9.11.2013

False Negative

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An early morning presentation in Harrisburg necessitated that I not do kid drop-off duties yesterday.  Leaving the house sans kids is a rare occurrence, and so I was luxuriating in the freedom of it even as I was pounding the pavement pretty furiously to make sure I didn't miss my train to Harrisburg.

Barely a block from my house, I walked up a sidewalk while a woman walked toward me.  There was plenty of room for us to cross paths without getting into each other's space, so I drifted to the right and otherwise didn't give the woman's oncoming presence much thought.  Until she bent left and came right at me.

I looked up when I sensed she was bearing in on me.  She was already fixing a death stare on me.  Then the cursing and the accusations started flying.  She was saying something about how I had kidnapped her child and I would pay for it.  She stuck out her finger at me and kept coming right at me.

I darted to her right and passed her, turning to say "lady, I don't know you."  (Normally I would say nothing, but she had engaged me so much that I surmised that to ignore her would have been more inflammatory.)  I kept walking, faster without being too fast, even as she continued to hurl insults at me.

The whole incident couldn't have taken more than a few seconds.  The sun was out already, it was a relatively busy street, and I was easily able to detach from the confrontation.  So I don't know that I was ever in fear.  But I did feel puzzled and violated to be so angrily descended upon for something I didn't do. 

There is something about being falsely accused that leaves you feeling utterly helpless.  I imagine this is part of the experience some of my African-American male friends have when they are accosted by the police.  Most of that experience, from their standpoint, is racial in nature, of course: they are reminded that it is solely because of their race that they are being hassled, and in that they are reminded of the steep price they must pay for being black in America.

But some of the experience is also this helpless feeling that there is nothing they can do to convince their accuser that they have done nothing wrong.  Someone has made up their mind that you are guilty, and there isn't a thing you can do to prove them otherwise.  It's an awful, awful feeling.  I am newly sensitized to just how awful.
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