Saturday morning in Miami Beach a group of police officers with guns and rifles drawn had a shirtless middle-aged man wielding a small barbershop razor safely surrounded, yet rather than diffusing the relatively controlled situation via non-lethal means, instead shot him dead.
You may have missed this one, what with the 16 shots fired into Laquan McDonald’s defenseless teenage body and the 14 people gunned down in San Bernardino with legally purchased military-grade assault rifles. Or the mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Or the one at that church. Or that school. Or…
There is, at this point, a numbness. An urge to just change the channel and turn permanently away from this place, this tragedy now fully formed farce.
But this one happened around the corner from my house.
And so that afternoon as I walked by the stretch of pavement so quickly cleaned of the recent violence, so void of anything out of the ordinary, so utterly moved on, the sad symbolisms and simple metaphors and tired arguments came to me even though I desperately didn’t want them to.
Common sense ignored into irrelevancy, empathy traded in for a more assured spot on your chosen team – there is something amiss. This country has never progressed in any sort of smooth or natural way; each step forward is a reluctant and tectonically messy thing. Yet despite gun violence – police brutality or the public mass-shooting variety – having reached levels so far beyond what any other developed nation would consider acceptable, there seems to be no impetus for change, despite the dead bodies telling morality otherwise.
In the year I’ve been living in the US, a sense of tangible unease has settled in over the abstract and clichéd judgments I emigrated with. An awareness, now backed by sad fact, that at any moment any of these apparently nice people could perhaps shoot someone, or callously justify someone being shot, for almost any reason: a misunderstanding, the wrong skin color, the misfortune of being mentally ill, a chance for their side to score a point, a refusal to step above obvious cultural ills.
The next day I too went back to normal. Stepping out for my morning jog, I was determined to contemplate something other than this perpetual sad state. Running through the quieter streets, taking in the tropical winter, I stopped by the local Miami Beach park and watched the soccer-playing Latin immigrants, smiling at their Spanish trash-talk and the municipal snack bar that now served Cuban tamales and what looked like homemade corn soup.
I continued on. Right onto Alton Road. Approaching an intersection I noticed a man standing at the corner, lurking around the stoplight, talking to himself. The natural reaction to the sight of a clearly unstable person is to bend your path slightly outwards, giving this potential instability a little space. Which is exactly what I and the lady walking beside me did. But as I passed him I did not look away in social awkwardness, instead, perhaps motivated by all the recent musings on the subject, took a second to see him.
A bald-headed man, perhaps fifty years old, clean clothes, only the big black backpack and mad mutterings suggesting truancy.
There was something about him. He reminded me of someone I knew. His eyes were manic but clear, and in them I saw someone with a kind heart, capable of deep compassion, struggling against the loneliness and illness that kept it hidden.
And then the next moment I saw him dead.
Two block further up Alton Road.
Around the corner from my house.