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Marilyn Johnston

Lessons for a Pacifist


I shot a woman today.


The case, a domestic—a lone woman, named Charlene, found holding a gun to her own head.  

I shouted, “Charlene, put the gun down.” I waited.  Then “PLEASE, Charlene, please put the gun down,” as she approached, coming closer and closer.  

As soon as my eyes detected a slight movement of her hand, the small shift in her stance, I gripped my weapon tight, raised it torso-high, my index finger, with a noticeable twitch, poised above the trigger.  I recall the window of my safety helmet began fogging. Then she took one more half step, and popping sounds reverberated from my hand.  My hand.  

Charlene went down.  Her arms extended, on the ground.  Red spattered across her jacket, a leg of her jeans.  

It didn’t matter that ”Charlene” was a police instructor and that I was a participant in our city’s Citizen Police Board training exercise, armed with a paint gun.  A set of real life scenarios created especially to give us the flavor of snap decisions and response.  

I bent down and whispered in Charlene’s ear, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”  

The instructor opened her eyes, “Good job,” she said.  Then sitting up.  Then standing.  Then pumping my hand, saying, “Good job,” again.  I walked away, numb.


Outside, in the dark parking lot, a soft snow had started to fall.

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