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Where Exactly Is 'Safe' And Who Gets To Be 'Safe' In The World?


I was thinking about how often last week I heard people talking about being safe. In part, that's a function of location. Our office is just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. And last week, a lot of people who work in and around politics were reeling from the shooting of the Republican lawmakers who'd been practicing for an annual charity benefit, a baseball game against the Democrats. The shooting happened in a charming neighborhood in Northern Virginia. And when I got off the elevator at work that morning, I overheard someone say, if you can't be safe there, where can you be?

Just today, earlier, I found myself with a half hour to spare so I stopped in a cafe I had wanted to check out. And when I sat down to savor my cup of whatever, I overheard a woman talking to her friend about how happy she was that her son would soon be home from a fellowship in Asia. She was saying only half-jokingly she wanted him out of striking distance of a North Korean missile. She wanted him to be safe. There's that word again - safe. Where exactly is it safe? And who gets to be safe?

One interesting detail, we were sitting on the same block where a young white man walked into a pizza shop last year and fired several rounds from a military-style rifle based on twisted Internet rumors of a child pornography ring that does not, for the millionth time, actually exist. Thankfully, he didn't kill anybody, including the real children at the restaurant that day before he was able to surrender to the police, nor was he harmed in any way.

And for a number of people in this city, the comparatively gentle way in which he was treated caused some, shall we say, feelings. This is the same city where a year earlier, a young black college student was tackled, thrown to the ground and handcuffed by police because he'd opened the door to a bank for a white woman pushing a stroller and lingered outside for a few minutes talking with his friends. The woman told police the young man made her feel uncomfortable because - I'm not sure why.

Apparently, young black men aren't allowed to change their minds about whether they need to withdraw money or not. She called the police, and the young man ended up with two police officers sitting on him, twisting his arms behind his back. Needless to say, you can understand why that young man might not feel safe in his city anymore. And I hope you know why many black men and boys say they don't feel safe anywhere.

Can I just tell you, this is all causing me to wonder whether our real priority in this country is not creating actual safety but rather the feeling of safety. And it's causing me to wonder whether our actual priority is the feeling of safety for some at the expense of real safety for others. It also seems increasingly obvious, if it were not already, that those are political questions and not just circumstantial ones.

On the same day as lawmakers came under fire from a man whose life was falling apart for reasons that still aren't quite clear, a former UPS driver killed three of his former colleagues at a UPS facility in San Francisco before killing himself. And that wasn't as big of a story for some reason, yet workplace violence is a far more frequent occurrence than political violence in this country. And there was no wall-to-wall coverage of that.

Domestic violence remains a far more serious threat to the lives of women and children in this country than terrorism. And as many, many commentators and researchers have pointed out, domestic violence is often a precursor to other forms of violence, Yet there are few hearings and no joint session of Congress that I know of to talk about that. We all want to be safe and to feel safe, but for some reason, that's become a privilege that few of us can claim. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.