NYE in the Shire: When the Fires of Isengard Spread

“The fires of Isengard will spread. And the woods of Tuckborough and Buckland will burn. And… and all that was once green and good in this world will be gone. There won’t be a Shire, Pippin.” –Merry


Last night, bad things happened in the Shire. The real Shire. The one where I have grown up and now live. I was not there for the events and I shut off my myriad devices for 12 hours. When I awoke this morning, over 80 messages and notifications awaited me. I learned that our annual NYE ball drop, which historically has been one of the few things we’ve managed to keep a local event, an increasingly difficult task in a tourist trap, featured unwarranted and excessive displays of force and policing that resulted in the tazing of at least one person, with children as young as 7 (confirmed youngest, but there may be younger) looking on. Children who are now afraid to come downtown. I went to the grocery store, and the trip took half an hour because every five feet was another person who, like me, wanted to talk about what had happened.

Four years ago, we had an unforgettable tragedy occur here that featured police shooting and killing a local. Since then, there have been several incidents of excessive force, some resulting in termination  and some not. I have worked both within the village government system and as a private citizen serving as a pastor, trying to help address some of the growing chasms between our police and our citizenry. I’ve tried to remain as neutral as a Christian and a community activist can remain. My allegiance is to justice and the protection of the most vulnerable; I see people, not badges. But that is privilege. One that I no longer feel I have.

Facts are important. I am reading and watching and listening. I am in close contact with a wide variety of people, both within village government and social justice organizations. The BCPYS is already mobilizing, and will most likely announce soon how we will help to address the events, but I can say that it is going to focus on youth (I am speaking in a YSHS class on Tuesday) and trying to provide services and empowerment to them.

But it is time for us to have the very real conversation about the fact that policing stems directly from slavery. There are relationships between local and state police departments that dictate protocol; what happened last night is evidence of a great many local problems, but all of them boil down to the same issue: we continue to believe that we need to be policed, and that the only way to achieve this is through systems already established. The national attitude of “we’re number one!” prevents far too many in power from looking at other forms of successful policing outside the U.S. We have reached a point in which it is very difficult to believe that a reformation of the system will bring about equality. That is a terrifying prospect, at least for me. I know that for some of my very dear, intelligent, engaged friends, particularly those within traditionally marginalized communities, it is the only thing that gives them hope: the idea that we’re about to tear up the rotted tree by its roots.

What my beautiful little community is facing right now is how to take a definitive stand and extricate itself from insidious systems. Systems that are protected by law and supported by interested money. We’re looking at having to work within the legal system, up to an including civil disobedience that will result in incarceration; we’re looking at having to defy State mandates and requirements; that will make it difficult to attract officers who will understand our philosophy and be willing to place their careers on the line. Changes can be made by citizens, though: A dear friend and member of the BCPYS helped to spearhead efforts that led to the Council voting for Yellow Springs to no longer being a member of the ACE Task Force. There are reasons to be optimistic, locally and nationally, that things can change. But I fear that things are about to get much darker before we see light.

The passage quoted above is, of course, from The LOTR Cycle; it comes when Treebeard informs Pip and Merry that the Ents have voted to not assist in the fight against Sauron. Merry is explaining that symbiont systems–to borrow verbiage from another of my nerdy obsessions–must see how they are reliant upon one another. A problem for one is a problem for all. It is a lesson the United States did not learn in World War I or World War II; our late entries into the wars, which are nationalistically lauded as great victories, contributed to the deaths of millions. We were not interested in another European war. As a pacifist, I get it. I despise war. But I despise more the profiteering and the brainwashing that surrounds militarized culture. I’m disgusted by the attitude that the only suffering that matters is our own. We’re quick to justify another person losing his or her rights, saying they did not comply. We have accepted that a person can be charged with “resisting arrest” and nothing else. If there is nothing else, why are they being arrested?  And I admit that, even with as engaged as I am in justice work, I have always felt that I could retreat to the Shire and be at least one step removed from the most frightening and toxic of the issues facing us. That is clearly not the case.

2016 sucked. 2017 is looking like it is fitting to make last year the days of wine and roses. Stay tuned, stay woke, and stay loving.


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