The Twenty-First Century, Last I Checked

Gerry Pickens discusses his current situation and unemployment. Pickens, who was Orting’s first black police officer, was fired five days before his one-year probation period ended. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post, April, 2015)

This is unsettling:

Maybe it was because he had the least seniority that he had been given an older car, with a battery that occasionally went dead when he turned on his police lights. Maybe the police chief was only trying to be thoughtful when he mentioned, in Pickens’s memory at least three times, that Pickens should be vigilant about his self defense because Orting was an old-fashioned place that believed in the Second Amendment, where white supremacist groups remained active and well armed. And maybe Pickens had only himself to blame when his imagination began obsessing about those groups between 2 and 6 a.m., when he was the only officer on duty. He sometimes wondered: If one of those groups ambushed him, would anyone provide backup? How long before help would arrive?


Growing up, Orting was the next town over. It is not quite accurate to say the place isn’t memorable, but it is what it is, a small town. Believe it or not, what I remember is playing golf in Orting. And a weird anecdote about a lady whose next door neighbor in one direction was a local call, but long-distance in the other. There was also the realization that if the warning sirens waited until Mount Rainier actually explodes, there would be no point, as the people would not have time to get out of the way.

But this? Having come up in that part of Pierce County, Washington, the unsettling aspect is not specifically that the issue arose, but, rather, that it somehow managed to wait until the twenty-first century. After all, this is not an unfamiliar waypoint along the path to societal justice, but it also seems like something our society should have gotten through sometime last century. Other than that, yes, this was probably inevitable.

This is Orting we’re talking about, after all.


Saslow, Eli. “For tiny Orting, Wash., a foundational shift”. The Washington Post. 18 April 2015.


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