Public safety after 9/11 is identified with law enforcement. The safety built up by the sharing of culture by many different kinds of people – with uncontrolled things like humor, large gestures and tom-foolery, loud-voiced speechifying, children as central and music as ever-present – that “eco-system” of culture was actively discouraged, especially for black, brown, poor or queer citizens. (In most cities this is much of or most of the population.) For years in New York, the police take people to jail from their front stoops. Singers in the Stop Shopping Choir tell stories of being told to “move on” when they are talking to friends in the doorway of their own apartment house.
There is always the threat that you will just be hand-cuffed on the spot, without explanation or cause, and that after some days and nights in the system you will be granted “credit for time served” for pleading guilty, a ritual of humiliation before the judge. This “sentencing-by-police” has grown to epidemic proportions over the years. It is extra-legal. And of course, it makes any protest of government or corporate abuses a risky outing. We proceed with our arms penned with the numbers of 1st Amendment lawyers and loved ones.
In Grand Central Station, a raised voice, a group of people gathered in common purpose, placards that suggest criticism of official violence – all such activity is quickly surrounded by police and solders, Homeland Security and state troopers. In the winter season, the famous old train station is the spot where an ordinary voice can carry to the maximum number of fellow citizens. But the fear of the message is palpable. So our pride in the message must over-ride that official fear.
Now is the time to trust the creative safety that is grown by uncontrolled free speech of citizens. We have so much to build in our communities, and so much work to do to live in a nonviolent way with the Earth.