Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Waking Up the World

Dear Sista, I hope this letter finds you alright. I wonder if you realize that when you bravely told your story to us, you were waking up the world.

Officials of the Royal Bahamas Police Force Training College heard you tell of your ordeal and they are responding brilliantly, they are taking proactive and positive measures now to make sensitivity to domestic violence issues a much greater part of their training. They heard your voice and want you to know that the policemen who arrested and detained you without allowing you to dress should never have done such a thing. The Good Guys of the Police Force heard you sista, and want to make it right.

I told you about the hopeful conversation with the commissioner. On the next day I got a telephone call from Inspector Linda Moxey at the Training College, who asked me to come and talk to a class of new recruits about the lives of battered women today. She said she and the faculty wanted to awaken the recruits to the reality of violence against women in Nassau so that they will be better able to deal with it, better able to help women at risk. I agreed, and on Monday I spoke to a room full of new recruits about what had happened to you. Because what happened to you is not just about the police force, it is about how our culture devalues us as women.

I met Inspector Robert Sherman Young, Chief Classroom Instructor of the college, who talked heartfully about the fact that up until now recruits had received extensive military training without enough emphasis on matters of humanity, and sensitivity, especially with regard to the very high incidence of battery in the home. He said that he wanted his students to be especially sensitized to all the issues and struggles that face women all across this country, and certainly in poor neighbourhoods like Englerston. And especially because Inspector Young and his staff mean to insure that from now on new policemen on the force are so instilled with common decency and respect for womankind from this new training that none will ever again treat any woman so inhumanely again, blessed be.

Listen here, my personal faith in the Police Force began to be restored as I talked with Inspector Young and Inspector Moxey about how to raise up more compassion and more understanding in the hearts of their officers. I told them that what I had to say would be difficult for the recruits to hear. They said, do it. I realized that your story became a Call for the good and honourable men and women of our police force to step forward and take action, and lo, here they were.

The recruits asked good questions. One challenged me to interview the accused policemen to get their side of the story. I told him that I was a feminist storyteller, not a mainstream journalist, and that I was obligated to tell your story, from your point of view, because otherwise your point of view might never be publicly heard. He also asked if I thought I had helped to cause further distrust of policing among the public by writing about what happened. I answered that the distrust was already there before I began.

One told me the story of the police officer who had recently received grave injury as he tried to settle a domestic dispute and was now in hospital recovering. I wish I'd answered him more extensively. I want that recruit to know that I went looking for answers for you not to disgrace the police force, but out of the need to believe that the majority of our policemen are decent, honourable human beings who cared about safeguarding our shared right to dignity. I want that recruit to know that I fully realize that many policemen and women do their jobs brilliantly every day, they save women in distress every day at their own risk, and it never makes the papers. They make tremendous sacrifices and commit acts of great bravery and intelligence and the majority of us never hear about it, and never thank them for it. My own brother has been a policeman in America for over twenty years and I am only now beginning to fully understand the noble nature of his work. Our societies are such that we only hear about policemen when they have fallen down, and not when they've saved a life. I want him to know we can change this too.

Generally, II was glad to hear the indignance in some voices. It meant they were thinking, "Hold on now, we're supposed to be the good guys, we're supposed to be the ones Saving the Day, this thing that has happened has dishonoured us and caused this member of the public to loose faith in us. What is to be done about it?" Could they be searching for the humanity and decency that is there inside of them, and bringing it to the fore? I believe, yes. Sista, this is the beginning of the awakening.

The recruit I remember the most is the young man who said he had been raised in Englerston by a single mother. He asked what could be done to reach the men of his neighbourhood who batter women. Right away it was apparent that he was digging it. My sista, this was a hard question. I told him to be the man speaking up, to talk about the need to heal the men who are doing the battering. I told him to speak up in his household, to speak up in the street, to speak up in the church. I told him that a single voice could begin the social evolution it will take, and that it would be tremendous if it were to be a man's voice speaking that gets it started. He asked if someone could hold a rally. I told him that he must do it, and that I'd help.

(Because, dear sista, it is probably true that the policemen who hurt you were once the little boys growing up in violent households, who were themselves beaten and belittled, and who have probably seen their own mothers and sisters hurt in the way that you were. I asked them, haven't you all come from households where there was violence against women and children? And the majority of them intoned together, "Yes." It is awesomely hopeful to hear this young officer in training bravely stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility in this way. He knows that the men in his community need healing from this very thing we call domestic violence. Rather than defend their violence, he is looking to see how his brothers can be healed, and peaced out. The Police Force wants more like him. Englerston and many other neighbourhoods need more like him.)

I hope I get to talk with them again. I'm grateful that Inspectors Young and Moxey have taken up this cause, and for the opportunity they gave me to speak on your behalf. They called me an activist, I told them I was just a citizen with a blog, that it was you who broke the silence. It was your bravery that put this change into motion.

And I want you to know that when the policemen pass by your house now that they're there not to harrass you as your neighbours have tried to convince you. They are there to check on you, to see how you are doing, to make sure no one is hurting you. I understand that this might be difficult for you to believe. I hope they understand why you find this hard to believe, and work all the more to provide you with decent, lawful protection, until you do believe it. I advise you to welcome their respectful presence if you can, expect protection rather than harrassment. And let me know what happens.

Keep strong.
Your sista,

P.S Thank you, for waking up the world.

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