Thoughts on the Protests

This past week the DA in our city released the bodycam video of the police shooting of Anthony Thompson Jr at Austin East High School. I watched the presentation the DA gave as she walked through all the evidence, one step at a time, and ended with the conclusion that it was a justifiable action by the police officer and no charges would be brought against the police. Seeing the evidence, as she presented it, I had to agree. Yes. This looks like it was definitely justifiable. 

So, I was really surprised when I started reading FB posts from my black friends from this neighborhood. They had a completely different perspective. They felt that the DA maligned Anthony’s character by bringing up the domestic violence incidents that led to the police being called. They wanted to know why the police did not use a taser or try talking first. They wanted to know why the police did not speak to Anthony from the doorway of the bathroom and ask him to drop his weapons and come out with his hands up. They watched the video and felt that they were seeing the police’s hands on the gun, not Anthony’s, when it was fired. In fact, they were seeing something completely different from me. 

When two people watch the same video and see two different things, you’ve got to step back and realize that vision is not just a physical thing that our eyes do for us. Vision is affected by what is in our minds, our past, our experiences as well. Perspective. We can all see an image, but our perspective is going to tell us different things about that image. 

I think about where we are at in our country. When this incident happened, we were in the middle of the George Floyd trial. The news is frequently posting more and more incidents of police officer shootings that seem to have been avoidable. The experience of people of color in their involvement with the police has led to a feeling of distrust and danger where the police are concerned. 

Since the release of the bodycam videos, our city has seen a couple protests. I watched some video from one of the protests and the things that they were chanting hurt my heart. This is not my perspective. I don’t hold these views. But, I feel like I can understand, a little, where these views are coming from. 

So, here’s the question. Can we lay down our self-righteousness, our desperate need to always be right, and just enter into the idea that other people have different perspectives than us? Can we withhold our judgement for a minute and remember that other people have vastly different stories than we do, and those stories have caused them to see the world in a very different light than us?   

I believe in absolute truth. And I believe the Bible spells out what that truth is. But, when it comes to things like watching bodycam videos of a seventeen year old being shot and then deciding who is guilty and not guilty, I don’t think that falls into right and wrong categories. There is a lot of gray that we have to wade through. Let’s have grace for each other and understanding as we all react to this event in a different way. 

A Glimpse into Inner City Violence

Lately, I’ve been in a contemplative mood. My brain has been downloading stories from my past that I’ve been writing down in order to get them out of my head. I had written this story last week, wondering what to do with it. Then, today I found out two people lost their lives in a shooting last night, a couple blocks from our house. Since the stay-at-home orders began, in March, the gun activity has increased in our neighborhood. We hear gunshots several times a week. Sometimes we call it in. Sometimes we just don’t. Depends on how close it sounds. Anyway, it seemed a good time to share this story which took place in December of 2015. The end result of the events told was the death of our neighbor’s nephew who had been walking home from his night shift at McDonalds.  

Gunshots. Lots of Gunshots. Never-ending Gunshots.

I jerked awake, frozen in my bed as the gunshots went on and on and on. My body seemed to revert back to that childhood belief, if I don’t move a muscle, the monsters won’t see me. A voice was yelling in my head, GET OUT OF BED! HIDE! GET ON THE FLOOR! And I just lay there, frozen, wondering when a bullet was going to hit me. Because, surely those bullets must be aimed at my house. It was so close, my eyes were squinted shut, just waiting to feel the thud of a bullet.

And then…it stopped. 

Silence. 

I lay there for one more second and then my Mom Brain turned on. THE KIDS!! What if a bullet came through the walls and hit one of them??? I jumped out of bed, grabbed my phone and started dialling 911. As I dialed, phone to my ear, I ran out of my room, looked into the bedroom next to mine. Stood in the doorway, listening. Listening for awake children. Listening for signs of distress. 

Nothing. 

I ran into the room, bent over the bed. The boys were asleep. I yanked back the blankets. No blood. No wounds. The operator answered my call. 

Hello. My name is Esther Heneise. I live at *********** and I need to report a shooting. As I was speaking on the phone, my oldest daughter ran out of her room. 

MOM! What was that??

I motioned for her to climb into my bed. I continued to answer the questions on the phone as I paced around the upstairs, checking bedrooms. No. I didn’t know how many gunshots there were, but it went on for a really long time. No, I’m not sure where the gunshots were coming from, but it sounded like it was right outside my house in the street. 

Then I suddenly remembered my nine and eleven year old daughters who shared a room downstairs, what if the bullets had got to them?? I ran for the steps, phone still pressed to my ear. Just as I got to the top of the steps, both girls came running up in a mad scramble. Hanging onto me when they got to the top. WHAT WAS THAT???

I motioned for them to join their older sister in my bed. The three of them huddled together and watched me as I paced around my bedroom. Trying to communicate to the operator what had happened.

The operator asked me if I had seen anyone. Seen anyone? No. I had been in bed! But this made me run to the window. I looked out, my windows giving me a clear view of the little side street that runs past my property. Wait. There were two men outside. I could see them in the road, under the streetlight. I quickly told the operator what I was seeing. Two men, and they are starting to run. There they go! They’re running down my street….Wait, no, they are out of the street now, they’re cutting through someone’s yard, heading towards Magnolia. 

Suddenly, the operator stopped her questions. She said, you’re breathing really fast, are you ok?…..What? Oh. Um. Yeah. I’m just really freaked out. I’m all alone at my house. My husband is gone and it’s just me and eight children. 

We talked a little bit longer and then I hung up the phone. My girls were laying in my bed, the blanket pulled up almost over their heads. Their eyes stared big and round at me. 

I leaned over the bed. Gave them a hug. Here. Just stay here in my bed. Sleep here. I’m going to go and check on the little kids again. I’ll just sleep with the little girls. 

I walked out into the hall, peeked into each bedroom again. Then pulled out my phone again. I tried calling my husband. The phone rang and rang and rang. No answer. True, it was somewhere around 1am in the morning. But, he was also out on a camping trip with our oldest son and his boy scout troop. He didn’t have good reception out there anyway. 

I felt extreme frustration at that moment. Without fail, any time my husband was gone overnight, something momentous happened that I had to deal with by myself. I went and looked out the window of my bedroom again. There were now policemen down there. No flashing lights. No sirens. I could see several officers walking around with flashlights. Our neighbors on the other side of the side street came out of their house. Spoke to the policeman, gestured towards their house. The policeman walked around their house as well, shining their flashlights. 

Then, all the activity suddenly focused into one place. Now they were all there, pointing their lights at the little side road, bending down, looking at something. I stood staring out my window. I had absolutely no desire to go downstairs and look out the windows down there, I had no desire to step out on my porch to see what I could see. At that moment in time, my upstairs felt safe and everywhere else felt dangerous, scary. I continued to watch. I don’t know how long I stood there, but eventually, the policemen all piled into their cars and drove away. 

I wondered if I would ever find out what had happened. 

My big girls had fallen back to sleep and I quietly walked out of the room and headed over to my little girls room. The two and four year old shared a double bed and there was plenty of room for me to climb in. I snuggled up to their warm bodies. Pulled the blanket up high and lay there, wondering how on earth I would ever fall asleep. I prayed. Asking for God’s protection on us. And as I lay there, a surprising peace settled over me, and I slept.