Saturday, August 22, 2009

Allright. Now let's talk about the real reason I've not been writing this past week ...

He was seventeen and expecting to enter Contra Costa Community College this fall semester. (I can still see him in my mind's eye, a handsome dark-skinned youth, neatly-dressed, seated at our conference table just two seats over listening intently). This youngster was one of about a dozen local kids from a program known as C.Y.C.L.E. Their director is Ms. Lillie Mae Jones, a feisty aging Saul Alinsky-trained community organizer and activist who is my friend, and who has been conducting a program for disadvantaged youngsters in Richmond's troubled Iron Triangle neighborhood for many years. And what makes this story the more poignant is that Lillie Mae conducts the program from her wheelchair and has done so for as many years as I've known her.

One morning just two weeks ago, my friend, and her daughter and very capable assistant, Lena, called to ask if it would be possible for me to conduct a guided tour of the Rosie the Riveter Memorial for her summer youth program. "We have our own van, and can be there in a few minutes." With only an hour's notice, my ranger partner and I quickly organized a mini-tour.

As Elizabeth and I ran through our PowerPoint and my short "Of lost conversations" DVD in our conference room, I noticed how rapt were those kids, and realized how unknowing they were about their own local history. It was a great morning, and though they drove ahead while I took care of some items waiting at my desk, the adventure ended up with my joining them at the Memorial in Marina Bay Park where we walked the time line of WWII together, and read each panel aloud and talked about meanings. It was rangering at its best, and I felt rightfully "in the moment."

Lena phoned me at home later that evening to say how moved she had been by our presentation and of how excited the kids were; how animated was the talk on the way back to their center.

Just two days ago I learned that our 17 year-old student had been accosted on the street by an assailant and shot 5 times in the back! That he had survived the murder attempt but may be suffering permanent physical damage. The psychological damage must be overwhelming. The kind of hatred that would bring 5 shots to the back might well indicate that the shooter will return at some point -- and ...what does one say or do in the face of that kind of awfulness?

And ... what are the relationships between my earlier post (below) and this one? And why have I held the story for so many hours without sharing it with anyone, not even with my co-workers?

Is it just an illusion that putting it into words makes the terror more real?

I truly don't know.
"Leave the guns at home", says EJ Dionne, Washington Post columnist ... .

There has been little or no comment on the differences or similarities between Mr. Dionne's thought-provoking and moving editorial which brought to mind the chilling and long-familiar images of the Black Panther Party marching in formation -- fully and legally armed -- through the halls of the State Capitol in Sacramento during the early Sixties. That act ushered in the era of CoInTelPro and the relentless and brutal siege staged against black militancy, nationwide, over the following decade. With militias now blessed with legal permission to publicly arm themselves in many states -- and with the NRA fiercely defending their 2nd amendment rights -- is skin color the only difference? How were J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI justified in shutting down black militancy by use of deadly force then, and where are those powers now? What has changed? I'm not at all sure of the answers to this new and seemingly irrational show of force -- and this time not by our government but by the citizenry -- nor do I support or defend the Panther's deliberately provocative strategy back in the Sixties. It's the loss of control over the issue that is so disturbing.

But the irony was inescapable -- of the young black brother decked out in his strapped-on shoulder holster assault rifle plus his openly displayed revolver; given that history. Out of what rabbit hole do you supposed he climbed? About the time that his image slid into view -- being interviewed by a white dude with a revolver strapped to his leg(!) -- I found myself giggling helplessly! Testosterone on the rampage! What in the world? It was about at that point that the "deja" became completely unglued from the "vu" and I lost it! Maybe laughter is the only defense reasonable folks can have to such behaviors; but surely that isn't enough. Something critically important to our survival may be at risk here; something activated by decades of unending war and ceaseless urban violence. Have we become so desensitized that we've lost the ability to respond appropriately? This morning the grin has disappeared and my skin crawls with fear for what may lie ahead ... .