We Are Afraid of One Another
Back in June of 2020 there was a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Enterprise, Oregon, on the grounds of the Wallowa County Courthouse.
Rumors swirled as the event approached. “Boogaloo Boys” in aloha shirts were coming from Nevada. “3% Percenters,” with guns, were coming in from Idaho. Or the demonstration itself was being put on by Antifa. And demonstrators were being bused in from Portland.
Kitty-cornered from the Courthouse Square, where 200 of us had gathered, there was cluster of people. Most, it appeared held, guns. One man with a rifle had been on the roof of that building earlier, but the County Sheriff had told him to come down. The demonstration was noisy. The guys across the street weren’t. They were silent, watchful.
I thought of that scene as I’ve watched and read some reports of the Kyle Rittenhouse and Ahmaud Arbery trials taking place in Wisconsin and Georgia respectively. In case you’ve been living under a rock someplace, Rittenhouse is the 17-year-old who came to Kenosha, Wisconsin with an AR-15 assault rifle and killed two people during BLM demonstrations. Ahmaud Arbery was a young black man who was jogging in a Georgia neighborhood when three white men, suspecting him of criminal act or intent, accosted and killed him.
What I felt that day in Enterprise, and what I have taken away from snatches of these trials is that we are afraid of one another. Very afraid.
Which makes me think of a story told by the wonderful, now departed, Texas journalist, Molly Ivins. Two six-year-old boys, John Henry Falk and Boots Cooper, were playing Texas Rangers in the yard. They rode wooden stick horses and fired finger guns.
John Henry’s mother emerged from the house and asked the boys to go down to the chicken house and roust out a chicken snake. that had been doing considerable damage there. With whoops and hollers the two boys galloped off to the chicken house. Boots and John Henry stepped into the darkened shed and looked around at all the nests on the bottom shelf. No chicken snake.
Then they stood on tippy-toe to look on the top shelf. When they did they found themselves face to face with a big ol’ chicken snake. They were so scared that they both tried to run out of the chicken house at the same time, doing considerable damage to it and to themselves.
Watching the commotion from the porch, Mrs. Falk couldn’t help but laugh. When the boys finally made it back to the house she said, ‘Boys, what is wrong with you? You know perfectly well a chicken snake cannot hurt you.”
To which one of the little boys said, “Yes, ma’am, but there’s some things’ll scare you so bad, you hurt yourself.”
That seems to me about where we are. Afraid. Afraid of one another. Scared so bad we are hurting ourselves as a country. Throw in some guns and you end up hurting yourself and other people in ways that can’t be undone. Granted, the dangers are more real than those posed to the two boys by the chicken snake. But their point stands, “There’s some things’ll scare you so bad, you hurt yourself.”
That day in Enterprise I had the thought of making my way across the street to visit with the gun-toting counter-demonstrators. I thought a social visit might be a good idea. But I didn’t do it. I was too afraid.