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By the Way: The ever-present mask


Hello again.

What I miss most are the smiles. Even a small frown would be welcome – but the masks we wear to help protect others, and maybe even ourselves, from possible COVID-19 droplets hide both expressions.

As I wander the grocery aisles, the only place I’ve been frequenting for a couple months, and I see someone approaching I tend to smile. Then I realize it doesn’t matter. He or she won’t know I’m smiling.

That makes me feel sad. I know the masks are important, and it looks as though they’re here to stay for a while, but they do have a way of obliterating a personality, separating us and casting a dystopian darkness over us all as we go about our daily tasks, making it difficult to distinguish friend from foe.

Still, it is a small enough sacrifice, and one I make willingly, a tiny contribution in a world gone wild, where death has stalked both the sick and those caring for them for months.

Like many of us, I don’t even need all the fingers on one hand to count the places I’ve been lately – basically the grocery store and the pharmacy. Just a week ago I really broke free. I dropped off a package at the local food pantry, and I also took my car for an oil change.

Since I am in the age group wearing a target on its back, I was actually a little nervous at the dealership, wondering if they’d wiped down the waiting room, and fearing other, perhaps infected, drivers would be sitting there. It was, though, a gorgeous day, warm and sunny, and I sat on a bench outside the shop. Life seemed almost normal for a bit.

Then suddenly as the pandemic looked as though it was loosening its grip, an angry cop murdered a black man in Minnesota and hate dropped its dark cloak across the land. Hatred, and its child, racism, I think, are harder to stamp out than disease.

We have lived through the attempt to flatten the pandemic’s frightening curve, at day’s end grimly watching the death toll climb. Now, we see peaceful protesters, citizens, assaulted in the streets as police sometimes fail to sort out rioters from those marching peacefully as they seek justice for all. Like the rioters, those men in blue are not immune to mass hysteria. Unfortunately, some can get caught up in the moment and someone else dies.

A friend, a former police officer, once told me the police are trained to shoot to kill. Why is that? Why not target an arm or leg – enough to stop a person? Why use firearms at all when other less lethal weapons can be used to subdue a suspect?

In England, most bobbies are unarmed, and they seem to be able to handle criminals there without so much loss of life.

An American street should not become a killing place. Nor should it be a place where others watch silently, not questioning their fellow officer and not even reaching out to help an injured or dying man.

It is right to protest police brutality. right to protest a justice system that for the most part serves the wealthy and white and too often fails the poor and black.

It now appears the cellphone camera has become the great equalizer. Those who did not believe the tales of beatings and death can no longer deny what has been happening for years. They have seen it with their own eyes. All of us have seen it – and it will take all of us to correct it.

Taking to the streets is the beginning. The next step should be the march to the polls in November, masked or unmasked.