It makes me deeply uneasy when there are two local stories inside of a week that feature guns. First, we had the police killing a robbery suspect who was allegedly reaching for a weapon. Then, the venerable Albert Vera is up on charges of threatening to shoot a delivery truck. Please, boys, put the weapons down…let’s talk like civilized people.
It may seem at first glace that these two situations are a world apart. We know cops have guns; we pay them to keep us safe from armed robbery suspects. If armed robbery suspects look like they are thinking about opening fire, then the cops shoot them. It’s what they are trained to do. I cannot hold a police officer accountable for obeying policy. Men in uniform are wearing uniforms because they have promised to accept this credo. But I do think it’s the shoot-to-kill standard that we need to change. Could you take out maybe an elbow, a knee, something damaging enough to stop the action without taking a life?
There are plenty of countries where cops do not have guns. In a sweeping generalization that I know to be true, there is both less crime and far less death because of that simple difference. While I realize there isn’t even a snowball’s chance in hell that U.S. cops will cease to carry firepower, we as citizens need to consider how it’s used.
My grandfather was a cop, on the Chicago force during the Great Depression, and one of the relics passed down in my family was his Colt six-shooter. It was a heavy weapon, and was stored in its leather holster, wrapped in a length of black felt. It was a poor disguise to keep something that compelling out of the hands of curious children, but never were there bullets. Not in the gun, not in the house, never. Keeping loaded guns handy is another sure way to raise the death toll.
Former mayor Albert Vera was booked on charges of taking aim at a delivery truck. This by itself is shocking, but like the robbery suspect, part of a bigger story. In Vera’s case, a much bigger story.
I had a very strange interaction with Vera just last week, and I walked away from it feeling quite certain that he was a man on the brink of oblivion.
Vera had called me on my cell phone. Not very surprising, I have had my cell number on my business cards since last January, and my cards are all over Culver City like white on rice. Still, I barely know Vera, having met him on perhaps three or four occasions. I was very surprised to hear his voice on my phone. He wanted to see me, he needed to speak with me. Ok, I said, when and where? “You must come to the store, and we will have lunch. Tomorrow, you come.” I was a bit overwhelmed at being invited to lunch, but his tone of voice implied that it wasn’t at all optional. When I asked what time, he was vague. “Whenever you come, we will have lunch and we will talk.”
So, I went the next day, early in the afternoon, consumed with curiosity over what it was he wanted to speak to me about. I thought of the quotation “The old guard may die, but they never surrender.” When I arrived the store was empty but for Carol Gross, minding the counter in a mild mood. When I introduced myself, she seemed unconvinced, and as I explained that Vera had called and asked me to come by, she looked increasingly skeptical. I didn’t mention that I had been commanded to lunch, I thought I’d better see what happened next. She offered that it wasn’t a good time to see him- he was busy. I said it wasn’t my request – it was his. I had no idea why he wanted to see me, but since he called me, could she please let him know that I showed?
She walked away for a moment and then came back, showing me to an office just down the hall, a space about the size of a closet and only slightly more livable. Vera sat at a desk, papers in front of him. I reached over and shook his hand, introduced myself again and looked at him.
One of my other jobs is to teach yoga at the YMCA. As someone who has new students walk in the door any day of the week, I am trained to size up someone’s health in a moment. I look at their eyes; I listen to their speech (a good way to measure breath and lung power- key indicators) and notice their posture. By the time a new student has a mat out and it removing their shoes, I know what they are most in need of, and what their limits probably are. People come to yoga for a lot of different physical, emotional and spiritual reasons (stress control, anyone?) Any of my students can tell you Judith’s first rule of yoga- no one gets hurt. You are not allowed to leave my class feeling worse than when you came in. That’s why I need to check you out for breath and energy, so you can really feel better when you are finished.
Looking into Vera’s eyes, I saw confusion, anger and fear. He did not have any idea who I was. He insisted he did not call me – it must have been someone else. I joked that someone with an identical accent had asked me to come to Sorrento’s market, but I knew enough not to joke that it was a member of his family. His anger seemed to be simply a part of his confusion, as if it were infuriating that I should even be there, but he did not know why. His fear was deep in his eyes, which had turned a panicked shade of blue, the ocean as the storm overtakes it.
Both Gross and Vera continued to insist the confusion was mine, and I had no need to press them. Ah well, one of those things. I wished them both a good day and I left. Whatever it was he called me about, I’ll probably never know.
I’m far too familiar with scenes of age and dementia. I have nothing but compassion for someone suffering the loss of their focus. But discovering that the man has a gun, and that he is pointing it at people, I can only plead to those around him to make certain there are no bullets. Record has it that he has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and he will probably, in his growing confusion and fear, feel the need to keep that weapon even closer as paranoia sets in. Someone needs to get the pin out, or trick the trigger. For his sake and the sake of those around him.
We’ve spilled more than enough blood this week already.