Tired of the shooting…

Really tired...
Really tired…

I was going to write this morning about Bobby Jindal. That was the plan, take the day off of work and just kind of fuck around with a silly idea I had that I found amusing, but as I read the news with my coffee I didn’t really feel like it anymore:

Drive-by shooting in Lower 9th Ward leaves 2 dead, 5 wounded, including 2 toddler boys

Clean up, calm Monday morning after violent night in Ferguson

Weekend shooting toll: 1 dead, at least 26 wounded across city

Three cities: New Orleans, Ferguson and Chicago. Just shooting and death, death and more death. Cops, gangs, cop-gangs and it just keeps going on and on and on and on…and too many people caught in all the crossfire.

And all the frustration with all this death and the feelings of powerlessness it gives suddenly made me think of an exchange I had on Saturday night in a bar here in San Francisco. I was shooting pool with a friend and having a beer or several when the friend I was with started talking about people in the neighborhood and just so casually, he says, “Well, that’s what happens around here with all the (n-bomb).”

I practically spit out my beer, “The fuck you say?”

He started turning red, “What?”

“I can’t believe you just said that,” I said, shaking my head.

Long silence…

“So, you hate me now?”

“No man,” I responded, “I don’t hate you, but if you want to have those kind of idiot thoughts in your head, that’s your business. Just don’t be saying that shit around me.”

And we finished the game of pool, any remaining conversation kind of ended and I made my excuses and went home, turning down his offer of a ride back to my apartment. This is a guy I’ve known for two plus years now, who I met at work, at a social work gig in the oh-so-supposedly-liberal city of San Francisco and even sitting here now I wonder about what he said and I ask myself, is there something about me that made him think that was okay to say? Maybe he’s become more relaxed as we’ve hung out here and there and that’s a previously hidden, but normal part of his vocabulary, and it just came out?

I don’t know for sure, and I don’t know if we’ll ever hang out again for me to ask him.

But I do know all of this got me thinking about a few other things…about the guy the NYPD killed a couple of weeks back with a choke-hold or about all the black men the police have killed nationwide. I think about gang violence in Chicago and New Orleans. I think about Paul Ryan doing a “poverty tour” where at one point he blamed poverty on “inner-city” culture. I think a lot about loaded language, both coded and not used to describe Barack Obama. I think about all the pundits on national news programs, both broadcast and cable who make the rounds making outrageous statements about race, violence, poverty, “real” Americans, statements that would cause an eye-roll from any semi-skilled fact-checker. I think about this violence in our cities, about the dismissal of those less fortunate, the brutality of the police and how all of this links up to the words from your Ann Coulters and Sarah Palins, your Rushes and Seans and Bills and Mitt Romney percentages.

I think back to an interview where Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel tried laying the blame for all the shootings in Chicago at the feet of families and the community while ignoring and thus absolving himself of the fact that he closed schools, mental health clinics and disproportionately laid off city workers all over the West and South side (read largely African American and Hispanic) while at the same time, doing very, very little to get jobs into these neighborhoods that might instill more hope of finding a better way of making it for the largely unemployed youth in the city.

I think of the coming budget to the city of New Orleans and how Mayor Mitch Landrieu is already sounding the typical warning bells of austerity and what that might mean to those being left behind by the new New Orleans. I think of the arguments about Orleans Parish Prison, about how many people it will jail there and what messages the potential size of this place sends to anyone who has to live in it’s shadow.

I think about the murder of Michael Brown and the riots in Ferguson, the drive by shooting in the 9th Ward or the 19 shot on Mother’s Day or the weekend body counts in Chicago and way too many other murders and riots and frustrations and angers and loss…always loss, no matter who shoots or who dies.

I think a lot, maybe too much…but I do believe there’s a direct link between the words we use and the world we see. As coded racial statements or even not so coded racial statements again become increasingly normalized in mainstream media outlets, spoken by supposedly mainstream pundits, politicians or just your average asshole, a climate is perpetuated and this climate is having definite affects…dehumanizing affects to race, to economic class, to anyone else who’s living on the margins:

Maybe these words make it a little bit easier for a mayor to ignore the needs of whole sections of his city.

Maybe it makes it a little easier for a governor to refuse an expansion of health care.

Maybe it makes a police officer just a bit more at ease in pulling his gun.

Maybe it makes that drive by shooter a bit more ready to get into the car.

