When Did It Happen?

When did Police become soldiers?  Maybe when so many people came home from our many wars as soldiers and stepped into police jobs?  Maybe when drugs began to shift lives so dramatically in all communities?  Maybe when weapons became glorified and began to be more than tools?  Though we know through the law of averages there are many good policemen and women, people who help and respond to us and our needs, the visible evidence of so much brute violence is shocking.

Maybe as white people we never experienced the constant stops and questioning and suspicious looks in libraries and drug stores and just on the street.  This didn’t happen to us.  We didn’t have to carefully describe to our young sons how to navigate a police stop (“both hands on the steering wheel, act calm, move slowly, comply” I once heard Denzel Washington describing his lesson to his own son).  This morning I sat watching video after terrifying video of large groups of heavily armed police…police shoving an old man to the ground and marching right by as he lay unconscious and bleeding, police using bikes to push on people in crowds, a large muscular policeman with helmet and vest hitting two young student protestors with powerful angry force.  Black lives matter, all lives matter.  A young woman I know is having her MA thesis exhibit this summer and has sold most of the work before the exhibit with 100% of the proceeds to go to two forward-thinking groups working on social justice.  There are things to do, and we need to find them.  We need to keep talking, reading, thinking about this.

I found this little collage postcard I made last year cutting up a museum calendar as a Valentine but which I never sent, using a portrait of Rubens Peale painted by his brother Rembrandt Peale, 1801, hanging in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  Rembrandt and Rubens were two of 17 children of the painter Charles Willson Peale, most of whom were named for artists or scientists.  In actual fact Rembrandt DID become a painter and Rubens a botanist and the painting is not only a portrait of the 17 year old Rubens, but also of the geranium “the first specimen of this exotic plant ever grown in the New World.”  It is interesting to imagine these American boys growing up in a young America.  Black men and women in the America of Rubens Peale were not free.  None emerged unscathed.

Keep in touch.


  1. Thank you for that thoughtful piece. Up at 4 am fretting over the state of our world and found your words helpful. I would imagine sustained fear of death from gun violence has altered the psyche of some of the police as well. Only now that we have left Texas can I appreciate the pervasive dismissive and hostile attitude s of the dominant white folks there towards both blacks and Mexicans.

  2. Something i have always wondered, what is it that makes the white man feel he is superior?

    1. And I think the current president this week has exhibited the qualities that have decimated populations world-wide…supreme confidence in being right, the need to dominate, and a savage and cruel sense of revenge if thwarted.

  3. Sometimes one needs to step back from the news media. You should hear what one black man from my area says about this mess. Just a hint .. he feels that this hold thing is going to make things worse for any color. He’s not happy about all the rallies,riots. Midville is full of blacks and whites working together .. probably more black than white.

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