Unnecessary Cruelty

What kind of world do we live in where police officers appear to take great delight in using force to arrest a 73-year-old woman with dementia? The story of the Loveland woman has made it around the world now, with good reason. For the offense of walking out of a Wal-Mart without paying for $14 worth of items, police slammed Karen Garner to the ground, hogtied her and took her to a jail cell where she was handcuffed and left alone for six hours. Police apparently made no effort to call her family.  

Not only did the officers appear to use unnecessary force, as shown in a video, but later, at the station, they are shown watching the video of the arrest and laughing at the noise—the “pop”— that happened after the officers dislocated her shoulder, as if they were proud of having subdued and hurt a frail woman. Garner also suffered from a fractured arm and sprained wrist, and her family reports that her dementia has gotten worse since her encounter with police officers.

Garner likely left the Wal-Mart without paying because she forgot; memory loss is part of dementia. When an employee stopped her, she offered to pay for the items, but instead the employee called the police. This seems unnecessarily callous, as Garner walked from her home to this Wal-Mart every day, so employees must have known her. Why is there no room for forgiveness, for leniency? Has the world really become this harsh and judgmental?

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The Tree Outside My Window

In the last years of my parents’ lives, they lived in a small apartment in a senior-living facility in a neighborhood that was short on natural beauty. To one side was a mobile home park; on the other was a townhouse development. Two blocks to the north was a six-lane highway bordered by huge office complexes. Yet between the townhouse development and the senior facility was a row of trees. Because this was the Midwest, they were oaks and maples mostly—broad and tall trees with many arching limbs.

My father, who was mostly confined to his apartment because of a stroke, was able to see one of the trees through a small corner window. Through spring, after he had the stroke, and into fall, he witnessed the rhythm of its life: in April, the first leafing out; in summer, when the tree was fully decked out and brimming with birds and sometimes cicadas; and into October when the maple was brilliant red.

It became his daily touchstone: seeing the tree in the early morning light when the rising sun brushed the top of its branches and in the late afternoon when the setting sun outlined every limb. From his favorite chair in the living room, he could admire developing thunderstorms and delight at how the wind shook the limbs and leaves. When I visited him, he would look at me and point to the tree, as if to say: look, out there is life and beauty, something wondrous.

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Who Hurts the Most?

I recently eavesdropped on an Internet conversation about “trigger alerts,” which took a side turn into whether baby boomers or younger generations had a harder time when growing up. In this discussion, baby boomers maintained that, as youth, we didn’t need to be alerted when something painful was about to be discussed in a classroom or on a TV show, and that the new generation was being coddled by being warned ahead of time that the lecturer or movie had material—about rape or violence, for example—that might hurt or offend. Instead of turning away from offensive or scary material, the baby boomers argued, we need to confront our fears, not avoid them.

As an older baby boomer, this rang true, until I started reading comments from younger women. They talked about being raped—a word I hardly knew when I was in high school—and pointed out that they had grown up with the threat of school shootings, and the subsequent preventive measures, like lock-down drills, that promoted constant fear and anxiety.

We baby boomers had our own school drills, like crawling under the desks to practice what we would do if the Soviet Union launched nuclear warheads at the U.S., something that seemed very possible during the Cold War when both countries were building nuclear arsenals that threatened the destruction of the whole planet, otherwise known as MAD—mutually assured destruction.

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