In the mornings I have an amazing place I go for peace, exercise and joy. It’s my garden.
This is my first year participating in POP's Matson, Mowder & Howe Community Garden down near the Diestlehorst Bridge in the park.
I drive there early, put on my garden shoes and go out amongst the earthworms, bees and crabgrass and turn Pandora up on my smartphone. I listen to amazing praise and worship music and commune with God in a personal way. The sounds of nature surround me, and I am transported to an elemental level of connection with the earth, God and nature. Occasionally birds screech, I hear dogs barking on the nearby trail, construction on the bridge nearby, or the trestle overhead rumbles with the burden of a huge train overhead. These sounds are part of the charm.
But today, I heard another sound. I could hear an argument in the nearby bushes where many transients and homeless campout. I am protected by a large strong fence designed to keep the deer out, and topped with barbed wire to keep the humans out. I sighed and thought, "That’s sad," and went on with my weeding.
Soon, the argument escalated to a louder tone. I heard the bushes and brush crumpling as it sounded like a pursuit was happening and a woman began screaming; “No stop! Someone help me!”
I stood up, looked around, tried to get a visual, and then could hear the sickening sound of fists colliding with flesh, as the woman obviously tried to get away and continued to scream. I immediately called 911 and asked for help.
As I took a bit of cover and tried to visualize the altercation, the phone rang. It was an officer calling for more details. I explained the location and events as they had occurred and his response to me was this; “Oh, yeah, those guys up there are always drinking and going at it. I am sure everything is fine.” I paused. “No, sir, it’s not fine. I can hear this woman screaming NOW. She is wailing for help. I can hear the impact of contact from here.”
He sighed and replied, “OK. We will come out and check it out, and pour out their alcohol. I am sure it’s fine.” And hung up.
I sat there staring at my phone. I was sitting with tears running down my face, in frustration at my inability to help this woman who was so obviously in distress. I seriously doubted the intention of my police department to come help. So many things ran through my mind. How do you know it’s a drunken transient woman? And if it is, does it make it ok for her to be beaten? How do you know a jogger wasn’t pulled into the bushes and is being raped? How to do you know EVERYTHING IS FINE, OFFICER???
I come to this park every morning, often alone. What if they jumped this fence and it was me screaming for help? What if a nearby concerned citizen heard me and did the right thing and called the police and they said, “Oh, we will go check it out, I am sure it’s fine”?
Perhaps I am sensitive to this subject. I volunteer and minister at the Good News Rescue Mission anywhere from 10-30 hours a month. I lead worship and do outreach. I touch these people. I love them. Maybe that was the woman who always sits in the back and passionately raises her hands to worship God when I sing Amazing Grace? Maybe it is the mentally disturbed one who sits in the corner and never speaks, except this time, to scream for help?
Maybe, just maybe, they should have the same value I do?
Soon, the area was silent again. Much later my friend who manages the Garden saw an officer finally show go down the hill to investigate. I am glad they came. But I wish the woman had not had to endure the beating she did for 20 minutes until the police got around to it.
I packed up my garden and was lost in thought over this chain of events. I made a decision to drive over to the Women’s Refuge nearby. I went in and asked for the director. She sat down and took notes and was as disturbed, as I was, by what happened. I don’t know if it will make a difference to speak out about what happened, but if we all do nothing, nothing is what happens.
Is this how we deal with the homeless here? Is this what I can expect in response to my own safety?
I know the police are frustrated. I know there’s a lot of wasted time on drug-induced and alcohol-induced scuffles. Our hospitals are full of mental health holds. But, maybe this morning, that woman deserved to be saved. Without the police officer's sigh, the resentment and the assumption that her pain and life were not worth this officer's time.
I am saddened by the reality of our present times. This is not the town I was born and raised in anymore. I don’t feel safe in some situations I would never have thought twice about before.
I am a strong woman, capable of defending myself, but before today I always assumed the police would have my back should I need it. I am not so sure now, especially if I am in a bad neighborhood.