Monday, June 13, 2016

Juneau in Four Words

As sometimes happens in Alaska, I came out of the woods and 30 hours of no cell service or internet this weekend to news of a tragedy. 

I wish I could say that the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history so far, at a gay night club in Orlando, came as a surprise. But since mass shootings (and gun deaths in general) are as American as apple pie and common as a cold these days--as is the bigotry, hate, and straight-up insanity that motivate them--it didn't.

I was surprised though, happily, by a photo I saw posted on Facebook later that night. A member of the LGBTQ community in Juneau shared a picture of a simple gesture from the Juneau Police Department. A bouquet of flowers in front of a Pride flag, with four words: "We are so sorry," signed, the JPD. The person who shared it wrote: "Thank you, JPD. This means so much."

I was deeply struck by this small, very classy act from the JPD. To me, it represents Juneau at its best.

I've said many times that Juneau isn't an easy place to live and it's not for everyone. The weather is predictably and consistently miserable. It's geographically isolated and cut off from the rest of the country and the rest of the state, which is great for getting away from it all, but not so great when you want to get away from Juneau. The cost of living is relatively high. It can feel claustrophobic and cause even the most communally-minded to crave the anonymity of a larger, more dispersed population. It has its problems; notably with drugs, alcoholism, homelessness, and all the criminal activity and societal scourges that accompany them. Classrooms are usually too crowded. It's not the ideal site for interpersonal conflict of any kind, since it's difficult to truly avoid anyone. Its economy often feels tenuous and subject to the whims of economic and political forces beyond its residents' control.

But something that Juneau does well, time and again, is come together as a community in times of tragedy and adversity, and in happier times too to support one another's achievements and accomplishments. I've seen it over and over, on a macro and micro scale in the decade that I've lived here. When friends have died, been sick or hurt, had milestones to celebrate, or when there's a burglary or a fire.

So although I was surprised by these flowers, I shouldn't have been. Elsewhere in the country, there is news of police brutality everywhere. Every police officer uses, carries and/or owns guns, as do most civilians in Alaska, including in Juneau. It's safe to say many law enforcement officers do not necessarily share my opinion that the blame for mass shootings rests largely at the doorstep of the NRA and its relentless funding and ownership of Congress. It's safe to say not all of them share my unconditional support of the LGBTQ community at all times.

So although I was surprised by these flowers, I shouldn't have been. After all, this is Juneau, and the JPD's reaction to Orlando was a simple, quiet, and wholly appropriate and kind gesture. One that might well have gone unnoticed, but says in four short words everything you need to know about what kind of community Juneau is.

A city whose police department reacts this way in the face of tragedy, bigotry, and hate is a place I am proud to call home.


  1. Those four written words were followed by four spoken words by JPD Lt. Kris Sell,"We've got your back." We were moved to tears to see and hear the support of our police department.

  2. Small things like this are BIG. This is a very classy and honest thing that the JPD did. I tip my hat in solidarity. Thank you for the addition, it makes it the more meaningful.

  3. I've noticed this post and the photo have been shared a lot without additional comment, so I'd just like to add, for allies and other straight cis people who are moved by this: please voice your support too, publicly and individually to members of the LGBTQ community. Ask how you can help. We need to hear "we've got your back" from as many people as possible. I moved away last year, but I think it's still true to say that Juneau, as wonderful as it can be, does not always feel safe for everyone.

  4. Excellent point, Katie. Thanks for sharing.


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