New Year, Same Old…

Posted on January 1, 2011


Last night I rode my bike–and walked it at times–up to the Mormon Temple in the Oakland Hills from my house in Fruitvale. It took me about two hours, that includes going up the long, long hill-side twice on streets that dead ended just meters away from the top, then having to come back down again. But going down is always fun on a bike anyway.

I was born in Oakland and grew up in the area. The most enduring symbols of the city for me are the temple and the Grand Lake Theater sign which you can see from 580. I saw my first movie at the Grand Lake, I think it was probably some Disney film about a space-cat with telekinetic powers. Looking at the temple, lit up and glowing white and gold, I always used to think that it was Disneyland when I was little. My concept of distance has improved since then.

But in all this time I’ve never actually been to the temple. I’ve driven by it often. Its a really beautiful place, sort of heavenly really, sitting on this steep hilltop, looking out over the doom and gloom of the city, which I guess was the point when they built it. And in all this time, I’ve never watched fireworks at midnight. I didn’t even realize that they had fireworks shows. So, yes all this was quite lovely, as was the ride down the hill, standing on my pedals and literally flying down Lincoln all the way to Macarthur without stopping once. Every time I can do something like that, it seems that even miracles are possible, if you squint and look hard enough. Because standing on your bike and going forty miles an hour for ten minutes straight without seeing one car is a miracle of sorts. At least to me, for various reasons.

Back to reality though. On High Street, up the block from where I live, I passed by the clean up of Oakland’s first murder of 2011, apparently, just a few minutes after it happened.  The only time police come quickly here  is when there’s a crime scene to stand around at and have a nice chat with a fireman. They were all there in force. About ten patrol cars, and three ambulances and various fire trucks.  I suppose they can’t be there before the crime, so I’m being a little hard on them. But this is why people hate police. They’re never around to stop crimes, only there to pick up the evidence that will never be looked at and harass people who had nothing to do with it. When I worked at a hospice program a few years ago, one of my co-workers told me the heart-breaking story of how her brother was murdered. At a party, not unlike the one where this youth’s life ended, a man came up to her brother. They got into a shouting match. The man left, returned with a gun, and shot her brother in front of her. The police came and took her in for questioning since she was a witness. She asked if her brother was still alive, and they told her that her brother was fine and in the hospital. They detained her for about five hours, long after her brother had died. No one apologized to her for preventing her from being with her brother when he died. They just let her go and told her the truth, as if that was some sort of apology by itself.

But that doesn’t stop the reality. Police are a symptom, and a reluctant one for the most part, I imagine. I’ve lived in a lot of places, with various states of legal structuring–from the almost lawless frontier of the occupied territories, to the almost lawless frontier of New Orleans’s Ninth Ward. One thing that has never varied is the capacity for people to devalue their own lives to such a degree that they’re willing to end the lives of others, or their own, in a completely meaningless act of anger and rage. And that most communities are a patch-work of their loved ones and relatives and those of their victims, trying to survive in a world that can no longer make sense.

I sometimes wonder why I write this blog, obsessed as it is with the minutiae of political discourse that has so little bearing on the things I see and hear every day. Maybe its a way of avoiding the fact at the seed of the human problem. That’s us. That’s humans. That problem seems to have no solution, which doesn’t seem like a very novel observation.

I’ll feel differently about it tomorrow, I guess.

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