By Frank Watson
Freelance Columnist 

Safety in America


September 12, 2019

I had a wonderful opportunity in 2000. I was selected as part of Spokane’s sister city educational exchange, and taught English in the Japanese public school system. One of my students was considering applying to be an exchange student in America. She asked me several questions including how safe my country was. I assured her that the reports of violence were overblown by our free and open media. Although we were not as safe as Japan, we felt secure anywhere in our country. I couldn’t make that statement today.

School shootings have reached epidemic proportions. Mass shootings seem to be more and more frequent. The shootings in Dayton and El Paso have already faded from the news and from our immediate concern. Attacks frequently, but not always, involve guns. Many of us remember the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Within the last three years, vehicles were used as weapons in Charlottesville, New York, and Philadelphia. A vehicle filled with propane tanks crashed the gate at Travis Air Force Base. There were multiple bombings in Austin. Protesters attacked a reporter in Portland. An arsonist attacked a Customs and Immigration facility in Tacoma. I could go on until I run out of space.

After 9/11, I reluctantly accepted the long lines and indignity of taking off my belt and shoes as a normal part of air travel. I don’t like it, but I have accepted it as normal. I went to a production of Les Miserables at the Spokane Opera House last month unprepared for the security checkpoint. I had a penknife in my pocket I have carried for over 20 years. I had to take it back to the hotel and missed the first few minutes of the performance. The Silverwood theme park north of Coeur d’Alene requires security screening as do events at the Coliseum. The proliferation of required security checks makes me feel less, rather than more secure. The layers of protection have convinced me that we are a dangerous nation.

A public forum on Wolf management was scheduled in Spokane this month, but was canceled because organizers were afraid protests would turn violent. Cambridge, Mass. has celebrated Caribbean culture for over 26 years, but their Carnival was canceled last week due to concerns of violence. The long standing Civil War Days in Lake County Illinois was canceled for similar concerns as was a World Pride event in Jacksonville.

I had a little pang of fear the other day when I was in the hardware store checkout line. I waited behind a biker with eyes tattooed on the back of his bald head. He was exercising his Second Amendment rights with a pistol strapped to his side. No one in our free country should feel the need to carry a firearm everywhere they go. Armed shoppers in the grocery store seem somehow out of place. We are no longer a safe country. Guns, however, are only a symptom of the problem. We have become so polarized that we are unwilling to listen to any opposed position. Conservatives have been all but banned from the Berkeley campus. How can we understand the question unless we listen to both sides? I don’t have to hate you to disagree with you.

Palouse River Beef

Americans pride ourself for our tolerance, but we seem to practice it less and less. Our country was built on compromise, compromise that requires being tolerant of other people’s opinions. The framers of our Constitution argued bitterly, but they listened to opposing views. We need to relearn to do the same.


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