Monday, May 29, 2017

Tragedy in Heroism

This tragedy reflects on all of us.

"Have you heard the news?" a supervisor asked as I walked into the break room Friday afternoon.

"No," I replied, "but I'm sure it's not good news."

The past month has brought us more operator assaults, a bomb scare near a transit center, other stabbings and shootings. Now this.

"Three people were stabbed on a MAX train," he informed me, and two are dead."

I was stunned. Not that it had happened. I'm becoming much too accustomed to hearing these things. Numb, is closer to how I felt. There's an increasing intensity of violence in our transit system, and I shuddered with the reality that two innocent passengers had died as I drove a bus a few miles away.

Later, I learned the three victims had tried to intervene when a man berated two women wearing hijabs, a traditional Muslim headdress. These men didn't realize they were risking their lives. They were just trying to help ladies in distress. Heroes act without regard to their own personal safety, they just act. One never knows if the guy berating another is armed. Good people step in and protect others, not because they're trying to be heroic, but because it's the right thing to do. In this case, three people stood up for complete strangers, but only one survived.

One of those who died was a retired military veteran, the other a young man just getting started in life. News media reports state another man was also slashed by the assailant, but he is expected to survive. His life however, is forever altered. All three deserve to be honored for their heroic acts.

The gory details are in the news stories, and don't need to be further explored. It's reported that the accused assailant is a white supremacist, affiliated with groups whose only mission is to spew hatred to those of a different color, religion or background. This is pure madness, but it has intensified a hundredfold the past year. We're in greater danger of terror attacks perpetrated by those of the domestic variety than ever before. The world responded to this attack with expected horror, yet lately we seem incapable of preventing such horrendous acts.

Our country was founded upon the principle that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." First, this includes women. Second, notice the wording of "endowed by their Creator," a nod to what became our country's freedom of religion. Third and perhaps most important, our rights to live our lives in peace and to pursue "happiness." At least three Portland families have been denied this basic tenet of America as outlined in the Declaration of Independence written 240 years ago.

We all see God differently. There is no one correct way. Some may think so, with strong beliefs that their own religion is sacrosanct to others. I don't agree that Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Atheists or Christians are superior to anyone by virtue of their beliefs. Religions preach peace and goodwill toward others. Yet there are those of every faith who are extremists, and that's where the infection festers. It's like they never grow up. Because they so fervently adhere to a certain set of values, they believe everyone else should as well. To them, respect is a dirty word, or one they truly don't understand. Those who don't agree with them are shunned, shamed and attacked.

Remember as kids, how we tended to pick on those who were somehow "different" than the majority? Children don't understand diversity until or unless they are taught. Some never get the training. When I was young, there was a period when I was taunted because my brother is developmentally disabled. I stood up for him, but I became ashamed that I blamed him for something he had no control over. Once I realized how terrible this was, I began fighting back in his defense. Gradually, he was accepted by my peers, but I couldn't forget the pain for many years. When my peers began to understand, they learned to accept. Today, society is less focused on understanding each other. Now we're talking about walls and isolation, rather than realizing our differences could make us stronger. Like I tell my friends with whom I disagree politically, "I'm not always right, and you're not always wrong."

Our country was built upon diversity, yet some of its builders were shunned by those they served. Villagers abroad were ruthlessly kidnapped and brought here as slaves. Even after slavery became illegal, many remained in bondage due to oppressive laws and other circumstances. When they rose up to demand respect and equality, they were violently rebuked. As they fought back, they were imprisoned by the millions in a move designed to stifle their upward mobility. When poison candy is thrown to the curb in a parade, it should be no surprise when it is thrown back.

I've heard the word "hate" thrown around so much that its very definition has been skewed. Many bus operators are accused of "racism" if we insist violators behave. Black operators are also labeled "Uncle Tom" when they refuse to take sides based on their skin color. Women, Muslim, Christian, Jewish and many other operators are berated and abused by people who seem to have been denied discipline as youths. Those who are not white are often told to "go back to your own country." According to our Constitution, this is their country too. Not just one race has fought and died for our freedom.

Common decency is now the predominant minority group. The transit profession receives a dwindling amount of respect from the public. Sadly, this is often compounded by a management that is out of touch with the very people who roll the wheels.

Those who commit violence do not make the world a better place. They magnify society's inability to peacefully co-exist. No decent person I've ever known has told me they "hated" others because of different belief systems. We don't have to always agree, but every great domestic achievement has come through the art of compromise. As long as we all practice the basics of love and respect, there should be plenty of room for all. Hatred is a strong emotion, but it is terribly destructive. Nothing good has ever come from it.

We seem to be at "war" with a lot of things lately, and now we're slitting the throats of those who defend others from hatred. This is a poison piece of candy that shouldn't be thrown back; it's a disease that must be destroyed.


  1. This is so sad for America. All the creeps are coming out of the woodwork thanks to the Trumpster. We need to take America back! This is NOT what we stand for!

  2. Well written, as usual, Deke. Thank you.