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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Skid Row Shooting: Walk the Talk

Sometimes you just need to tell a story out. It may not be worth it, it may offend other people, but you need to speak up nonetheless. This, the shooting in Skid Row, is one of those moments.

I have lived in LA for roughly about 6 months. It is not at all like they depicted in movies and TV show. Apart from its swanky downtown areas and high-end neighborhood like Beverly Hills, LA (to some people) is dirty, unkempt, horrific. Visit Westlake Theatre on a weekend for instance, and you will see a lot of people selling things on the sidewalk, with a ragtag collection of merchandise that made you strongly suspect that the items are stolen items. Or Pershing square with all the homeless people. Even Angel's Flight's garden are hidden behind a fence, since there are too many homeless people take shelter there. But nothing, nothing compare to the horror that is known as Skid Row.

The bus that I took for work took me through Skid Row, and every working day I see the squalor living condition which serves as a constant reminder of me how bad life can be. Then I will look inside of my bus, and be reminded how bad people can be. Skid Row is not a nice place to be. People of Skid Row are not exactly perfect as well. There are almost always verbal altercation, some kind of drama with the people in the bus. One evening a black man taunted and insult a white woman who choose to stand in the middle of the bus. He yelled, "Are you afraid of the blackie? Do you think the blackie will hurt you? White people scared for nothing!". I lived in Jakarta for 25 years, a city much bigger and (probably) more ruthless than Los Angeles, and one of my survival rule is to stay close to the exit. Maybe the white woman think the same way too. Maybe her stop is not that far ahead. Yet somehow the black man choose to taunt her for her race. Then there was a black woman that decided to get offended when a Mexican man pushed her as he tried to walk to take a seat in the back of the bus. She's calling him out and yelled that he has no manner when she herself made the whole bus uncomfortable with her yelling and screaming. Of course, another black man chipped in and defended her, telling her that the Hispanic is impolite and un-American, whatever that means. It was one of the worst bus drive I ever took. 

Does the racism surprised you? It shouldn't be. When you are white and clean (have money) in LA, be sure to get ready for constant stream of harassment and mockery. My white husband get asked for money more times than me, a brown skinned Asian. But then again, I get offered fake IDs more times than he does. It is stereotyping at its best: white people have money and brown people need fake ID. What's not stereotyping is the hard cold fact that people who asked for money is predominantly African American, which speaks a lot because we live in Westlake where the residents are predominantly immigrants. Or that the actual racist slur and show of hatred are done only by the African-American, usually towards the Mexican. The whiteys on the bus or on the street, knowing that they are fish out of water, are usually more subdued and quiet. Except for the crackheads. The one time we had a danger of bodily assault was by an African American, in a broad daylight.

Was I being racist? Not at all. Let's forget that the perpetrators are African American. Choose a race, any kind of race. Make it a random one. Now think, what would you do if at least 5 people ask you for money every single day, every time you walk in the city? Some are menacing, some are pleading, but they all just took the money you gave them and left as if they actually deserve your money. That it is your job to share your wealth with them. What would you think if it happened after a long day at work and you are worried whether you can pay your rent this month or not, while the people who asked you for money smelled of weed and liquor and you know that they will just use your money to buy more drugs and booze because they don't have the responsibility like you do? Would you feel good about being nervous when driving in a certain part of the town or took a certain bus route because you are not welcome there due to your skin color? As a person that is legally here in US, with absolutely no connection of whatsoever with African-American history or any part of the illegal immigrants conundrums, it is absurd and infuriating that I have to worry about my safety just because I look Mexican.

The commentators in all the articles about Skid Row shooting basically screamed the same thing:
a) It's Obama's fault
b) It's Democrat's fault
c) Police should use less violence
d) Mental health system needs to be fix
e) It's the illegal immigrants' (read: Mexican) fault

They are such adorable ideals, aren't they? It doesn't matter that Skid Row has been there for decades (eliminating A and E), or that I don't think I have ever read about Beyonce or Kanye or other notable African-American celebrities trying to help their bros and sis in Skid Row (adding the list of who's to blame on B), or that gun drugs and liquors are rampant in US and all of these increased the risk of violence that the police has to deal with (to fix C), or that there is not a single country in this world that has a perfect health care system (eliminating D). Anyone who pictured the (mentally ill) people in Skid Row as angelic poor misguided souls that need help most likely have never had any bad incidents with them or even walked in Skid Row before. One time I helped with free lunch there, and it saddened me that even though it is free and nutritious, some of the people that came still throw away some of their food to the trash can. I mean, seriously? It is free. You can share it with other people even if you don't like the taste. I never volunteered at that place again.

