The extinction of peace

::Below is an essay from my book about the pipeline protest, Blue Like A River. You can get a copy of the book here. The idea of the essay was to allow people the space to process what they were seeing, and give people who weren't inclined to immediate dismissal based on race, but were inclined--because of an experience or a picture the media had painted--to be unsure of a situation, a chance to to resolve internal unease and resume being a normal person.::

...peace to her like a river…
Isaiah 66:12

We worry about animals going extinct, about the water being polluted, but we treat peace carelessly, as if there was an overabundance of it.

Peace is rare. 

I’m not under the delusion that there is any place on this planet in which tragedy, horror, sin, evil, and awfulness don’t lurk. But there are places where there are periods of peaceful equilibrium, places of unlocked cars, metal-detector-free public zones, and property laws that assume the citizenry leans towards being law-abiding rather than not. These are places that should be protected, if only to remember that they can exist even when the world is on fire.

Of course, some people just want to see everything burn. There’s an online meme popular with the current activist movement that says “if we burn, you burn.” If we have any pain, we’re going to make sure you have some, too. It won’t make our’s go away, but at least we’ll take some pleasure from your pain for a while. 

During an evening of lurking online, I saw a Facebook post where protesters were trying to figure out the identity of a local police officer so they could dox him. In the comments of the post, a young Native American man piped up and said that he recognized him as someone who came into the store where he worked and that he could watch for him and get his name and information off of his credit card. This was a store that had a rewards program connected to your phone number, with an address.


I shop at that store all the time.

I called the manager of the store, and provided him with a screenshot of the conversation. “I don’t want to see anyone fired,” I said, “but I think you need to know about this.”

The young man is still working there today--of which I’m glad because he is the most cheerful person--but the manager, who said he supported the police and that this was not acceptable, apparently did talk to him. 

Here’s the part where no one wins: if I worry about this being a real and possibly repeated problem, I could either stop using plastic or checks during the protest, or I could try to make assumptions about what kind of clerk would most likely be interested in doing this. 

Here’s where it gets messy, where we’re supposed to pretend people don’t make extrapolations to protect themselves because they’re afraid of being called a racist. Since I can’t know who’s a protest supporter or not, all I have to go on is...race. This was framed as a Native American-led protest, after all, with no small hint of anti-white sentiment by some, and so I could naturally assume that Native Americans in the area are out to get police officers and citizens who didn’t support the protest. Every time there was a Native American clerk at a store in town, did I need to worry if they were feeding our personal information to online supporters? Seems paranoid and terrible, but here it was, a clerk offering to help the cause by doing just that.

It bugged me that I could either pretend this didn’t happen, or I could fixate solely on race; neither seemed like an acceptable option. In the end, I didn’t change my behavior when I was out shopping. I’d never hidden my name or identity online, and had already been mildly doxxed. But even now, when I see that clerk and we exchange pleasantries at the counter, this is what I think about.

It is no small thing when you kill the peace and trust in a place.

You start to notice out-of-state license plates, and take photos of cars that seem to be associated with protesters, posting those photos in community groups telling people where and when you saw the cars. You start to say something if you see something, which makes you paranoid and causes you to question everything going on around you. You keep your eye out for protesters randomly videoing you while out at restaurants or shopping, wary of being put “on blast” and drawing the online ire of thousands. You cringe when hotel and hospital employees in community groups describe problems with head lice and bed bugs that showed up along with the influx of the protest. You start to notice people who look like they might be protesters. 

Distrust trickles down. 

It was winter, around Thanksgiving. The downtown post office had just reopened after yet another protest-induced lockdown, and I went in to collect my mail. I was dressed as I normally am, old baggy cargo pants and a hoodie. I suppose I looked like a protester. The clerk at the counter had a startled look as I walked in, perhaps thinking they’d unlocked the front doors too early and a crowd of protesters was going to come inside and start smudging and singing. I held up my post office box keys and said “it’s OK!” to let him know I was there for actual postal business and he was clearly embarrassed because we’re all supposed to pretend that nervousness and confusion don’t exist or we’ll be called racists and bigots and I wondered about the state of things. 

I despise that, the inability to allow people to process information and formulate a response, to force them to pretend they’re OK with everything going on around them when their gut tells them to be wary. We’re supposed to avoid being gullible but aren’t allowed to make judgements. We’re supposed to be cool with everything the moment it’s pushed in front of us. I don’t blame the postal clerk. He was trying to figure things out with all the information he had at his disposal.

But since protest supporters seemed to take great joy when bad things happened to North Dakota--any car accident, an ill police officer, state budget issues, rejected federal help, the drought--I doubt they placed any concern about preserving the peace of a place.

A peaceful protest should bring more peace, not remove it.

I’m still going to wear my cargo pants, though.