Justin Rost| Reporter
When we arrived back at my friend Lucy’s house, we noticed her garage door was open, despite it being closed a couple hours earlier. She didn’t believe anyone was home at this time and she started to worry – fearing that someone had robbed the house and was waiting for her arrival so they could kill her.
I told her it probably wasn’t the case, but since I was in some type of mood that day, I told her we could call 911 and have them check the house instead of me doing it. We called them, and a police officer arrived shortly thereafter and entered the house with his gun.
Minutes later, he exited the house with Lucy’s brother ahead of him and his hand on the gun in its holster. We began laughing nervously as we saw them walk out; when the officer asked if we knew him, we said that we did.
We received a short, well-deserved lecture on our failure to first communicate with other family members in order to determine whether anyone was home, or if someone had actually broken into the house. Our rush to believe in the worst caused a gun to be pulled on Lucy’s brother.
A few months later, I was driving around when I pulled up to a stop sign. While I was slowing down, I noticed a cop car sitting in the lot to my right watching traffic, so I made a note to come to a full stop. Once I drove away from the stop sign, I barely made it 100 feet before I started seeing litter everywhere. Aluminum cans and paper bags filled the ditch beside the road; styrofoam cups and even pieces from several styrofoam coolers were loitering against a fence a few feet from the asphalt. Driving another 20 feet or so, I saw more trash and styrofoam coolers on the other side of the road getting blown up against a tree line.
By whatever mechanism– people’s negligence or intentional laziness– the trash ended up where it is; the problem now is that they pose an imminent threat to our local ecosystem. A light breeze is enough to move around styrofoam, and a stronger breeze can bust up pinned styrofoam and break off smaller pieces. Buoyant styrofoam would have little trouble at all being carried by moving water from the next time it rains into a nearby stream, and then into the stomachs of small fish – which would in turn be eaten by larger organisms, eventually including us.
So we have two scenarios: one in which an imagined intruder was dealt with by police, and one in which a real threat posed to our ecosystem was not solved by anyone. In neither case am I condemning the police: when my friend and I called 911 it was our mistake that put her brother in danger; and just as well as a cop who is paid to protect and serve could have picked up trash for his or her community, as could have any other resident. But I think there is something to be explored about our fears and how we utilize police in our society.
Despite what the morning news may have you believe, our country has become a lot safer from violence since the 90s. Statista reports 758 violent crimes reported per 100,000 people in the United States in 1991; that rate in 2017 was 383 violent crimes reported per 100,000 people – a decrease of 50.5 percent. However, safety encompasses more things than just your likelihood of being harmed by another human – food security, for example. From the World Wildlife Foundation: “Our Living Planet Report 2018 shows population sizes of wildlife decreased by 60% globally between 1970 and 2014.” Scientific communities are recently beginning to observe the mass extinction of many insects: soon enough, this food scarcity amongst the birds is going to work its way up to us.
Times change and with them so should our ideas, policy and culture. A plant that was illegal across the entire country a decade ago is now legal in most places. Hopefully you realize the frightening insanity of more than half of the Earth’s populations disappearing. The biggest threat to every one of us and our humanity is not violence done by one to another intentionally, but the damage we do out of ignorance – especially to our ecosystems and our planet.
The police today aren’t the slave patrols they evolved out of in the 1870s, nor are they the union busters of the early industrial era; the police of tomorrow need not be the same as they are today. I think it’s time we begin engaging our community and civic employees to start working for our environment. Especially considering the person waiting inside your house waiting to kill you isn’t a stranger, it’s you – it’s all of us, given enough time. Just try eating food when there’s none left (spoiler alert, you won’t be able to afford it!) So if you’re going to believe in a worst case scenario, consider what we are doing to the environment, and know that if we don’t act soon, the gun is going to be pointing at us. Personally, I endorse a future in which police spend less time playing the role of Highwayman and more time protecting and serving our community, and thereby our environment at large. And when I can find time outside of work, education, and caring for my family and self, I will try to clean up that trash – if no one else has already.