To me, D and E are the most noble and ideal ideas, and therefore, a mere rhetoric that one would easily spout from the safety of his/her computer in his/her cozy home. How about eliminating the two cause of violence and mental illness: gun and liquor? Only a number of policeman in Indonesia carry guns because almost all Indonesian doesn't have guns. Consequently, in US even the slightest gun threats is considered as 'dangerous'. One time we called 911 because we saw a kid in our apartment complex brandishing a gun. We explained that it is probably a toy gun, but still there were 3 police cars and two helicopters coming in, even though our apartment complex was located in an extremely safe and peaceful part of the town. Everyone have guns in US, it makes the police officers jumpy and rightly scared for their life. Will you ask your soldier to go to Iraq without guns and other means to protect themselves? Will you boo them if they have to take action necessary to disarmed threats and protect themselves? If no, then why do you complained and cuss the police officers here who were trying to protect themselves? 

That goes the same for liquor. Indonesia has liquor, but drinking till drunk is considered as a fatal flaw in the character, not a way to have fun. When I was 13 my dad went into mid-life crisis and drank beers every night, the equivalent of a mere 2-3 cans of beer. But I hate it so much that I walked to him, knowing fully well that I could get harmed, and told him that I don't want to see him drink beer anymore because he looked weak. My dad stopped. Here in US drinking is equivalent with good time and fun time and coolness. Guess what, the easiness of access to get your 'happy drink' also means the easiness of access for these people who actually need to be sober enough to pick up themselves from the abyss that they are in. In Indonesia, liquors are also more expensive than regular meal. A can of a local beer could get you a decent home-cooked meal with meat carbs and veggies. So if you raise the price, the homeless people everywhere could be 'assisted' and well on their way to sobriety. Isn't that great?

Suddenly everything sounded so uninteresting, huh? The homeless need to be helped, but not on our account. Not by limiting gun and alcohol. Let the police magically use less violence even if it means risking themselves in their home country (even though we applaud the use of violence in someone else's country). Let the government fix the mental health system even though if the mentally ill can easily tempted to self-medicate themselves with alcohol. Let's blame all to the rhetoric that can never be achieved, because taking it on ourselves is too much for us to bear. Let's cuss the police while we are busy taking a video to be uploaded in Facebook and YouTube instead of trying to help the person 'abused' by the police. I mean, 6000 people in Skid Row can't possibly fight against 6 armed police officers right? After that, let's march to protest it and be sure to hit the swanky street to gain attention, instead of acknowledging that Skid Row is a problem that needs to be fixed or help those people to stop living like that for their own good. Let's do that. We are, after all, (not) our brothers' (and sisters') keeper.

Oh, by the way, if you think I am racist I am actually not. I can't be. I have only been here in US for about 2 years and have absolutely no contact with an African-America before. Before moving to LA, my only contact with African American were with my husband's ex-wife and ex-girlfriend, both who are professionals in their fields and are pretty impressive. The negative perception towards the African-American that I see in Skid Row and LA is a direct result to how they act towards me. Sure, there are cool African-American. Will I be scared of an African-American if he/she dressed nicely or at least talked politely and smile at me? Absolutely not. I have met several cool ones and I am not at the very least afraid of them. They are human. And yes, I will also be scared of a Mexican or a whitey or a Chinese/Asian if they look menacing and obviously dislike me for my skin color/appearance. When I feel threatened, I am not threatened by skin color, but by appearance and attitude. Those who preached about not associating blacks with criminals should also do their hardest to make sure that the blacks are not associated with criminality and avoid the thug life so to speak. This advice comes from a person born and raised in a country where a lot of the citizen doesn't even have clean water and electricity, let alone a chance to study/better themselves or even basic health care, and being treated as second class citizens by foreigners/tourists that visit the country. Any complains?

These articles below is what I am talking about. I respect this man, and I wish there are more like him in the society.
HONY - Why I didn't go to jail
HONY - Why my son (hopefully) won't go to jail

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