The girl with the Dora shirt: Lesson from a child

Today was a day spent in court.

Boring, you might think. And you’d be right most of the time.

But today was a little bit different. I was there helping to cover the David Pietz trial–a huge murder mystery story around my neck of the woods. So naturally, I was super excited. It takes someone a little wacky in the head to think it’s exciting sitting close to an alleged murderer, your heavy camera your only defense *Oh, and those big guards of course*. But that’s me. I kind of live for that.

But this trial was different than the ones I’m used to. I’m used to covering DUI cases, vehicular assault trials, or domestic abuse. But this was murder, set right smack in the middle of downtown Seattle. Nothing screams, “You might be murdered too!” like downtown at the courthouse does.

As soon as our news van drove up the photographer who came with me told me to stick by him because it’s a “sketchy” part of town. And wasn’t that the truth.

homeless

We weaved through a park that was the scene of a stabbing just day ago. It was littered with pigeons that pecked at old garbage bags and we had to step around people sleeping in dirty blankets. As we passed, several people seemed to think out loud, their words not necessarily warranting any response.

“Oh, it’s a lady from the news” one said. “She’s pretty. But I don’t want her to film me!” another one said after that.

The photographer told me to just keep my eyes forward and keep walking. He made a comment to me about how he wonders about everyone’s stories here. I wondered the same thing. How did they end up here? How would they get out?

I got settled right outside of the courtroom inside, tapping out notes and keeping an eye on the monitor that streamed the live feed from our cameras propped up at the back of the courtroom. People approached me often, asking questions, wandering the halls like they were lost. Some of the people just came there, I think, to have a warm place to sit for awhile. But I kept my eyes down, focusing on the trial.

And then David, the suspect, came out. Handcuffed and wearing a dapper gray suit and sporting gelled hair, his eyes found me at once and it chilled me to look back. But it was also kind of one of those things where you’re so curious what you’ll find there so you can’t look away. And oddly enough, the thing that chilled me the most is the fact that I thought I’d see this sneering, ugly monster. But I didn’t. I finally tore my gaze away and looked back at my notes.

Finally they called a recess and I found myself at the nearest McDonald’s *I know, such a healthy choice* and while I was in line I right away noticed a homeless man right in front of me. His skin was dark gray from dirt and days of sleeping outside, and his hands trembled when he fumbled for the few loose dollar bills he pulled out from his jacket pocket. In front of him, there was a little girl. A cute little Chinese girl with concerned eyes, black hair drawn into two little pony-tails, Dora smiling on her pink shirt. She held her mother’s hand but her eyes were focused intently on the man.

dora

I watched her, suddenly interested in how this little girl had no fear. No judgment. She just looked like she was worried. Finally, interrupting my thoughts, she said quietly, “Are you okay?”

The man nodded. He even smiled. And she smiled back. Then, turning back to her mom, as if satisfied, the scene ended just like that.

I thought back to everyone I’d seen today. An alleged murderer flanked by police officers, homeless people resting against a broken fountain in the park– even a few wanderers in the courthouse who paced back and forth past my workstation curiously.

Many of us don’t focus on the people in these situations in life. We sometimes keep our eyes forward when someone begs on the street corner, pretending not to see the sign they’re holding. We often act like we don’t hear beggars because we’re scared, disgusted, embarrassed, or just don’t want to start anything.

It’s good to take those precautions to stay safe. I know very well, from a close call earlier this year, that the first thing you should always consider is your immediate well-being.

But that little girl at McDonald’s had something right. She didn’t have any pre-conceived notions about that man with a dirty beard and trembling hands. She wouldn’t have had any pre-conceived notions about anybody I saw that day. She was filled with compassion and tender concern. She wondered out loud about his story, in a sense.

I’m going to remember that little girl with the Dora shirt forever probably. And I wanted to share what she did today.

Because it’s a lesson for all of us.

Everyone deserves to be seen.

It’s hate that pulls the trigger: My answer to mass murders

It happened again. Another mass shooting.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I know every single thing about government affairs when it comes to the gun control debate or that I know every single angle to every single devastating story. Because I don’t.

But I do know enough to know how society reacts each time something like this happens and the way in which society can often egg it on or create it.

