by Stephanie Fawkes-Lee
My childhood dog, Lobo, was ¾ German Shepherd and ¼ Timber Wolf. She loved to escape her outside kennel or slip out of her leash to explore the woods bordering our yard. The dog was lean and fast, giving her a decided edge in crafting her many get-aways. When I was eleven-years-old, and once again searching for our wayward pet, a distant bark gave me the necessary clue to her location. As I neared a neighbor’s barbed wired paddock at the bottom of a series of small rolling hills connecting several properties, a gunshot fired dangerously close. Instinct took over, my adrenaline kicked in, and with my heart racing, my head pounding as blood coursed through my body interfering with my hearing or any ability to think, I flew up the gently sloping hills towards the safety of my home. As I glanced over my shoulder, Lobo could be seen with her ears back desperately trying to catch-up to me. She finally reached me in our front yard, dropping down on the cool grass, panting with exhaustion. To this day, the memory of that level of fear remains clear in my mind. The fight or flight instinct is so powerful when confronted with a perceived threat to safety.
It is difficult for those that have not been victims of prejudice to understand gut- wrenching fear and how intimidating and threatening a law enforcement official may be perceived. Police get angry when perpetrators of crime run away, seeing it as an act of disrespect for authority or interfering with their job. But is it truly interfering with a police officer’s official act when the flight instinct kicks in, barring any ability for thought as the person runs away in terror? It shouldn’t be surprising that those in minority groups are more likely to panic and run. The United States has a long and ugly history of treating minority groups unfairly and inhumanely.
The Iowa Senate has been attempting to amend a legislative bill that started out as enhancing a penalty for removing a peace officer’s communication device, that for some unknown reason to us was rewritten to include potentially damaging language for the crime of interference with official acts. This proposed piece of legislation is known to carry a substantial minority impact, which is a polite way of saying, “racist as hell”. A proposed amendment would lower the minority impact, but not eliminate it. Morally, what is an acceptable level for legislative racism? Iowa continues to carry the disturbing distinction of being number one for overrepresentation of African-Americans in its prison system. As concerned citizens currently struggle to find a solution to this problem, legislators are contemplating passing legislation known to make the problem even worse.
Going back to my childhood story, if the person firing the gun had been a police officer instead of an annoyed neighbor who chased after Lobo and me, the circumstances could dramatically change. If the officer tripped and fell on the uneven ground leading to a black eye, I would be held criminally responsible for his injury under the proposed legislation. Even though I was incapable of hearing or processing my situation, this accidental injury would become a crime. There are laws on the book to protect law enforcement, not to mention just good old-fashioned ordinary citizens when intentional acts harm people—willful injury, for example. Unions have negotiated excellent health insurance benefits for law enforcement officials, and worker’s compensation for job related injuries is available when appropriate. Why criminalize accidents? After all, when instinct kicks in, there is no ability to think and therefore it isn’t possible for the proposed legislation to be a deterrent. But those that have never experienced this level of fear simply don’t get it and don’t seem to think it is a big deal to further strip away our liberty and incarcerate more minorities.
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