Who protects us from those who are meant to protect us?

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve been thinking about this story for months now. I thought it was over — that I had been able to overcome the pain. However, I kept avoiding writing about it. Clearly, I was still grieving.

So, here are I am. Facing the white screen. Confronting one of the saddest moments in my life.

I was in our bedroom checking some stuff, before starting to cook dinner. I suddenly heard some strange voices in the house. Everything happened so fast. The moment I stood up to check out, the door abruptly opened — all I could see was an intense, bright white light.

“On the ground, now!” — the order came from nowhere.

It felt familiar though. Like a cliché movie scene, a squad of armed policemen was telling me to surrender. I asked what was going on, but the assault weapon pointing toward me was more persuasive. I lied on the ground, frozen, trying to assess the situation.

“This could not be happening to me,” I kept repeating to myself.

But life is not what we expect, but what actually happens. I had to adapt and stay calm — I didn’t want a nervous cop to shoot me.

I looked at their faces. The nightmare was just starting. I couldn’t find any reason why the police would love to invade my house. Behind the assault shields and helmets, those men looked terrified too — they were kids, just right out of the academy.

My wife was now lying down next to me. Then, the cops got into my elder kid’s bedroom. The scene repeated — the shouting felt familiar but more frightening. How would our 16-year-old react?

“Do as they say!” I shouted as loud as I could — I feared the worst could happen.

I could hear my kid both upset and frightened, “What is going on, dad?” He was resisting the police’s order. I tried to calm him down and hoped that at least this time, he would do what I ask him to.

I was both calm and alert. I didn’t know who could do something more stupid — my kid or those kids wearing police uniforms and pointing automatic weapons at us.

There are ‘widows’ and ‘orphans,’ but there’s no word to describe losing a child. I wasn’t afraid of being shot; I was worried about what could happen to my kids and my wife. Everything was happening fast and slow at the same time.

“Who’s in there?” — a woman shouted at us.

“My younger kid,” my wife replied, he’s taking a shower.

They almost broke the bathroom door. My youngest son was forced to come out. Naked and all wet, he was asked to lay down. Of course, another officer pointed a gun at him. Because you know how dangerous a 12-year-old could be, right?

“If you have ever lost a loved one, then you know exactly how it feels. And if you have not, then you cannot possibly imagine it.”― Lemony Snicket

One hour before, my wife and my younger kid were grocery shopping. It seemed like a regular Saturday — I was planning to cook a three-course meal and enjoy a wine with my wife.

When we arrived home, there were some kids in the house. My older son had had a typical teenager discussion over text with one boy. Some kids came to comfort my son — just a regular teenager tantrum. Or so I thought.

Back to the nightmare

“Where’s the gun? Give us the gun?” — the cops started asking us.

I was shocked. What are they talking about? I politely tried to explain that we didn’t have guns at home. Not only we don’t own one, but we don’t like guns. I’m anything but a gun person — I hate violence. The nightmare was turning into an ironic one — especially with these guys pointing their assault rifles at us.

“Your son has a gun. He was trying to kill someone and then kill himself!” — the female officer shouted.

Hundreds of thoughts came into my mind. “Why do they think my son has a gun?” “How did he get one?” “He is not the type” “They say he was trying to kill a friend?”

I was navigating that thin line between denial and analyzing every possibility — nothing made sense. We are far from being a perfect family, but definitely not a violent or criminal one.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time that parents believe they know their kids until they realize they don’t. However, my common sense resisted what the officer was saying. Either way, she kept insisting for my son to surrender the weapon.

Listening to what she thought was happening, it made ‘some’ sense all the shields, lights, and assault weapons. What didn’t make sense is that, when we arrived home, my son looked more than okay. He was looking forward to enjoying dinner with us.

Either way, I couldn’t take any chances. I implored my elder son, “If you have a gun, please surrender it. I won’t judge you. It’s okay, but let’s get over this.”

My younger son was trembling — luckily the police had agreed to cover him with a towel as per my wife’s request.

My son continued to deny having any gun — or wanting to kill himself or another person, for that matter. Of course, the guys with the guns didn’t believe him. They kept insisting, and panic took over me — fear always brings out the worst of people.

Bertran Rusell said it best, “Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”

These guys didn’t know us— they were blinded by their assumptions. Ignorance makes people more dangerous.

I was afraid we were all going to die.

