Locking our doors is not the answer

Alan Spector is the author of five books and is working on books six and seven. His latest is “Body Not Recovered: A Vietnam War/Protest Movement Novel.” Spector also writes the stljewishlight.com blog “Retirement According to … Alan Spector.”

By Alan Spector

A friend, with whom I frequently disagree politically but who has a big heart, shared a saying on Facebook that reads, “Not takin’ Syrian refugees and closin’ our borders isn’t ‘mean’ or ‘heartless.’ I lock my doors to my house every night. I don’t lock them because I hate the people outside my house. I lock them because I love the people inside my house.”

My first reaction was that this made sense, until I realized it is an analogy that addresses the wrong doors. The order to close out Syrian refugees is not about locking the doors to our homes. It’s about locking the doors to our Red Cross shelters, places of worship, homeless shelters and the homes of those willing to take in others in need.

Think about it like this. Yes, we live in our homes and lock the doors. But we also live in a broader community. In St. Louis, we unfortunately have what seems like more than our fair share of tornadoes, and every community is generally at some risk of a natural disaster.

 Consider this scenario. You have locked your doors, you’re in for the night, you’re safe in your home with your loved ones. The tornado sirens go off and you tune into the local news to learn that a funnel cloud has been sighted and is heading your way. You know the drill: Everybody down into the basement, away from the windows. The weather radio tells you the tornado touched down nearby but has passed. The warning is over, and just like all of the past warnings, you’re OK. With your home doors still locked for safety, you slog upstairs, grab a quick snack from your overstocked pantry, and nestle into bed for a good night’s sleep.

Meanwhile, in a subdivision only three miles from you, 100 homes, whose occupants also locked the doors for safety, are destroyed. Six people are dead, including two children; photographs of their broken bodies are immediately shared across social media. One hundred families are without shelter, beds or food. They are traumatized, desperate, confused, lost. They come out of the rubble and wander their neighborhood trying to figure out what to do. Through no fault of their own, their lives are shattered.

But wait. We live in St. Louis. Community action kicks in. The Red Cross opens shelters. Faith-based organizations do the same. Homeless shelters declare that they are ready and willing to take in tornado survivors. Individual families unlock their doors and offer to take in strangers. 

The tornado victims — while their homes are destroyed, while some of their neighbors are dead or injured, while it will take all they can muster to somehow rebuild their lives — will have a warm, safe place to sleep, clothes to wear and food to eat. The children will be safe. The families will be together and nestled in the caring arms of their community.

But wait. Local government officials issue an order: Lock the Red Cross shelter doors. Lock the churches and synagogues and mosques that were willing to take in survivors. Lock the doors of the homeless shelters and arrest those families who have unlocked their doors to take in tornado survivors. 

That is the analogy of locked doors we should be talking about. It is a circumstance of nature that a tornado has hit that subdivision and not ours. But we live in a community and want to help. It is a circumstance of birth that we live in the United States and not in war-torn Syria. But we live in a world community and want to help.

So, should we lock the doors of our homes to be safe? Yes, there are bad people out there. But should we also lock the doors in our communities that are open to those in desperate need? No.

The local authorities argue that the subdivision hit by the tornado has had a recent crime spree and may have some bad people living there. They argue that there is a registered sex offender in that subdivision, and it is unsafe for children to be in the same shelter with him.  

Of the 100 homes and perhaps 400 people in need, there may be three that are questionable. Valid concerns? Yes. But as a community, should we lock out the other 397? Or should we immediately open the doors to everyone to relieve the suffering and find other ways to deal with the concerns?

Yes, we should lock the doors to our homes. Yes, we should be vigilant about the bad people out there. But we should not allow the tornado-surviving families and their children to wander the streets of their destroyed neighborhood without shelter, a bed, clothing or food, when our community has the wherewithal to provide all of that and individuals and organizations willing to do so.  

Don’t lock those doors.  

This commentary was originally published in the online Fog City Journal (fogcityjournal.com).