Here Be Dragons

This is what the world is like, under its skin: 

We avoid the structure. We avoid the system. We avoid the sort of continued neglect of poor people of color all across this country. And then, obviously, the police don’t live in the community with the people. The police don’t know the people. The Kerner Commission noticed this in 1968, that part of the problem was the police did not have a real relationship with the community, a trusting relationship with the community. The black community tends to be overpoliced and unprotected.

This is what people see every day, and our pampered national press pretends to be shocked because this is AMERICA:

“Gun raised, gun raised and pointed,” a protestor shouts out, alerting others as the officer approaches closer.

“My hands are up,” another protestor says.

“I will fucking kill you, get back!” the officer shouts.

Another protestor asks for the officer to identify himself.

“What’s your name, sir?” he asks.

“Go fuck yourself,” the officer replies.

People who’ve never explored a city and its inner suburbs, who have no concept of the force fear exerts on economics (and economics exerts on fear), are surprised by what has happened in Ferguson. People who never venture from their homes, who talk about “good” and “bad” parts of town, who think they can identify either one by the quality of the gas stations and the color of those filling up their cars, they’re surprised that America is like this.

That the cops are angry and put-upon and deeply stupid, and think of those they’re sworn to protect as “fucking animals.” That they’d shoot first because hey, it’s not like it actually matters, the life of the person in front of them. That they’d treat anyone asking them questions about it with what contempt scrapes off the bottoms of its shoes.

The shock and horror is beneath us. This is the world we’ve created. This is the country we live in.

Poor neighborhoods, working class suburbs, enclaves of mostly minority citizens mostly just getting by. There are these places we’ve decided to forget about. The places our media has decided to forget about. They’re talked about with the outsider as the default. Here’s an app to avoid these places. Here’s the line you don’t dare cross. “You,” the audience, being presumed to be outside the barrier. In the safe zone, as if anywhere is safe.

People don’t live in these places, according to our story. People don’t have to worry about living there. You have to worry about going there. Accidentally, as if you erred in navigation, and wandered off the map.

These places don’t exist, except for blank spaces, where be dragons.

I spent several months working in a town not unlike Ferguson a few years back. I got lost my first day there, and panicked when I rolled through a stop sign, only to sigh in relief when I remembered: This place had no police force, so nobody was worried about my traffic violations. I spent weeks in the schools there, and I’ll never forget the face of the 8-year-old who told me that he knew that people in other towns thought he and his classmates were stupid.

Eight years old. He already knew the score.

Thus we can have the narrative that Rudy Giuliani fixed New York City, and Richard Daley saved Chicago, by rousting panhandlers and putting up wrought iron in the tourist districts where the buses stop. Thus we have the story that goes, “… but this is such a nice community” when someone rich and white gets killed, and “… what did they expect, living there?” when the victim is poor and black.

Our garbage is picked up and our potholes are filled and we drive through the other places, if we have to, with our doors locked, shaking our heads at the litter and cracks in the sidewalk, and then putting them out of our heads.

These are the places we don’t think about until they explode.


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