In 1980 when I was the Director of Security for the Democratic Convention, all my friends who didn’t know what to do with their kids for the summer, gave them to me to be interns or volunteers. There were five fifteen year old boys who hold a special place in my memory and my heart. For their parents sending them to work with me was like sending them to summer camp without the sports or a sleepover—although they worked from 6 in the morning until after midnight every day. I was warned by their folks that, cute as they were, they were lazy, practical jokers who probably would screw up but could I just give them a chance. Parents generally do not know that their children are always much better behaved for strangers than they are for family. Anyway, I had been an English teacher in a school where, given the opportunity, students often tried to push faculty down at least one flight of stairs every week. So I wasn’t worried about these kids. I knew they would be just fine. Although I loved all the boys, my three favorites were Ronald Pledge. Bill Dixon, and Noah Gotbaum. I guess they were favorites because they had sparkle and incredible` spunk and they also had total access credentials which they waved without hesitation in order to taunt the security people as well as their parents – (who mostly were limited in where they could go).
Today I saw Noah for the first time in 27 years. We went to his wife’s, Carol Anne Gotbaum, funeral service. Carol Anne is the woman who was died at the Phoenix airport last week. We didn’t know Carol but we knew about her from her in-laws. And what we knew was that she was a beautiful, generous, brilliant woman who was cherished by her children and her husband and admired by all who knew her. What we learned was that she was a painfully private person who troubled by depression and alcoholism. It was sad beyond words. Not only because she died unnecessarily but because she hardly had a chance to live.
When the Rabbi welcomed everyone it was clear that he was not happy about how Carol died. At first I thought that perhaps his politics about the police and how they behaved were inappropriate, but as the service unfolded I realized he was not. The elephant in the room was the question about why, knowing that she was troubled, did the family allow her to travel alone. And the Rabbi addressed that. Carol didn’t want the children to be without a parent. She wanted to live and be better and she was determined to do it alone... to make that trip to rehab alone. Only she didn’t get there. What happened that led to the police brutality and when three large men need to handcuff and shackle a mother who is pleading that she was not a terrorist, just a housewife in trouble , you can’t consider it anything other than overkill and, in fact, brutality. We have truly become a “don’t tazer me!” society. People in positions of power no longer use their heads when they can use their guns, or fists or electronic equipment. It’s true that Carol was upset when she couldn’t get on the plane. Which of us hasn’t been outraged when the airlines screw around with us. And when a man gave her his boarding pass for the next flight and they still wouldn’t allow her on she became distraught beyond words. She needed to get on that plane. She needed to get someplace for help. And maybe she was out of control but what does that mean. “I am not a terrorist, just a housewife in trouble”. That’s what she told them and they didn’t care. They just wanted to keep her quiet and really, putting her in shackles and handcuffs her gave them something to do. But she was not a danger to them or anyone but herself. What the Rabbi said was that if only one person had put their arms around her and tried to comfort rather than subdue her, she probably wouldn’t have died. But only one person showed her any kindness and even when he did she was rebuffed.
The media is speculating about lots of stupid stuff. My friend Andy who owns a fabulous wine store called West Side Wines even got a visit from some People Magazine ‘children’ – young interns -- he said, who wanted to know if she bought wine there. He threw them out. Maybe she had been drinking between flights and maybe she hadn’t -- who cares. This lovely mother of three who pleaded for help and instead got tied to a bench alone in a holding room is dead. Nothing is going to change that. And there was no excuse for the way she was treated. As she said, she was not a terrorist.
The Rabbi said many things that were important but the one poem that he read that was quite moving was about a young woman who had died and when the poet went to the cemetery he was struck not by the date she lived and died but by the dash in between. What did the dash say about who she was a how she lived. What will the dash mean for any of our lives. Carol was described as a woman who had no college education but she did have a Master’s in business. She was a loving mother who, when her daughter was born prematurely and had to be in an incubator, stayed in the hospital for weeks from 6am to midnight holding her babies hand. Her family said she cared more for other people then herself. She was unselfish in her concern for husband, siblings, children and friends. She was fun and organized and smart beyond books. She was self directed and committed to justice. She grew up in an apartheid South Africa and fought bitterly against it. They also said that she was incapable of understanding anyone who was not civil or polite. Is it any wonder that she dropped to the floor when she was surrounded by the police. She just couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to hurt rather than help her. Why anyone would treat her like a criminal or a terrorist.
The service was lovely. The lead soloist from the Abyssinian Baptist Church sang “Amazing Grace” There were remarks from friends, her family and Noah. When Noah bid her a last goodbye he said “I love you my sweetness” and his loss was shared by the hundreds of people in the synagogue.
Will there be any kind of punishment for the police involved? Probably not because they think they acted appropriately. What is this country coming to when there is a total absence of rational thought. When it is easier to ‘shoot’ first and think later because you have no idea about civility or as the Rabbi said, just being kind instead of intolerant. Carol could have been any of us but she suffered the ultimate degradation and she died. By any standards it was unnecessary for her to die. For her ‘dash’ to have been filled with so much pain. Were just sayin...Iris