There was an early episode of The West Wing in which the President had to choose a course of action after a deadly terrorist attack. Ready to unleash the full might of the US military, he was eventually persuaded to take a more measured approach. Why? Because while carpet bombing another country into oblivion may have made him feel better for a minute, it wasn’t going to achieve anything fruitful. It was going to lead to more unnecessary death and destruction.
He chose a proportional response.
The episode, and the title, stuck with me, so much so that we’ve adopted the phrase into our parenting lexicon. But lately I’ve been using the term to describe other things as well.
Each time the news of another police shooting crosses my line of vision, I see the same refrain.
Why didn’t he just comply?
Why didn’t he just do what the police said?
Maybe if he was raised better, he’d have been fine. I was raised to respect authority.
Let’s be clear: Death should not be a proportional response for disrespecting authority. Being shot should not be a proportional response for failing to get your hands up quickly enough, for failing to get out of your car fast enough, for not putting your hands in the right place. Death should not be a proportional response for resisting arrest, for questioning why you are being stopped, for talking back, or even, in many cases for running away. Not toward, threatening, with a weapon, but away.
Death is not a proportional response for ‘maybe’ or ‘could have’ or ‘looked like’.*
You can dress it up by calling it disrespecting authority, but the fact of the matter is, no matter what you tell yourself to feel better, death is not a proportional response to any of those things.
The fact that so many seem to have accepted it as such is chilling.
Each time the news of another piece of legislation restricting a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body crosses my screen, I see the same refrain.
She should have kept her legs shut.
She knew the consequences.
She should have thought of that before she had sex.
To force a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term as a consequence of failing birth control or a night of passion or even a series of stupid, immature mistakes is not a proportional response.
To blithely declare that a woman’s entire life should be altered and defined because she had sex is not a proportional response.
To insist that a woman should carry a pregnancy resulting from rape to term, or that a girl should carry the result of an incestuous father’s rape to term is in no way a proportional response. Ever.
The forced physical, emotional and psychological toll of carrying an unexpected or unviable, or unwanted pregnancy to term is not a proportional response for having sex, or God forbid, having sex forced upon you.
Human beings are not faultless. We are not perfect. We cannot be held to standards of purity and perfection that no one could possibly meet. The consequences for mistakes or even ill-advised actions should not last a lifetime…or end one.
It is not a proportionate response to shoot someone for texting too loudly, or bringing your order too slowly, or taking a parking spot, or being a woman, or divorcing you, or any of the seemingly thousands of random things Americans shoot each other for these days.
It is not a proportionate response to say or imply that a woman should accept or even expect to be assaulted or raped because she drank too much, wore the wrong clothes, flirted, went to college.
It is not a proportionate response to let someone die because they can’t afford health insurance or to deny someone medical treatment because they made a mistake or made the wrong decision at the wrong time or even if they are cheating the system.
It is not a proportionate response to ban or condemn an entire religion for the evils of a small faction. We’ve seen this before and the consequences were some of the darkest of human nature. They weren’t that long ago. You don’t have to look far, the ink’s hardly dry in the history books.
Yet all of these are responses are used to justify what is happening in the world, in the United States.
He should have just put his hands up.
She should have kept her legs closed.
Islam is the problem.
She shouldn’t have had so much to drink.
He should work harder.
How can we call ourselves civilized if this world of extreme consequence is one we are not only accepting, but actively pursuing? What have we become when these things are offered as legitimate response to the human condition?
We are all out of whack. We are way out of proportion. The eager willingness to justify and accept consequences that go far beyond the act that preceded them.
It is difficult–nearly impossible–to comprehend what seems to be unfolding across our lives and screens and twitter feeds these days. That an unarmed man selling cigarettes could die in a choke hold. That a child with a toy could be gunned down. That pregnant women in Texas are dying at a rate as high as developing countries. That the maternal death rate in the US is increasing. That women are being denied a constitutionally protected right to an abortion.
On my kinder days, I wonder if these extreme responses above are a form of protection. It is after all, uncomfortable to have to face the truth.
That’s on my kinder days. On other days, I can only shake my head and wonder how long it’s going to take for the powder keg to blow. Because if Americans keep justifying as a way to make themselves feel better for a moment or two, as a way of denying the problem, it’s not going to achieve anything fruitful. It’s just going to lead to more unnecessary death and destruction.
* I am not sitting in judgement of those who wear a badge and pledge to protect and serve. I am well aware of the courage and the sacrifice police officers make daily and I do not, for one moment, believe that when an officer straps on a weapon it is with anticipation of shooting so many men of color like ducks in a barrel. I know there are decisions which must be made in a split second and don’t pretend to know what it is like to have to make those decisions. But what the BLM movement is trying to get across is that in those split seconds the decision made varies dependent upon the color of your skin. Not every time. But even once is too much.