Lawlessness R Us or Appalled and Chagrined in Oakland.

From the General Strike, photo by Pamela Drake
It’s appalling and disappointing, so I read about my own attitude toward a well-edited video put out by KRON 4, a “news” organization that depicts some really bad actors at Bay Area sideshows where police are forced back when the crowd throws bottles and where some revelers pull out their guns and shoot into the air for fun.

That truly is appalling but unless you state the obvious, you are somehow complicit. I wonder how many of those, who have suddenly found out that lawlessness is a problem in this city, would confront and contradict those young folks in the neighborhoods they inhabit? I have, as a teacher, a counselor, a case manager, a CASA (court appointed special advocate) and a council aide in East Oakland, but I don’t confront people I haven’t listened to first, haven’t considered their options, their lives, their families, and their neighborhoods.

Well, I have to admit I wasn’t always so cool (well, cool doesn’t really describe my style) and careful, having lived in the San Antonio neighborhood during the height of the crack epidemic-I regularly confronted misdeeds and their doers, handing discarded trash back to their owners, yelling at drivers to slow down on my street, opening my door to every distressed person and there were many, wait, I would do that again and again.

But, yeah, sometimes I came off like the mom they never wanted-trying to boss them into my version of civility and it was arrogant and sometimes dangerous. I will admit I was never injured, maybe just a little shook up-some folks thought I was that crazy lady across the street while others knew me as their teacher up the block. My kids finally said, “Mom, we gotta move or you gotta get a gun or learn to shut up.” So we moved cause I don’t want a gun and don’t know how to shut up; but we stayed in Oakland, and as a single mom, I found other ways to intervene and will never back off of that commitment.

My own kids told me (but only recently) about the number of parties that they attended where some kid took out a gun and shot into the air for fun. My daughter quit going to parties when a friend was gunned down at a party-in the hills. Her small circle had what they called then get-togethers instead. But somehow they never learned to be appalled at their Oakland neighbors. They instinctively understood some of the reasons for their negative attitudes towards law enforcement although they themselves never got in trouble.

It’s actually very hard to live in Oakland and not understand how these attitudes have festered and blown open in our little American microcosm where affluence meets dire poverty where people from all over the world celebrate their diversity just as often as they rub each other wrong with it. Be honest, folks we haven’t always handled our many cultural differences well and have gotten on each others last nerves every time one kind of family moves into a neighborhood and another moves out.

Living in the San Antonio district was a study in those changes. When I was looking for a house to rent, I was often invited to apply just because I wasn’t part of a large Southeast Asian family. Black neighborhoods and businesses were replaced with Latino bakeries to be followed by Vietnamese movie rental shops near where Felix Mitchell’s giant funeral parade had passed in the span of the four years we lived there-me and my kids fit in almost because we didn’t.

But here’s the rub, as my friend Jesse Allen-Taylor likes to say, yeah, we have a violent city, it’s been that way for quite a while, and we’ve done little to understand it as a community. It isn’t just because it’s poor or that the police have always had a reputation for their own kind of lawlessness. That’s true of lots of cities. I have some theories of my own, and still they’re anything but complete. But, it’s a big but, it would take a deep discussion to understand who we are and why we are that way in order to change it; and it doesn’t, repeat, doesn’t start by refusing to see what’s in front of us, refusing to know our neighbors, all of them, refusing to listen to experiences that are categorically different, in fact worlds away, from ours.
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So maybe I don’t get it, as the fellow said. Really, I never have figured out how I got to live in this upscale district anyway. I’ve never made much money no matter how hard I’ve worked, I didn’t have rich parents to leave me a down payment, and anyway, my strict East Coast stock didn’t believing in anything but boot-strapping it. I’m not really sure I fit in this neighborhood anymore than I fit in my old predominantly Southeast Asian/Latino neighborhood, but I am comfortable walking in most, no, any neighborhood in this town so there’s that. 2009_0220photoshome0377

I do know that no city council or mayoral election can fix what ails us anymore than a few more federal dollars can. We have to do the hard work of discovery, of listening and learning, of giving up our easy assumptions to get us out of this hurtful, scary way of living. All the talks about keeping our doors tightly shut against each other, about watching our stuff will not fix it [not that there’s anything wrong with that].

That contrived inflammatory, video out of a San Francisco station (where some of the clips were actually filmed) did get to me, because I don’t like being manipulated into panicking- it rarely results in deeply thought solutions and, well, manipulations are just creepy and dishonest.

While we’re at it, krissakes, folks, we can’t even get each other to stop speeding, running lights and jaywalking across the middle of Lakeshore. Is that not lawlessness? Why is it we need to have someone clamp down on us to do what is right? Perhaps we , in this neighborhood might be chagrined if confronted with our lawlessness (might), but some neighbors who see themselves as irrelevant, inhabiting only the margins of our city, might not be so chagrined-or they might. How about we ask each other and find out? Pride Parade, June, 2011 048

3 thoughts on “Lawlessness R Us or Appalled and Chagrined in Oakland.

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