Right after the news spread of the 13 people who died at the hands of a gunman at the Navy Shipyard shooting in Washington D.C, fingers began to point toward the gun he used, just like all the shootings that have come before. That horrible weapon that’s taken the lives of schoolchildren, military personnel, innocent couples walking down the street. It’s blamed for countless murders that aren’t even heard about in the news: Gang members killed in the street, teenagers taking their own lives with a pull of the trigger in a dark closet. And the more we hear about it, the more we tend to rise up with the government and cry out for gun control. We cry out for guns to be taken from the hands of those who might just crack with insanity. We cry out for guns to be taken from the locked drawers of parents. And we sometimes cry out for guns to be outlawed completely unless it’s to be owned by the military, hunters, or law enforcement.

But let’s think for a second. Let’s push aside the heated emotions of these horrible shootings and get to the heart of the problem. That’s what I’ve been trying to do while sifting through the heaps of information here at work, neck-deep in case after case of mass murders. Why are there so many shootings lately? Why do so many people have to take a bullet for simply showing up at school, attending a football game, watching a late-night movie, or going to work? The answer isn’t, “Because of a gun”.

No, the answer is simply, “Hate”.

Hate is what pulls the trigger.

memorial

Hate doesn’t come by nature–and in no way am I labeling someone by saying this, or excusing someone for horrible actions. It’s just an honest fact. Hate is a learned trait.

Hate is built when a teenager endures day after day of being shoved against metal lockers or being called fat or dumb on the school bus. Hate is built when video games flash simulated bullets and carjacked cars across our television screens, causing young brains to perceive it as a real event. Hate is built when songs with catchy beats indoctrinate hearts with lyrics about meaningless sex, drug deals, and “bloody murder” (A Kanye West song). Hate is built when movies filled with rape and villains that are made out to be unlikely under-dog heroes with blood-stained fists lose their shock factor and become a normal–and expected–part of the media, and then society. Hate is built by generations being quietly trained that the heroes in life are the ones who misuse women, intimidate the weak, destroy those who first hated and bullied them, and go out with a bang of vengeance–literally. Those are fake heroes. But the fake heroes quickly create the real villains.

Hate produces hate. It’s an endless cycle that won’t be stifled by a signed bill outlawing guns. And it won’t be stopped by news headlines flashing the perpetrators face on our televisions, striking fear in our hearts or anger. It won’t end by bulletproof walls or amped up security at airport checkpoints.

It can only be stopped if we decide it should stop right where it starts. Gun control, knife control, bomb control–you name it–it won’t completely solve the real problem. And I’ve felt this since the beginning.

Now, I’m not sitting here blaming anyone for the horrific mass murders that have taken place. It’s heartbreaking to me that these murders have even happened, and I pray for the victims every time a story like that pops up on my news feed. I can’t even imagine what the families of those victims must feel.

And I’m not discounting that there are precautions we need to take with gun control and safety measures. Sure there should be background checks before the purchase of a gun, and sure, we need to stay safe and make sure we’re protected during travel and in the places we send our kids. And also, I definitely know that there are times when many of these tragedies stem from suspects with mental illnesses or reckless behavior. Or maybe even accidents. I won’t discount that.

But let’s not forget the other circumstances. Circumstances that arose from someone who felt unheard. Unloved. Angry. Bullied. Vengeful. Suffering from past pain. Let’s not forget circumstances that arose from learned hate. Circumstances that could have been prevented if someone along the way had heard them, saw them, or helped them.

The same day that the 22 children and six staff members in Sandy Hook Elementary were killed last year, 22 children were also stabbed to death in China in their classroom. Two senseless, despicable crimes carried out with two very different weapons. But murder is murder. It’s not about a gun. Or a knife. Or a bomb in a building. It’s about the framework of hate that builds itself around hearts often bruised from the unkindness, abuse, racism, or neglect of another. It is formed from hearts hardened by a society that we build–sometimes unknowingly.

I write this because it hurts me. I write this because I’m mad. I’m angry that the increase in mass murders directly correlates with an increase in volume of the world’s powerful, haunting voice that chants to the rhythm of selfishness, greed, and unkindness. I write this because it’s time to fight hate with the only weapon that can destroy it. Love.

There are so many factors that go into what creates hate and what drives people to want to hurt others in mass sweeps, and ultimately hurt themselves. And I know that being kind and being attentive to those in need of our touch in their lives isn’t going to change the whole world overnight.

But it’s a pretty good place to start.

Because– who knows? What if something simple that you do alters someone’s life forever and prevents a horrific future

event–even indirectly?

What if your kindness–your love–somehow changes everything?