The International Writers Magazine: Comment: Politics USA

Homeland Insecurity:
Fear and Fire Fighting in the City of Sideshows and Semi-Automatics
M Joseph Hunt

The 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 the headline:

“Oakland 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 didn’t from the previous day’s 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 one’s make a daily pilgrimage to Highland, Kaiser, or Children’s 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. They’d prefer not to wait for Christmas Day, the first day of school, or their first kiss.
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 wouldn’t 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 1960’s 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 point.
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
michaeljhunt13 at

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