The decision to post this came about due to a comment from Angel on my post from yesterday, "One more destroyed life. How many more?"
The following originated as an email to a friend of mine, Gina the anthropologist, after an incident at a discussion forum we attended after Bowling for Columbine. It was linked to my essay on "Communities" for my first LIS course, which I posted a few days ago. I am going to put the info in as it was linked to the Communities essay for my class (with a small amount of reformatting). Then I will expand on it a bit to help clarify and put it in context.
Last Friday (May 16 2003) after seeing Bowling for Columbine at the wonderful Normal Theater I attended a discussion group after the movie where a friend of mine asked about the part of town in which I live. Now, I live in the ‘slums’ of Normal, IL – such a place! Anyway, I confirmed, rather vehemently, that a mistaken racist, classist view exists of my neighborhood. I had to write her a few days later to ensure that she knew that I had been considering just what it is about the demonization of ‘our space’ over here across ‘the tracks’ that bothers me so much. It was not a pretty view of America that I discovered…
<text of the email>
I’ve wanted to make time to write you & say that I hope that you knew that my rather heated commentary on your comments about my neighborhood were not directed at you. It is just a situation that I am beginning to see for what it really is, & I take it personally. I’ve been thinking about it & I think I know why I feel that the crime around here isn’t so dramatically bad (other than it’s not – it just helps to sell a culture of fear…).
First though, I want to comment that the new police sub-station hasn’t been open much since most of the students have been gone. Not quite sure what that says about the racist, classist overtones to the ‘crime problem’ here. Just something I realized that I had noticed & have watched for since last Friday evening.
A little after I realized the cops weren’t around near as much (they most certainly didn’t disappear!), I realized that the violence level at most military installations & their surrounds was much the same as here. Military Police are busy at military housing areas. Lots of people living below or well below the poverty line just trying to get by in a world stacked against them. Lots of alcohol & minor drug violations – people cope in lots of ways & lots of domestic stuff; some of this stuff needs to be stopped & maybe punished, but much of it is just inserting a calmer presence before things get out of hand. Either way it keeps the cops busy, and allows them to grow, expand, hire new officers – don’t let them fool you, they love a good growth industry & somebody had to feed the Queen of Growth for the last couple of decades – the prison industry in America! They sort by winner & loser, and they need to remove ‘the problem,’ so they jail them! But you rarely hear this kind of commentary on the military – these expendable people don’t need to be jailed – they serve another purpose, but we’ll still keep them below poverty! But the general public doesn’t need to know about our little behavior problems – these folks at least have a use! Look at the shocking rate of rape in the service academies, how about service-wide?
Crime can’t be that horrible around here if we can seriously complain (and rightly so!) about the police shooting of Nathan Rusch and the mentally disabled young man (and this pretty much covers the extent of killings around here – one more non-police related one at the Eagle).
I’m not saying that it is the safest or best place to live but for people with no money & no legit way to make much more it is often home – and I’ve lived with these sorts of people for close to 20 years & my kids were raised in it. They turned out OK so far by these peoples’ system. Hell, Jeremy is another perfect pawn – serving their purposes sitting in the desert north of Tikrit! And Sara is at a premier college, and succeeding wildly by anyone’s standards, and pretty much being paid to do so! I guess all that this shows is that the environment is not necessarily damning, but it pretty much inherently is. And it at least usually keeps at least one generation down….
Sorry for running on – I had a pint of beer earlier – and I have been thinking about this… This in many ways hasn’t been, and isn’t, an easy realization for me. I still have many ingrained prejudices on occasion, but I now see the vast similarity between two sub-cultures, one of which at least serves a purpose, for a while, the other just needs to be locked away… "Growth is good!"
</end of email>
18 June 2003
By the way, the sub-station has rarely been open since most of the students left in mid-May. It wasn’t even open at 11 PM on Memorial Day – the end of a long holiday and it is totally quiet. Hmmm…
Normal, IL is the sister city of Bloomington, IL and lies in the heart of McLean County. These 2 cities with a population of just over 100,000 between them are home to Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Heartland Community College, and the outreach campuses of 2 other Illinois colleges. It is the home of a Mitsubishi Motor plant (yes, the infamous one), and is the world headquarters of State Farm Insurance, and home to Country Companies Insurance.
You can’t get much more mid-American, Republican, or white bread than Bloomington-Normal. There is little serious crime, although at the point this had been written there had recently been 3 killings; two of which were done by the police. I do NOT like the way my paragraph about the killings reads at all. It seems as if I am belittling the issue when that is absolutely not the case, but it is what I wrote to my friend, so it stands.
I lived in the northwest corner of Normal near the Eagle and surrounding subsidized housing (apartment) complexes. Many poor people, and many of color, lived in these housing complexes. My ex-wife and daughter moved into the supposedly worst one right after we got divorced. I lvied about a 2-3 minute walk up the street from them in a 6-unit apartment building on Northbrook Drive. There is also a lot of these sorts of apartments in this area, with most of these filled by college students.
Many people around B-N refer to this part of town as the "slums" of Normal. And while they are no such thing, they are the closest Normal will get for a long time. Many people (read white people) don’t like going over there. You can certainly get pulled over for "drivng while black" in that area. I had several friends pulled over for just that reason. I lived there for 6 years and never once got pulled over. But then I was a white guy in a minvan with veteran’s plates…. Seems radically unfair to me.
