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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Thanks to BP, Rahm and the Kochs, Chicago Developing a Serious Petcoke Problem…

The not-so-secret stash...BP makes it, The Koch Brothers deal it, Mayor Rahm still not ready to go inpatient...
The not-so-secret stash…BP makes it, the Koch Brothers deal it, but Mayor Rahm still not ready to go inpatient…

Directly across the Illinois border from Chicago stands British Petroleum’s Whiting Oil Refinery in Whiting, Indiana and this huge facility creates petcoke, which in turn creates a bunch of problems in Chicago, problems that only get magnified by the involvement of the Koch Brothers and the lack of involvement by Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel…

Yeah – BP, Rahm and the Kochs.

What a clusterfuck of a combination and what a typical addition to the horrible legacy of British Petroleum.

I mean, it was just this week that BP, the “Make it Right in the Gulf” company filed an appeal to the US Supreme Court to try and weasel out of the Deepwater Horizon settlements, agreed to quite some time ago down on the Gulf Coast and like theose shenanigans down there, up here in Chicago, BP continues with in its irresponsibe ways. After a 3.6 billion dollar expansion that tripled the refining capacity for Whiting, BP’s begun buying up property in Marktown, a 130 year old town originally built to house steel workers’ families and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And whereas BP says they are just trying to increase the green space around the massive refinery (green space, really) others say BP is trying to shield itself from future liabilities the refinery could pose to town residents, living so close and all. Then there was that oil spill into Lake Michigan back in March, occurring  just seven miles from the intake valve that supplies seven million Chicago residents with drinking water. BP initially low-balled their estimate of spilled oil, but they later doubled the actual figure (doesn’t that sound fucking familiar) and in response to the spill, Congressman yelled, BP placated and guys in white suits laid boom and cleaned (again, so very familiar).

But really, the latter two were just the warm-up for the big petroleum coke problem, which of course begs the question for those unfamiliar, what the hell is petcoke?

Well, petroleum coke is a byproduct of the process that removes heavy crude from those ever-famous Canadian tar sands, and petcoke can be burned as fuel. It’s high in heavy metals and has been compared to coal, “only dirtier,” and thanks to British Petroleum’s refinery there are mountains of this shit in Southeast Chicago, right in the city, right by residential neighborhoods, parks and schools and when the wind blows, this stuff gets blown all over said neighborhoods.

And it turns out British Petroleum is the preeminent petcoke dealer in the greater Chicagoland area and their main buyer? Why that’s a corporation called KCBX Terminals, a company owned by none other than the Koch Brothers.

That’s right, British Petroleum and the Koch Brothers…what could possible go wrong?

According to the people who live around KCBX Terminals, much is going wrong and they are understandably upset. They report having to keep windows closed against petcoke dust and particles, about finding picnics covered with the black stuff on windy days, or on their hanging clothes, or on windows and outside walls…or their lungs, and there are quite a few concerns about asthma and other breathing problems this petcoke could be causing.

A member of National Nurses United, Rolanda Watson-Clark had this to say:

“Petcoke contains a mix of chemicals including heavy metals, sulfur, carbon and volatiles, but even if you set the chemical aside — the dust particle size is also a killer…the small particles can get deep into the lungs and possibly the bloodstream, leading to problems like aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, non-fatal heart attacks and other negative health effects…while we are glad that the city council took some measures to curb the effects of these petcoke piles, we believe that our patients and communities can’t afford to wait two years for the relief.”

Yeah…they can’t wait two years.

Wait, what does she mean by that…two years?

Well, when Chicago residents in the affected neighborhoods started to tell their stories back in February, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago came out big, he came out swinging, all declarative statements and such, pointed at the likes of the Koch Brothers KCBX Terminals. He said things like:

“Through the regulations we’re going to put in, it’s going to be very expensive to operate here and therefore they are going to choose to leave…we’re going to make sure the ordinance puts up a ‘not wanted’ sign in the City of Chicago as it relates to pet coke.”

Oh yes, he did…how definitive.

