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Thursday, June 16, 2005

New body count ...

The feeling that the earth is shifting beneath our feet is more pronounced today than it was only a few days ago. In the interim between the last entry and this has seen a 7.2 earthquake at Crescent City -- at the northwestern corner of the state. The tsunami warning involved the entire coast from Alaska to Mexico. My apartment looks out on San Francisco Bay. The sight of water was as menacing as if it were the ocean. Above us is a huge earthen dam that stores all of the water for the city of Richmond. It's several miles long. My apartment complex sits in the direct path of the San Pablo Dam. The Hayward fault runs very near to our home and -- if viewed on the map is shown dropping off into the Bay at Point Pinole -- about a mile-and-a-half from where I sit at this moment.

Add to that the sound of bullets piercing the night at around ten last night. The screams of sirens and the window-rattling roar of police helicopters announced that the street wars have moved from the rotting heart of the city to within sight of Hilltop Village -- where my home is located. Last night at least one more death and three more critical injuries were added to the list of casualties. The death toll is now 14. Four of those occurred over the past week. Today the mayor will announce a state of emergency -- as if that will quiet either the earth under our feet or our streets under assault by gun violence.

I'm certain that we're seeing a leaderless revolution and that the answers won't be easily found. During my long lifetime I've seen us reach this boiling point before. Each time only a fragment of the problem is addressed -- postponing the day of reckoning but rarely if ever taking the full corrective action required.

I'm not sure that anyone is making the connections between the fact that -- only yesterday -- the Senate was again unable to pull together a unanimous vote of apology for the horror of lynching. Since the days of Reconstruction there have been over 5000 (mostly black men) hung from trees, eviscerated, burned alive, dragged behind trucks, etc., and to the jeering and amusement of crowds of white families who participated as bystanders to a shameful continuing era in our history:

WASHINGTON -- The Senate officially apologized Monday for something it didn't do -- take a stand against the lynching of thousands of black people.

By a voice vote, the Senate approved an apology for failing to enact anti-lynching legislation. At least 80 senators signed on as co-sponsors.

Between 1890 and 1952 seven presidents urged Congress to end lynching. Nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced over that period.

But the Senate, with Southern conservatives wielding their filibuster powers, refused to act.

With the enactment of civil rights laws in the 1960s and changes in national attitudes, the issue faded away.

(Washington Post - June 15)
There is a relationship between what is happening at Guantanamo and Abu Graib and the kinds of brutality that a significant number of our citizens are capable of. We are -- and maybe always have been -- a cruel people. That our children know this at some visceral level and are reflecting that cruelty should come as no surprise. The models are before them on the small screen, in the multi-plexes in living color and surround-sound, and from the media, the internet, and at times -- from personal experiences in our juvenile detention centers and prisons. There are no surprises here. We're creating monsters and we make no apology for it.

We've created a legacy of unbelievable cruelty over many decades, and are now exporting it worldwide. Our leadership models on the world stage precisely depict what we're now living with in Richmond. This is insurgency warfare just as brutal as what we're seeing in the Middle East. The only thing lacking at this point would be the heroism of those who sacrifice their lives by becoming human bombs in the pursuit of their goal to oust the occupiers. There's little heroism on our streets; only terror and a one-way trip to the yawning gates of the prisons. But the plight of the Iraqi resembles that of Richmond's street warriors in at least one way; hopelessness deep enough to merit suicide. The differences lie in the fact that the Iraqis are struggling to rid their country of invaders who are imposing their will and threatening their sovereignty. The Richmond youngsters don't even know who the enemy is and therefore their suicide has no rational meaning. They appear to be eliminating the "self" that is reflected from others around them. They're living under a code of violence that few can penetrate. It appears that we've lost them to that code.

Today I'm frightened. In the background I can hear the voices of those testifying at the Conyers hearings in Washington. It all feels so hopeless. It's all so familiar. I'm not sure how the impeachment of the president et al will effect the threat that lies so close to me, but it may serve to give hope to those with the power to change things. It may not save the street warriors in the immediate future, but over time, it may make life safer for my grandchildren. How I wish I had the power to love these kids back into the mainstream. But my place in it is only conditionally secure, and subject to the vagaries of a changing ethos of a nation in complete moral disarray.

After all, yesterday 20 Republican senators refused to vote to apologize for the lynching of black Americans. They were not being asked to support a bill but a simple resolution. Since it was a voice vote, Majority Leader Bill Frist was able to refuse to allow the votes to be polled - thereby protecting their identity from voters. Their refusal grants permission to their constituents to continue to deny rights and perpetuate the cruelties that leave shameful stains on the body politic. It is attitudes such as theirs that continues to cheapen life and feed the rage that is exploding so brutally on the streets of Richmond.

I'm not sure how we can discover which senators voted against the resolution, it will be difficult to respond effectively. Maybe you will join with me and others in trying to identify them and to help to select suitable leaders to succeed them in 2006. We're going to have to begin to support candidates in a nationwide way -- living in the San Francisco Bay Area as I do, it would be easy to relax in the knowledge that our leadership caucus is enlightened and can be counted on to express that in their votes. I'll look at the next elections in a very different way, I think, and hope that others will do the same. Acting locally in a world economy may mean acting nationally. The context has changed drastically and our responses probably need to adjust accordingly. The time has come when we must think of Georgians and Iowans as our neighbors for the purpose of bringing change. The greatest nightmare of those who have usurped control of our country would be the coming together of ordinary people like me and thee for the purpose of bringing us back to the pursuit of a truly compassionate America. In such a nation Guantanamo, Abu Graib, and the terrifying street wars of cities like mine might eventually disappear into history as we begin to build a new future together.

There may be lots of blue state folks who are as appalled by the state of the union as we. Do you suppose?

It's a thought... .


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