Anyway, Gina was only repeating something that she had heard from various, supposedly liberal and highly educated, people (humanities and social science profs primarily). But I had had several strands running through my mind for a while and seeing Bowling for Columbine with its emotional appeal had tied some of them together. At the discussion afterwards, Gina repeated some comment she had heard repeatedly, more as a question really, about my side of town and I reacted. I reacted a bit more passionately than I probably should have at the time.
That incident served as a further catalyst in allowing me to tie so many disparate strands together. I made some notes, did some thinking and some writing, and then emailed her an explanation/apology. I also did quite a bit of crying, cursing, and screaming, mostly directed at my government and my nation that abides and institutionalizes these various forms of racism and classism. Of course, we also talked about it later. As far as she was concerned, I hadn’t needed to apologize, but I’m glad I did.
Shortly before this incident, the Normal Police Department put in a new police sub-station right across from the apartment buildings where my ex and daughter had lived. This was the 1st sub-station in Normal and it was needed because of all the scum who lived in the neighborhood. That was the reasoning anyway. Lots of drug use, alcohol incidents, some vandalism, some spouse and probably child abuse, and so on.
Well, the new police sub-station opened to great fanfare just a few weeks before the end of the spring semester. It was open all night and most of the day for a couple of weeks. There were lots of roadblocks, lots of sweeps through apartment complexes, and large numbers of arrests for minor violations. But then something happened. Most of the students left for the summer. And guess what? The police sub-station was rarely open, even during the long Memorial Day weekend.
Summer remained rather quiet with the same sort of police presence as pre-sub-station levels. Once the students came back (overwhelmingly, white students) the sub-station reopened regularly. Hmmm…. Says something about racism and classism to me considering the "justification" for putting in the police sub-station in the first place.
And yes, I drew a distinct connection between living in military enlisted quarters and my neighborhood then. And I certainly stand by it today. The environments are highly similar. "Lots of alcohol & minor drug violations – people cope in lots of
ways & lots of domestic stuff; some of this stuff needs to be
stopped & maybe punished, but much of it is just inserting a calmer
presence before things get out of hand. " In one the truth is seriously spun and is used to scare the citizens, while in the other the truth is hidden and kept from the citizenry because "heroes" wouldn’t engage in those sorts of behaviors even if their existential conditions are highly similar.
Just as much of the ethnic non-white in this country needs to be locked away (not my view, but society’s), that is, they are fully expendable, so are the military; they just serve a more useful purpose, for a time. Take a look at recruitment efforts in poor areas, particularly ethnic areas, since the start of this war. The All-Volunteer Force is (again) no longer representative of this country. Only it has gone to the other extreme ethnically. The poor and downtrodden are always represented. Integration of the military, once held up as the epitome of an instituion overcoming its racism, has only served to further enslave the poor and ethnic of this country.
I’d like to suggest you see the part of my paper (3 paragraphs) on The Pursuit of Power regarding McNeill’s population thesis that begins "The second of McNeill’s primary theses is that population growth has
repeatedly placed great pressures on social, economic, and political
institutions around the globe and across the ages." McNeill’s thesis primarily deals with population growth but also touches on demographic changes. I would extend his thesis more along the demographic change axis in the late 20th/early 21st century. We can either jail them all or send them off to die.
There is another point, which I didn’t bring out as well as I’d have liked to at the time. Don’t think the military are expendable? Certainly I can’t be as crass to suggest that they’d be sacrificed in combat for asinine and illegal purposes. Let’s pretend I’m not that crass; what about the sad state of affairs regarding vehicular and personal body armor (still!) faced by our troops? What about the hundreds of $$ worth of supplies (and hundreds more in postage) that family members of early deployed troops had to send to their loved ones? Many of these items were basic personal hygiene items not supplied by the military (as they are supposed to be).
More importantly, since combat troops need to be kept reasonably well supplied and healthy to complete their missions, what about those who return? Do you have any idea about the state of the VA in this country? Do you have any idea what percentage of homeless persons are veterans and their families? Do you have any idea how many of them are suffering in the depths of their minds and their souls for the things they experienced? How many more Doug Barber’s are there going to be?
What about military retirees? In many ways, we are just as expendable. There was a national election a year after I retired and my son who had just entered the Army told me I needed to vote for the party that would most support the military. I told him I did not need to do any such thing as I no longer mattered to them, until, if and when, they needed to call me back to serve seeing as they "own" me for many more years. I had voted that way for far too long, and I didn’t like what I saw happened to my country in the meantime. I decided my vote was far more important in the arena of Supreme Court Justices, and related issues. I was so very right on both counts; and I and my country got done so very wrong on both.
I was also very dichotomized over living in my neighborhood. Although I didn’t think it was so bad and I bristled at others’ view of it, I certainly would have much preferred that my ex and daughter did not have to live in a subsidized housing area. I wished that I lived somewhere "better." But my ‘better’ had to do with living in my own house, not in someone else’s apartment, with having a yard of my own. In other words, I wanted some little part of the great lie, the American Dream. While I was busy defending the area I also wanted to live somewhere else.
There is a lot more involved in all this, but then it amounts to a least one dissertation, if not several.