Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Grizzly State of Affairs

A business owner in Farmington, challenged me to define a term I had used in the inaugural post of this blog: “What do you mean by Police State?”

I was thrilled with this question. I adore questions generally because they cut through the sameness and  dullness, and proceed dispassionately to the heart of the matter. Moreover, I not only welcome them, but listen for them. Often one can hear a question (or questions) shambling around inside even the most seemingly straight-ahead declarative sentence (e.g. the title to this post). In some sense that's the most thoughtful aspect of the daring writer's job: to be attentive enough to hear those suffocated questions, even at the lowest of signal strengths, and to unearth and amplify them so others can hear them too. Then the conversation becomes of the moment, it's fresh and alive, and almost always transforming.

By way of answering the question, I offer a brief apologue. Some years ago, my husband and I spent a three-week vacation in National Glacier Park. During the long flight from New York City to Kalispell, Montana, Joseph had picked up the in-flight airline magazine and read a horrifying account of a couple who'd gone there on vacation and were mauled by grizzly bears on a well-trammeled wilderness trail. Both the husband and wife were severely injured. Injured and grotesquely scarred, their wounds requiring multiple surgeries and subsequent plastic surgeries. They suffered 10 years of lost productivity, living in a hell of pain—physical and psychic—trying to forgive themselves for their lack of foresight.

It was August in huckleberry season and the bears—Grizzlies and Brown—were out feeding in full force. After what Joseph had read, and had forced me to read, we were determined to avoid proximity to them at all costs. But what to do? Pepper spray, bells, walking with a heavy stomping foot, hand-claps while calling “bear, bear,” and some of the other suggested bear-repellent techniques struck us both as fanciful, at best. And at worst, a marketing device for products in the park's many gift shops—on a par with snake oil.

After days of avoiding the trails that would lead us into the majestic forests and possibly onto the path of an oncoming bear, Joseph confronted a seasoned, weather-beaten park ranger and said something on the order of, “I've done the research, I've studied the products and noise-making suggestions, and have come to this conclusion: It's up to the bear, isn't it? Whether he passes you by or eats you for breakfast, the bear is in control.”

To which the ranger, locking on Joseph's earnest and steady gaze, replied: “Yes.”

A few weeks ago a local 14-year-old boy with Down Syndrome was suspended from his middle school in Park Hills for "sexual harassment" when in fact he had hugged the bus aide. The story appeared in the local paper, but was also all over Fox News and made it as far as the New York Daily News. When I heard about it, it reminded me of this story about a 12-year-old Queens girl arrested for doodling on her desk. 

What is one to make of these absurd attempts to criminalize children for the crime of being children? Is it now happening to our kids because we were silent when 13, 14 and 15-year-old "terrorists" were locked up in Guantanamo and the keys thrown away, and remain thrown away 10 years later? Has the tortured spirit of Guantanamo finally settled upon St. Francois County, like a ghost of Christmas past, present and future?



  1. see you found something that hits close to home. my son age 10 and in fifth grade was standing around talking about playing with a little girl he knows. when a 10yr old says playing, its playing outside or playing a game. the principal suspended him because it was a sexual comment. he doesnt know that can be a sexual comment hes flipping 10. in kindergarden, he touched his teachers butt trying to get her attention and she wrote him up, i still have the paperwork. my son also disabled from depression, mood disorder, adhd and odd. last year his teacher got mad and threw his text books away and then gave him iss when he took them out and told her off. this year, his teacher made crying noises at him. ive called the superintendent, he told me i should move out of his district if im dissatified. ive called the school violence hotline twice. how is it that we are taking away a little kids right to be a kid. it blows my mind.

  2. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Chrystal. The more I'm here and hear, there definitely seems to be some institutional mission-creep between schools and prisons, prisons and schools. So many people and children are getting written up, it gives writing a bad name!

    Maybe we can collaborate on a post one day soon...?


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