And yes, I understand this is a simplistic way of explaining a complex argument, but nevertheless, dismissive words entering the popular consciousness on a regular basis will, over time, dehumanize people and cultures, both internally and externally and the results of this are never good. The results of this can contribute to the deadliest of scenarios. And all of this bullshit has to stop, the words, the violence, the perception of the communities that make up our cities as separate and distinct. They’re not. They’re as connected as words and actions.

I remember going to a conference a few months back on race where an attendee asked the speaker, an expert on gang violence, why gang members were so willing to kill each other over such small slights. The speaker responded that when you’ve grown up never getting afforded any respect by those around you, when you do finally get it, you’ll be damned if you let anyone take it away again.

Yeah…it’s all connected.

And I certainly don’t have all the answers.

But I can start with simple respect, and include in this the respect the demand that elected politicians not just serve a portion of the community. And I can also start with language and send a message to those with the mouthpieces that though they may enjoy using racial and otherwise volatile words with an angry sneer or a knowing wink, these words have social consequences, and perhaps a consequence should be a timeline on how long they get to hold that fucking microphone…or stay in elected office. And no, this isn’t any sort of attack on free speech. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to say whatever they like without the government imprisoning them for doing so…but a social cost? Well, of course, that’s what makes us a society. If I go into work tomorrow at my housing non-profit and start talking to clients about how poor people are leeches on the system, I’d probably get fired. As I should be. Prison? No. The unemployment line? Uh-huh, that’s a social cost.

And in my opinion, too many police, politicians and pundits no longer pay a social cost for expressing ignorance and this leads to a domino affect of dehumanization over time and the costs of this, they’re huge. They can even contribute to the death in our streets.

Just a thought, nothing groundbreaking, but it’s what’s on my mind today…

Also, I think I need to call my friend from Saturday night, maybe invite him to lunch over the coming weekend so I can really talk to him about why what he said is not okay with me, and why I think he should stop saying that kind of shit for good.

Have a nice day.

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And round and round we go…NOPD windfalls…

"Oh I'm sorry, you thought I was listening?"

Ahem…for reasons of disclosure, let me start out by saying I am a social worker…I am a social worker but I am also not stupid. I’ve worked in some social programs in my day that were, shall we just say, not cost-effective. However, let me also say that those days were a long time ago. Things have changed in my field and now pretty much everything is cost-effective.

That’s what happens when there is no money.

Many Americans, over the past year or so, have been introduced to the term austerity, but in social services austerity has been the order of the day for close to two decades so this is why, when I read in the Lens about Mitch Landrieu’s budget for the city of New Orleans, it makes me want to steal a NOPD squad car and drive it straight through the front doors of City Hall to, you know, creatively air my grievances in a way the mayor might finally pay attention to, because apparently all them listening sessions he did? They didn’t amount to dick as he just wrote a budget doing the opposite of what the people, the citizens of New Orleans, suggested.

We heard folks at the budget meetings say spend less on public safety, but at the moment, we think it (spending more) is the right thing to do,” Landrieu said Monday in an overview presentation of his $495 million proposed 2012 budget to reporters.

Well, listening ain’t hearing, is it Mitch?

So though it will probably fall on deaf ears, let me try to explain a little something anyway, a little something about crime:

If you have a crime problem, and your solution to this crime problem is to cut the funding from every part of the budget that addresses social inequity, be it social services, education or whatever else…you will still have a crime problem. In fact, it will be worse, and if you then take all that money you cut and give it to the most bloated budget of every city in this country, to the police…well, then you will not only still have a crime problem, then you get a lost generation and a prison problem.

Why then a crime, lost generation and a prison problem?

Simple, if your only solution is to lock people up, you’re going to lock a lot of people up which then in effect, is throwing a lot of people away. In addition, social work ain’t the only place to become far too familiar with austerity, these same measures have long since ensured that in prison, there is no such thing as rehabilitation anymore. Instead of a trade or even a college education, all you get now is a criminal education and then people get out of the prison. They come back to your city where, because your mayor keeps giving all the money to the cops, there continues to be little or no support.

And then you still have a crime problem.

But hey, new cops in new uniforms sure do look good on the evening news and it’s something tangible a mayor can point to, puff out his chest and say, “Look at me, I’m doing something about the problem!”

Yeah, okay…but what the hell are you doing but perpetuating it? If I were to buy a shotgun and start driving around New Orleans and shooting homeless people, one might be able to argue that I am doing something about the homeless problem, but that don’t necessarily make it the right thing to do, and besides, then I might wind up in your cyclical non-solution to all things criminal in New Orleans.

Frankly, the simplest solution one can find to a complex problem ain’t necessarily the best way to go about it.

