Take, for example, last Monday morning at about 5:30 AM.
There was not yet any sign of the sun as I was walking my German Shepherd, Rodney, in the park near my house. Even the street lights did little to light my way as I walked through a playground area then on to the road that runs through the park.
Joggers had parked their expensive cars at the bottom of the hill to mark the starting point of their pre-dawn run, but they were nowhere to be seen. At the top hill, a light was bobbing up and down.
Other than the joggers and the occasional homeless person, I generally don’t see anyone else at the park at that hour, so my curiosity was piqued.
As my dog and I continued our walk up the hill, the light seemed to move on its own. I simply couldn’t see what it was attached to.
Finally, I realized that a police cruiser was sitting at the top of the hill, blocking a parked car, and a police officer was waving a flashlight into the car.
As I walked by, the officer startled.
“That’s a really big dog,” he said.
“That’s why I’m not afraid to walk here in the dark,” I responded.
“You still need to be careful,” he told me motioning his flashlight on the parked car and the people inside.
“These people were sleeping in here. You never know. They might be harmless, but you need to be careful.”
I cringed. I know the people in the car had heard him and his belittling comment disguised as a warning to me.
I don’t know who the people in the car were or why they were sleeping in the car.
I do know a lot of homeless people sleep in their cars for shelter.
As I continued my walk, I kept my eye on the police officer. After the car and its inhabitants left, he got in his cruiser and drove down the hill past the joggers’ cars.
He didn’t stop to shine his lights on them or see if anyone was inside. I don’t know if he had seen the joggers leave for their run, but I had my suspicions that he was simply making a judgment call.
For the rest of the week, he would drive slowly through the park when I was walking Rodney. He never did stop to check the cars at the bottom of the hill.
This morning, the sun was already up when I took Rodney for a walk, and an older car was parked at the top of the hill, where the police officer had been stopped on Monday morning.
As I approached, I couldn’t see if anyone was inside because the back seat was piled high with stuff. But as I passed, I saw a man in the front seat clipping coupons from the Sunday paper – something most of us do in the comfort of our homes.
I don’t know the man’s story. I don’t even the police officer’s story.
In other words, I’m in the dark about both.
But I do know how quickly many of us are to make judgments about the circumstances and behavior of others.
And that’s just not very bright at all.
As a write this, I’m a little angry.
Actually, I’m really angry.
And even though my neighbor is laughing at my outrage and my husband is telling me not to embarrass him, I feel the need to share my anger.
Every day, I take my dog for a walk through the park by my house. The PUBLIC (as in partly paid for by taxpayer dollars) park by my house. Sometimes, we even go there twice a day and enjoy a leisurely stroll.
When I arrived at the park, there was caution tape haphazardly strewn up around a large section of the park. It had obviously been put there by amateurs, and I stepped over it.
I continued up a hill as a shrill voice called after me.
“Ma’am, you can’t walk here.”
I ignored the voice, partly because I just don’t like being called ma’am.
The voice got closer.
“Ma’am, you can’t walk here.”
I turned around.
A security risk? Really? I gave her a look that said as much, but my words were “This is a public park. I walk here every day.”
“We rented it.” she said.
“I have a hard time believing that,” I said. “You can rent a shelter, but you can’t rent a section of the park.”
The woman, who wasn’t in the best of shape and had obviously exerted herself chasing after me, tried to puff out her chest and exude her importance in her orange day-glow vest, “We did. ” she said. “And you can’t be here.”
I didn’t want to get in a fight. I just wanted to walk up the hill, but I turned around muttering under my breath.
Apparently, I’m loud even when I mutter under my breath.
Three young people, who had also been chased off, smiled at me and pumped their fists. “Power to the people,” one of the young men said. We walked together along the outside the park fence, and when we approached the “open” section of the park, we said goodbye.
But I wasn’t done.
As I watched more “security guards” (i.e. parents in orange vests) walking the perimeter of the taped-off section of the park, three more young people, one of whom was carrying a basketball, walked down the hill from the PUBLIC basketball court.
“Were you chased out too?” I asked.
“Yes ma’am,” said one of the young men said, and I didn’t mind that he called me ma’am because he said it with respect.
“Don’t worry.” I said. “I’m going to complain on behalf of all of us.”
They nodded and walked off with their shoulders slumped while the Cub Scouts (all 15 or so of them) cheered behind them.
I walked the perimeter taking pictures with my phone.
One of the parents in an orange vest, this time a man, asked if he could help me.
“I’m just taking pictures,” I said. Then I clarified, “but not of the few boys you are protecting. I’m not a security risk. I’m just taking pictures of how you aren’t letting me use a public park.”
There was no answer.
Maybe I AM blowing this out of proportion, and I DO understand the need to protect young children.
But I have issues with how this whole situation was handled.
Every day, there are dozens of children playing on the playground that was blocked off, and no one has ever before prevented me from walking my dog there. If the parents were that concerned about security, there are plenty of other more private and secure locations where they could have held their event. Even if the group had rented the park, and not just a shelter, they could have actually put up polite signs rather than tape that signaled anyone who crossed it was a criminal.
Most of all, there just weren’t enough boys attending the event to outweigh the members of the public who were prevented from using the PUBLIC facilities.
And all of that means I’m angry. I am angry not only about the arrogance with which I was confronted but also about the self-righteousness with which I was told I was a security threat.
And because of that, this is one battle I am willing to pick.