Sunday, March 22, 2009

Living in Oakland, or Blood on the Streets

One of the things I tell my journalism students is that if they show the initiative and energy to unearth a story about a problem they must also push through all the delicious detail of inequity and injustice to find those who can at least imagine solutions to the problem.

I don't want only hopeless wailing.

Yesterday three Oakland cops were killed, and one is now apparently dead-in-life, as the result of a confrontation with a heavily armed parolee not that far -- about two blocks, I reckon -- from a crossroads on the route we take when we drive down to A's games.

If my kids were on the story, what possible solutions, what *reasonable* solutions, would they uncover? For always there must be good judgment in choosing among suggested solutions. The news does not write itself.

More Jesus? More centers to promote Zen meditation? Certainly more money for schools -- as if just the opposite weren't happening. Certainly more and better gun control -- as if the Democrats hadn't given up on that one for the very practical reason that it's a loser, and -- as the Bush years have shown us -- losing "for the right reason" does not result in a just universe giving you virtue points that protect the world you live in from the depredations of the depraved winners.

Politics is the art of the possible. What do we learn about the "possible" after a bloodbath like this? I don't know. I do, however, believe one should try to do something. One should listen to suggestions from those who study the problem as well as to those who are immersed in it, to the pragmatists who triangulate, to the meliorists who know it's always half a loaf, half a loaf forward.

(Charge of the Light Brigade. Only the fossils will get the reference. It seems to be a warning against rash action.)

The last several years, we haven't been going to community meetings down at the Baptist Church on Lakeshore Avenue. That would be a good idea, I think.

There's that stanza from Eliot's "Prufrock":

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use, 115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

Well, you know, there are two ways to read this. You can conclude it's an exercise in self-mockery verging on self-loathing. But you can also choose to think: Better to be up there on the stage in a bit part, paying attention to what others are saying and getting ready for your single word, your nod of agreement, than just lounging in the audience, cultivating a set of fine feelings.


Peter Moore said...

I know that I do not what to be someone pulled over by Oakland cops for the next little while.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

My thoughts exactly. BART killing plus this. Boom.