In the beginning of my novel, House of Rose, my police officer heroine shoots a man in the back. I deliberately placed Rose in that situation, because it put her in trauma, and that is how character is built. I wanted readers to experience that from her perspective, to be uncomfortable. Having to pull the trigger is not a comfortable place. I am a former police officer, and, like my fellows, I always dreaded having to make such a decision and having to live with it—right or wrong.
My fictional shooting is a circumstance very far from the blatant lynching of George Floyd, which—along with a dark cloud of other racial encounters and shootings—have stained the badge that so many wear proudly and with honor. For the first time in my memory, law enforcement officers have broken their “code of silence” and stepped forward to voice their outrage, some to walk and pray with protesters.
I am proud of those voices, but I understand they do not make black people feel safe.
I am not black and not trying to imply I understand what it feels like to be, but I am listening and trying to imagine that and to relate it to my own experiences. I am Jewish.
Recently, I watched a documentary on the growth of anti-Semitism in the world, including the U.S., and it awoke in me something that I try to ignore in my daily life, an underlying fear of being different and what might happen to me or those I love because of who I am and what I believe. The outpouring of sympathy and expressions of horror at the Tree of Life massacre did not make me feel safe either.
How are we not beyond this? I yearn for there to be no need for police to have to make awful decisions or even to be armed, only to perform their highest calling—solving problems, protecting and helping people. I yearn for soldiers to put down their weapons and say, “Ain’t gonna study war no more.”
I also research and write about history and know we have moved the needle significantly from the past, but we have not left the darkness behind. It is a chasm looming before us. I fear we are on a precipice as a country and world.
What can I do?
I am a writer, so I am doing what I do—writing about my pain, confusion, my passion for justice. Sometimes I do that through my characters, but sometimes I just have to struggle for the words in my own voice.