International Writers Magazine: Comment: Politics USA
Fear and Fire Fighting in the City of Sideshows and Semi-Automatics
M Joseph Hunt
fire engine and police sirens blaring through the darkness Wednesday
night, as officers raced to put out yet another fire set by angry
youths in this poor neighborhood, signaled more than an immediate
warning for danger.
Nancy Nadel for Mayor?
Does this sound
familiar? Keep reading.
After a week of nightly disturbances that have left hundreds of cars
and buses torched, and several downtown buildings burned down, the horns
echoing off the concrete walls of grim housing projects sounded a broader
alarm. The spreading violence has lifted the lid on an ugly stew of
poverty, discrimination, and desperation amongst families that most
citizens have long preferred to ignore.
These two passages were not taken from a local media affiliate. It reads
like the coverage of the Watts Riot in 1968. It reads like the coverage
of turbulent events in Chicago, or Detroit. It could very well have
been the Oakland Tribune.
In my entire paraphrasing of those two paragraphs, I only had to change
or extract three words or names to make it sound oh so... close.
The text I used was from the coverage of the riots in the suburbs of
Paris last November, and was published in its original form in the Boston,
MA based Christian Science Monitor. But while reading it, one
cannot deny the potential for waking up to this same type of story beneath
Grips for another long night of rioting, danger.
We are sitting on a ticking time bomb.
Since January 1st, Oaklanders have woken up to get their daily fix of
the depressing reality show being played out on our city streets. Each
time, seeing who survived and who didnt from the previous days
action. As the number of homicides inches closer towards the half
century mark, we sit and read, eat our breakfast, and board the bus
to work. Even as parents and loved ones make a daily pilgrimage
to Highland, Kaiser, or Childrens Hospital to identify and bury
their young, the show goes on.
Murder is wrong. Theft is wrong. Putting fear in the hearts of your
community, treating city parks like pharmacies and using the liquor
store doorstep as your personal gun shop is wrong. But, like it or not,
the origins of these social problems continue to fall in the laps of
people who refuse to see them, shutting their doors and windows, continuing
to reside in the quiet mythical town known as Apathy, USA.
As the people of France and Western Europe found last year, no amount
of distance, Police, or culturally instituted segregation can keep a
disenfranchised people from eventually bringing their rage and volatility
to those who impose their laws and legislation against them. Be it restrictions
on employment, visas, or the type of dress code the school systems enforce,
there is eventually a tipping point. The people of Paris, and President
Jacques Chirac got a very close look at what years of mistreatment will
do to a population of young, angry, bored, and forgotten people.
With Mayor Jerry Brown departing, the series of mayoral debates have
focused on the topic of urban and economic development. In hopes
of providing job training and employment opportunities for the young
people in Oakland, each candidate has repeatedly stressed the need for
the revitalization of Downtown Oakland, especially the Broadway corridor. Yet,
none of the candidates seem to remember that teenagers rarely understand,
at least initially, the words investment, planning, or Developers. Children
and teenagers, alike, are only concerned about the ribbon-cutting ceremonies
where someone tells them they now have a job. They will now be able
to afford the shoes they want or the music they listen to. Young people
want immediate gratification in almost all circumstances. Theyd
prefer not to wait for Christmas Day, the first day of school, or their
Everyone knows that education standards in this country are poor. We
know that unemployment rates are high. The number of people on welfare
receiving checks from the government twice a month will prove it. Poverty
is still an overwhelming issue for even our first-world,
most powerful, I wouldnt want to live anywhere
else nation. Hurricane Katrina was all the evidence our society
and government needed to show just how many people are living below
the poverty level, not just below the sea level.
There have been a number of events that have shaken this country in
the last one hundred years. The civil rights movement in the 1960s
had a series of events that should have woken Americans up from their
sleep. But somehow the sit-ins, the speeches, and the march on Washington
did, in my mind, little more than give an oppressed people the right
to vote and the option of eating next to a White family in restaurants.
And to make it all fair, everyone got a day off school in January to
remember it by. Fair trade?
Former US congressman Ron Dellums should understand better than
any of the candidates, this state of affairs cannot last. City Councilor
Nancy Nadel should also be watching the clock, as she tries her best
to represents the interests of the downtrodden district of West Oakland.
One of the many areas of the city where liquor stores seem to outnumber
After-School programs, and churches, alike. City Council President Ignacio
De LaFuente has had some meager success, especially with development
of his backyard, the district containing Fruitvale Ave. and International
Blvd. Both areas have seen a reemergence since he began seeing them
as his pet project. But with his schedule of events and debates planned
for the next several months, he will have little time to make much impact
in any area of Oakland --while the clock continues to tick.
My greatest fear for Oakland, as we turn on the news each night or look
out our windows, is that someday soon an event will likely shake the
cage of the untamed beast which has been sleeping a long time. Most
adult Americans recall the images from Los Angeles following the Rodney
King verdict. Some can recall the Riots in Chicago during the Democratic
National Convention in 1968. Many may use Kent State as their reference
Each event was terrible and should have us all fearing for
the generational boomerang to come back around and smack us in the teeth.
With the number of weapons and angry youth so willing to turn a gun
on their peers, the fires and the fighting could last weeks. Even with
all of the newly hired cadets, the Oakland Police officers on the street
will be dwarfed by the sea of National Guard Troops who will be called
in to occupy Mac Arthur and Foothill Blvd. and the many other areas
the French Government would refer to as Sensitive Urban Zones.
The scenes and reports out of Paris and New Orleans, last year, should
have served as our most recent wake-up call to the current state of
the underclass in Europe and the United States. The United States and
the French Government know they have a significant number of people
living in substandard housing, with very little education, and little
opportunities to find work. And while both nations consider themselves
extremely diverse, both draw incredibly sharp lines in the sand separating
people by race and economics.
While I feel that Blacks in Oakland face the toughest hardships in the
society we have created, I feel it is important to see how we all are
affected. So in the end, it is not a race issue. It is, selfishly, an
Oakland issue. We can and must begin to make strides to initiate changes
in our city to avoid the type of actions and reactions that we saw in
Paris last year. We need to cancel this reality show before next seasons
schedule is written.
The clock is ticking.
© MJH 3.21.06
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