Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Crime visited our street last night. A man was fatally shot; another critically wounded. The police said the house was being used to process weed. How could we not have known this about our neighbor? This house was owned by an elderly couple and when both of them passed away a few years ago, the house was put on the market. A realtor bought the house for her son's family to live in last year. But just as the bubble of subprime mortgages burst, the young family could no longer afford the payments so the owner decided to rent the house about two months ago. We do not know who moved in.

Just the other day we knocked on that door to bring the neighbors a bag of our fuji apples. A young non-English speaking woman opened the door and was clearly wary. I tried in my own limited way to introduce ourselves but she just smiled, took the bag from my hand then made a move to close the door. I was half hoping she would invite us in, like neighbors usually do.

The neighbors all gathered on the street wondering about the details: is the shooter still loose? who was shot? how many? why? No immediate facts were known. Earlier that evening, I had made a comment that we never quite know what is going on next door. It looks like several families might be living there. Why is the garage light on all the time? It must be a family because there are two young girls that we sometimes see playing outside. Etc.

The police even came into our house to inspect, just in case stray bullets have hit the house. They say a gun was found in the backyard on the other side of our fence; they think our backyard might have been used as an escape route. They told us to stay in and lock all the doors. Helicopters hovered above the neighborhood for hours -- as a precautionary move, the police said.

While I felt nervous and terrified, I was also eavesdropping on neighborhood comments and this was very telling:

They are probably Mexicans. They are probably illegals. They are probably gangsters and druglords. This has never happened on this side of town. This only happens on the "other" side.

I reminded them that there was a murder not too long ago a few blocks away from us. They had conveniently forgotten this, of course, because the victim and perpetrator were white; that was just an anomaly. But in the tone of their voices, including that of a policeman, I heard the racial profiling going on. My double consciousness kicked in; on one hand, in my head I was defending an entire ethnic group from being racialized and on the other, I was blaming the global process that pushes people to their limits as they resist being marginalized and impoverished. In Tagalog we say -- pag nagigipit, sa patalim kumakapit -- (when pushed into a corner, one could clutch on a blade to survive or protect oneself).

But I also do not like the feeling of being scared for my safety. It's time to relocate, a relative emailed. The usual flight response. Just the other day, I was contemplating organizing our neighborhood, the way I tried to do 24 years ago when I moved here. Today, there are only three of the long-time residents on this street, the rest are renters that moved in recently.

Clearly a sign of the times, I told the policeman last night as I tried to deflect his racist insinuations. I think of Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, a foretelling of the grim scenario upon us. I think of Van Jones and his call for a Reverence Movement. I think of "another world is possible" action plans...and I wonder how I could bring this home to my neighborhood.

Having a cybercommunity has been a convenient and safe way to avoid the often difficult, murky, stressful work of creating community locally. I've seen how my neighborhood has shifted recently and become "working class" (although I don't believe that there is a lot of difference between classes; we are all working for the capitalist class). What if you find that there's not much shared in common except that you all live on the same street?

Obviously, there is work that needs to be done. Does it mean I have to give up the long hours I spend online and spend more time talking and getting to know my neighbors?

Kapwa. There is that word again. It won't leave me alone.

Adding Van Jones

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