Call me crazy, but I’m thinking it’d be best to measure a city’s success in dealing with a crime issue, not by the number of arrests and convictions, nor by the length of prison sentences. I think a far better measure would be how many you were able to keep from committing the crime in the first place, by presenting them with opportunity to do something else, you know, give as many people as possible a realistic opportunity to display “personal responsibility.”

But yeah, I know…it’s a fuck of a lot harder to take a picture of that, to put crime prevention on the front page of the Times Picayune or to somehow fashion that into a bumper sticker to slap on the back of your car…

You know, before it gets stolen.

So congratulations Mitch, you’re now just like every other damned politician, offering a simple and ineffective solution to a difficult and complex problem…but hey…gotta fill Gusman’s bullshit jails somehow, eh buddy?

Read the article:

Despite community input, Landrieu increases NOPD spending, cuts most other areas

Have a nice day.

An Afternoon With Charlie, An Evening With Mayor Landrieu

Jesus, this Landrieu guy is starting to make me look really...uh, bad

The Sunday afternoon after Rising Tide found me in a bar on St. Claude Ave, having a drink or three and talking to a guy named Charlie who was splitting a pitcher of beer with his friend. Charlie lived in the St. Roch neighborhood, born and raised in New Orleans and he was telling me about the lives lived on either side of St. Claude Ave, especially since Katrina, five years before, to the day.

He spoke of a lot of new people on the Marigny side and a lot of old families on the St. Roch side. He talked about the hard life in the city, his work as a social worker, his degree in sociology, his travels with the church. I liked to think we were both honest, talking about the respect of faith despite my own atheistic beliefs and the respect of community, showed in different ways at different times by different people with different cultures. He talked about the many years of caring for his infirm father and his struggles with alcohol, but how his faith is helping him keep things toned down.

“We all doing what we do to get by,” he grinned, “Especially in this town.”

I nodded, “Sometimes, easier ways than others.”

We shook hands before I left. Had to leave, though enjoying the conversation it had been approaching four, and I had a long hike ahead to get to Jackson Square for the ceremonies marking the fifth anniversary of the storm.

Walking in a drizzle, I got to the square and found it empty. A guy from CNN was packing up equipment and he confirmed the ceremonies had been moved to the Mahalia Jackson Theater so I quickly grabbed a cab on Decatur. Reaching the theater, it wasn’t clear where to go or how to get inside. A couple headed towards a door adjacent to fountain in Armstrong park; it seemed as good a way as any other and following, found myself inside where I was immediately stopped by what appeared to be some sort of volunteer.

He asked if I had a pass. Disappointed, I shook my head no. He asked if I wanted one, and not so disappointed now, nodded yeah. The volunteer pointed me to a set of stairs and with the pass round my neck I bounded up the steps and almost ran smack into about a dozen Mardi Gras Indians. I’d never seen them in person before. The costumes were huge, amazing…neon greens and oranges and purples and, huge. Caught completely off guard I just kinda stopped, a bit overwhelmed by the sight…all the movement, the designs. One nodded my way and I sheepishly said, “Hello sir,” before I shyly worked my way between them to the doors. Almost immediately after I sat down, the program on the stage began. The crowd listened to a choir, we watched the Indians perform, we listened to a few short speeches and then, Mayor Landrieu took the stage.

And he began:

“We are here tonight to mark the anniversary of the day that everything changed. It has been five years since that fateful storm barreled through the Gulf. Five years since the levees broke and drowned our city. Five years, and we still grieve for the one thousand eight hundred thirty-six Americans who lost their lives and left us in mourning.”

He went on to speak of the losses, of the city’s residents coming together, of the city’s resilience. Obviously, so much went wrong back then and continued for years to go wrong at the city, state and national level. I won’t rehash this here. We all know what the problems were/are and probably would disagree on some of it so I’ll simply leave it at this: FEMA, GW Bush, Nagin…incompetent assholes with their own agendas, I got nothing for these guys, but I was enjoying the emotion in the theater, of the people reacting to the mayor’s words, teary eyes and laughter as he spoke of the common familial struggles, of trying to be better and doing this together.

And Mayor Landrieu closed his speech by saying:

After the storm we were forced to find higher common ground. From such great heights, we will renew our city. We will meet our new challenges just as we have before, together. Come hell or high water, we aren’t going anywhere.

“Together we learned again a lesson long forgotten. The value of our lives is not measured by the things we own -not by a house, not by a car, not a building or a corner store. When we walked back into our wet, mud caked houses the things we reached for first were the pictures. Pictures of our lives that reminded us that we belonged to a family– something bigger than ourselves, something that gave us root. As long as we have each other, we have a home.

