On a Tightrope Between the Towers

This morning, as I lounge under a fluffy blanket and sip freshly-brewed Earl Grey, my soul is caught by riots among peaceful demonstrators, and my fancy is caught by a small Frenchman with a big smile.

In Baltimore, and across the country, there is chaos. Not a “people are rioting” chaos, but a chaos of emotion, of broken trust, of fear.

When I rolled over in bed for the third time this morning and considered waking up, I went, as usual, to Facebook, and this article, detailing the comparison between the rioting minority and the peaceful majority, caught my sleepy eye. It nestled on my newsfeed between this article, detailing the violent uproar in Baltimore, and this video explaining that police brutality is actually a tiny percentage of real police interactions.

And on 7 August, 1974, a French aerialist wearing a black v-neck and a wide smile walked across the 140-foot gap between the Twin Towers, a balancing pole in his hands and nothing but a quarter mile of air between him and deadly concrete.

Man on a Wire

Fear is growing across the country. We hide it with humour, telling jokes about sleazy politicians. We rant in private or on Facebook. Few of us believe we can actually make a difference in a government that seems to be growing stronger, taking more of our freedoms, caring less about our rights.

And so when people react as they have in Baltimore, we watch with shock and awe. We turn the news reports into spectacles. We scroll through sensational photos of smashed cars, videos of rioting people.

And we forget that these are humans.

Across the country, police work day in and day out. Their job is to keep the peace, to apprehend lawbreakers, to protect innocent citizens.

Some of them do this well. Some of them do not. They face stresses and dangers, and some of them are heroes, and some of them abuse their power. Some of them assault the people they are paid to protect.

And we forget that these are humans.

And on 7 August, 1974, police officers stood on a roof a quarter mile above the ground, waiting to arrest a French aerialist as he walked back and forth, back and forth, eight times.

My Facebook feed is flooded with extreme reactions. One friend rants that the country is falling apart and expresses her support for the men in uniforms. Other friends post lists of names—victims of police brutality in Baltimore.

And we forget that these are humans.

These are humans hurting—some hurting so badly that they feel their only recourse is violence, and some hurting while still trying to be peaceful, to hold others back from rash actions.

These are humans trying to do their job—some doing that job so badly that people are injured and dying because of their actions, and some doing that job despite negative media and angry civilians.

On both sides, these are humans.

I do not want to downplay the suffering of people—mostly people of colour—at the hands of police officers all across the country. No matter how badly a minority of these people may be responding, we cannot dismiss their pain.

I do not want to downplay the struggle of police officers across the country. No matter how badly some of them may be treating people, we cannot label all of them brutal.

Instead, I want to step out onto a wire. Like Philippe Petit on his cable between the towers, I want to step away from the safety of the extreme, from the security of mass opinion, and move to the middle. I want to balance between one solid tower and the other. This is a dangerous place, this middle ground, with nothing but adjusting muscles and equilibrium defining the difference between standing and falling. It’s a lonely place; most people prefer the solid towers to the trembling wire. Out here in the middle, you can’t sit back in the ranks of other opinionated people and shout insults at the other side.


Here, in the middle, I want to acknowledge that I do not know the answers. I ache for those who see their friends and family injured and killed by those sworn to protect them. I ache for those who see their fathers, brothers, husbands leave with badges and guns, hoping they return. And here, in the middle, uncertain and suspended between one extreme and the other, no safety net between me and the ground, I want to find balance.

Because on one side or the other, these are humans.


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