The situation was getting out of hand. My mind tried to reconcile all the pieces — nothing made sense. We were there in our beautiful contemporary modern home in an affluent northern Chicago suburb — a place so safe that we could leave the door open and nothing happens.

We lived in Latin America many years and never faced a gun this close. Now living in the US — where we were relocated over a decade ago to continue a successful professional career — our lives were at risk. What an irony!

We could die in the hands of the people that were supposed to protect us.

I thought this was the end. I tried to calmly persuade the cops to believe what my son was saying. But they were convinced that he was lying — they were getting more shaky and nervous.

The Night my Family Died

“If it’s natural to kill, how come men have to go into training to learn how?” ― Joan Baez

I don’t want to deceive you — my family didn’t actually die that night. Though something died inside all of us. We survived the incident, but there are no words to express the emotional toll it took on us.

Of course, there was no gun. And, after the police reviewed the texts, there was no evidence of any death or suicidal threats. Things got out of hands because no one cared to fact-check the rumor — they could have stopped the snowball early on.

The stressful experience that my sons and wife went through can’t be explained in words. My younger son couldn’t sleep well for many many days. He couldn’t forget being dragged from the shower, naked, and then laying on the ground with a gun pointed at him.

My elder son was accused of something he didn’t do and thought we would all die. He felt so guilty after that — like if he was responsible for everything that happened that night. He went through a long therapy to deal with his remorse and guilt. It also created lots of friction between us. It took him over two years to reconcile that episode.

Did he do something wrong? Well, he had a verbal fight with a kid. If that’s bad enough? There was no violence, no death threats, no weapons though. But one small exchange unfortunately escalated. One boy talked to another and then to another who spoke to a parent who talked to another parent.

And this parent ended calling the police.

That’s what hurt me the most.

A neighbor became a victim of the snowballing effect — instead of checking in with us, he called the police. The cops didn’t verify either; they just reacted and sent an assault team to our house.

I was 49, two years ago, when this incident happened — I’ve never received a parking or speeding ticket in my life. Imagine how it felt having a cop pointing an automatic rifle at me out of the blue.

How Can I Repair the Damage?

This incident created a big dilemma — what was the right thing to do? Should I hate or pardon them?

What the cops did was wrong. They had neither evidence nor a warrant — it was violent and emotionally harmful.

What the neighbor did was also bad. He had no proof; he didn’t check-in, he just called the police with a (false) alarm. Recently, it has become a regular pattern, when people feel something unusual, they suspect the worst and call the police.

I talked to a lawyer. I talked to friends. I evaluated possibilities — I decided to move on. To focus my energy to help my family get back together and reconcile that sad and unfortunate event.

Forgiving is hard, but not forgiving hurts more as I wrote here.

Getting someone fired. Suing the police department. Accusing my neighbor of what he did. What would we win with all of that? Will that help us overcome the pain?

The answer was no. Revenge gets us nowhere in life. Unforgiveness causes us more harm. I’m not condoning what the police did. But blaming others ties us to the past, my family needed healing. Unforgiveness shrinks our hearts. Resentment and hatred would add more unnecessary pain.

We decided to let go. It wasn’t easy. I’m not perfect — that’s not the point. I’m as human and vulnerable as you are. We just didn’t want to behave the same way others did — to act out of ignorance and lack of empathy.

Should taking legal action prevent this from happening to someone else in the future? I don’t know. I thought that talking to the people involved and provoking them to reflect on what they did wrong would create a better impact.

Moving On

I‘ve wanting to write this story for months, but I couldn’t.

Maybe, deep inside me, I was still mourning. Maybe I wanted to avoid the usual trolls that could attack me thinking that my son must have done something wrong — most people love to find the wrong in others.

I realized that what people might think or comment doesn’t really matter — if someone wants to judge my family or me, be my guest. That’s nothing compared to what we went through — to almost being killed.

This story is not about right or wrong. But balancing hate and love. Many people have experienced worse things and were able to forgive.

I wanted to get it out of my system. And, hopefully, to inspire you to reflect on forgiveness — when we forgive others, we set ourselves free. Empathy and compassion are essential aspects of being human — unfortunately, it seems we’ve been losing those skills.

Pablo Neruda — one of my favorite poets — wrote, “My feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but I shall go on living.”

Grieving takes time, but we must learn to move on. Something died inside of my family that night. All I care about now is to enjoy living — more than ever before.

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