As long as we cling to each other we will always have New Orleans. There is no storm big enough to take that from us. The only way we will lose it is if we give it away. And this we will not do. Our journey will not end here. We have spent five long years proving that we can live again. We believe that tomorrow will always be better than today.

America, hear this. The people of New Orleans are still standing, unbowed and unbroken. Still standing because of our desire to uplift and overcome. Still standing because the fabric of our collective strength is unmatched. Still standing because our spirit is undying. Still standing, empowered by our shared struggle, determined to bestow the city of our dreams unto future generations forever. Five years, still standing. Committed to strive, to seek, to find, and never to yield. Thank you. God bless you and God bless the people of New Orleans.”

It was a good speech, it was a hopeful speech, one I was glad to be present for to see and hear in person.

Can Mayor Landrieu be the guy to get things done?

I don’t know. He’s got a lot on his desk and Nagin really screwed him by doing very little for five years while leaving the budget 67 million dollars in the red this year, but for the first time in a long time, I’m willing to take a wait and see approach rather than just condemning the guy at the outset for being just one more politician. Over the past hundred plus days I have both agreed and disagreed with Landrieu’s decisions. Maybe its Nagin fatigue that allows one to be happy with a mayor that at least makes any sort of decisions at all, and on top of it, seems to have the will to try to follow through on his words. Maybe it’s more than this…I don’t know yet but despite his endorsement of Cedric Richmond (Check out AmZombie’s investigative reporting) I’ll admit I’m curious to see what he can do. Landrieu’s come up with a recovery plan for the city and it’s often said that if a plan leaves people both satisfied and dissatisfied, it’s a good place to start and Landrieu’s plan (see link at bottom) appears to have accomplished this feat. Okay then, I’ll do my best to set aside my cynicism with City Hall and try a wait and see approach, maybe even gingerly cross the line into…hope?

Might be too much to ask for, but I’ll try.

After Landrieu’s speech, Rebirth and Trombone Shorty played, the crowd danced, people were laughing, talking loudly and the largely festive atmosphere circulated through the crowd both fast, loose and fun. The woman dancing next to me was grinning away and I wanted to ask her opinion of what she saw tonight, but I’m kinda shy so I didn’t really say anything to anyone at all, and soon enough, the music ended. The ceremony was over.

I sat for a moment, watching the people file out as the theater emptied. The words of the many speakers kind of drifted through my head, especially the mayor’s and they mixed with the earlier, scattered conversation at the St. Claude Ave bar.

Both Charlie and Mayor Landrieu have a lot of hope for the city, and like I said I’m trying to be hopeful as well, but I also felt a little guilty.

As pleased as I was for the experience, I’ll admit, I felt kind of bad for being there. I don’t live in New Orleans anymore, not right now. I used to, and will be moving back soon enough but today, as I write this, I am 892 miles away and sitting in that theater, I kind of wished Charlie had been there instead of me.

Maybe he would have enjoyed it, maybe not, but I’m really curious to hear what he might have had to say.

To read the full text of the speech:

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Hurricane Katrina anniversary remarks

To read his recovery plans, as reported by the Lens:

At K+5, recovery plan becoming clearer; Lens maps mayor-backed projects

Have a nice day.

Headlines: Gulf Coast and Beyond…

Almost Prettier than a Sunrise

1. Locals worry Gulf oil spill will hurt them twice

2. Obama energy advisor won’t say if BP to face criminal negligence charges

3. Plugging the WikiLeak: US Government frustrated by lack of options

4. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu marks 100 days with 100 projects

5. Coast Guard and Obama Administration betrays the people and country it is sworn to protect

6. Gay marriage ruling anchored in factual findings

7. Gas companies drilling in Pennsylvania have Committed nearly 1,500 environmental violations in two years

8. Cancer patients relapsing because they can’t afford deductibles on their life saving medication

9. Looking for the truth about the beatings of 2 men by police in the chaos after Katrina

10. Facebook on ‘lockdown’ as it prepares for war with Google

Don’t Miss Ya Ray…

Mitch Landrieu - Mayor of NOLA

Wow, what a difference a year makes…could it be, now that the absentee mayor-ship of Ray Nagin is over, New Orleans finally has a competent mayor…too soon to tell, but this is better than I could have hoped for with the former, who probably would be somewhere in Houston getting dinner by now…

Landrieu Steps Up to Oil Spill Challenge, by Stephanie Grace