He then went on to propose an ordinance to the city council that would prohibit new petcoke and coal facilities from Chicago while at the same time, banning the expansion of existing facilities. This would have applied to any operations that processed, transported, stored or handled the stuff.

Oh yes, he did again…how declarative.

And it was this ordinance the council was supposed to vote on last March, but then the ordinance got delayed, and then in April the ordinance was simply replaced. Yes replaced…at the last minute, John Pope, Alderman of the 10th Ward (where the offending companies are located) replaced the definitive, declarative ordinance with a substitute nobody had seen before and this one wasn’t quite so ironclad as the one Rahm had been touting a few months prior. The new ordinance permits companies that use petcoke to set up shop and/or expand the places they already have, which means that larger facilities that burn petcoke and coal are free to go on as before, which of course means neighborhood residents are free to go on breathing this shit, also, as before. And when it comes to big storage facilities like KCBX Terminals, even though they have been ordered to enclose their huge piles of this poison, the ordinance gives them two full years to do it…

Two years, that’s what Rolanda Watson-Clark meant, two more years of this shit blowing across playgrounds, schools and residential neighborhoods. Rahm has apparently realized none of the people in these neighborhoods were going to vote for him anyway and for that matter, neither will the Koch Brothers. Turns out they’re upset about the two years too, among other restrictions and are now contemplating a lawsuit against the city. If they absolutely have to enclose these mountains of toxins, they want four years to do it. Oh, and the thirty foot height limit for the piles of petcoke? Too low, way too low, they want 45 feet, because why not?

So this is where we are in Chicago right now:

British Petroleum tripled the capacity of their Whiting Oil Refinery, is spilling oil into Lake Michigan, is buying out a historic town for “green space” all while producing enormous amounts of petcoke, a dusty toxic byproduct that is even dirtier to burn for fuel than coal. To the Koch Brothers, petcoke is not merely pollution, it is a product to buy en masse and store in residential neighborhoods while looking to sell it for profit. Other factories on the south side of Chicago are planning to use it to fuel their operations, leading to more pollution and more storage and the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel though originally all definitive and declarative, saying he was going to run these companies out of business by way of expensive regulation for the sake of his constituents’ health, switched the bill at the last minute, gutting the ordinance’s effectiveness and giving the Koch Brothers two more years to poison the south side of Chicago, while the Koch Brothers…well, they feel two is not nearly enough time and want four.

Oh, and British Petroleum just keeps making this shit, because hey, who fucking cares about people and their families, right right?

Right, now that the news cameras have long since gone, BP doesn’t seem to care about those on the Gulf Coast anymore, so why should Chicago families be any different? Did I mention that also this week, a new study came out pointing to evidence that shows the damage to the Gulf is likely far worse than previously thought? Uh-huh, researchers found partially dead, deep sea coral reefs further and deeper than any other damaged reefs previously discovered…though BP was quick to point out that there is not conclusive proof…though the researchers were then quick to point out that oil found on the dead reef was the same oil from the spill…to which BP yelled “Mulligan!” and grabbed the next plane for Russia…which might suggest they are not properly concerned with the general welfare of, anything but their bottom line and certainly not with what others are doing with the petroleum coke they sell, and certainly, certainly not where these people might be storing it in Chicago.

It would in fact seem, none of these parties are properly concerned about any of this shit and after all, I’m sure that both BP and the Koch Brothers have well paid scientists who will claim (the world is flat) that not only is petroleum coke not toxic, but that it isn’t spreading anywhere.

Of course not.

And all that leads to just one conclusion for this writer, which would be to agree completely with the initial push by residents, nurses and activists after the mountains of petcoke first started climbing on the city’s South Side: petcoke needs to be banned from inside the Chicago city limits. For BP and the Kochs, it would appear petcoke is mostly about profit and rationalizations, and if Rahm Emanuel really wants to stand for something bigger than that, if he really decides to care about the residents of Chicago’s Southeast side, he would do something about all of this, something meaningful, something now. Fuck your two years. Chicago needs more than empty words and bullshit rhetoric from a failed mayor. Chicago deserves more. Rahm should do what’s right for the city and stop the Koch Brothers and British Petroleum at the Illinois border.

Have a nice day.