acts of unpatriotic dissension. Their murals were erased and groups formed to oppose you. They secretly talked about lynching your people. They joked privately about violence and eradication. Because we, too, had slowly grown to fear you, we said nothing. We let the mobs of those who hated you roam the streets with flags symbolizing your death. We let them fly.

We let the mobs roam, armed and open. We defended their First Amendment right to say you deserved death. We let schools and police curtail your First Amendment rights. It all spiraled down. Mobs fought mobs and more people were shot "defending themselves" from those not like them.

We hungered for news of our safety. If your people were protesting in our communities or if your people lived in our neighborhoods, we wanted to know who was policing you. Some advocated that your people be rounded up. After all, budding terrorism cannot be allowed to exist anywhere. Your people could not be allowed to exist free to roam—because who knew what you might do, you people of Polish descent, you Irish, northern Idahoans, Chicagoans, people with brown hair and blue eyes, fathers, Vietnam vets, members of that church. You people.

We believed we were not safe around you. We believed the world would be better without you. It was a lie. All you wanted was to live in peace, but we are a fearful people. We love guns when they're in our hands less when they are in your hands. We love our First Amendment when it protects our speech and right to address our government with grievances—not so much when it's used to say we're guilty of some kind of travesty or mistake.

And we are guilty of a mistake. We're guilty. Listen to what you hear.