A few hours and a visit from a locksmith later, I was inside my apartment and slipping off my shoes when I heard a man’s voice and what sounded like a small dog whimpering outside, near my front window. I imagined a loiterer and opened the door to move him along. I was surprised to see a large dog halfway up the staircase to my door. I stepped back inside, closed the door and locked it.
The author (a black woman) locked herself out of her house. So she went to a soccer game as planned, and then called a locksmith to get her inside when she returned. However, a neighbor who’d never met her phoned the police about a possible break-in, and a huge armed response resulted.
What would I have done, it I had been that neighbor? Assuming, of course, that she’d forced her way in instead of getting a locksmith. I don’t know what the hell her neighbor was thinking.
Reading this article made me realize how wrong my own natural instincts would have been. My “lifetime white guy” reaction (influenced by my eagerness to avoid awkward social situations with people I’ve never met) would have been to call the police. Not to report a burglary-in-progress, but to simply report that I’d seen a woman force the lock on the front door of a house and enter.
“Well, I’ve walked around my own house when I’ve locked myself out, looking for open doors and windows,” I would have thought. “But better to be safe than sorry. They’ll send a police car, an officer will walk up to the door, she’ll show some ID, they’ll have a good laugh over it.” Years ago, I had a similar run-in with the police, when I pulled over at night to take some photos of a gorgeous 150-year-old municipal water building I’d spotted. It was a friendly encounter, no guns, and it ended with smiles and waves.
Her ethnicity wouldn’t be a factor in my reaction, as the neighbor. But I now appreciate that it should be. One must remember that your own life experiences don’t define a universal experience. Our personal life experiences can trip us up when we try to process what others experience.
I can never stop admiring and honoring the work and the contributions that the police make every single day. Police, firefighters, teachers, social workers, and those who minister to people’s spiritual needs (both religious and otherwise) are part of the glue of society. Their contributions to our community, and the burdens that their profession demands that they undertake, far outweigh the material benefits that that Society gives them in return.
At the same time, I’d like to think that all of the work of activists, particularly in the past few years and in response to sobering tragedies, has made me less ignorant about the realities of the world that others walk in.
So I now know how I’d react if I saw a lone person I didn’t recognize forcing their way into a house in my neighborhood. The correct answer would be for me to comb my hair, change out of the 2002 tee shirt I’d slept in, put on my shoes, deal with my damned reluctance about awkward social experiences, and knock on her door myself.
And then, she and I would have had that Good Laugh Over It.
I would also have met my new neighbor. It seems like that’s the right response no matter what the stranger’s ethnicity is.