January 21, 2007

My Head Is In the Sand--Don't Bring Any of Those Damned Emus Around Here!

Two stories in our bicoastal press raise questions about race.

A story in The Whale reports that black and Latino gangs are targeting each other's people, and in fact, some Latino gang activity appears designed to drive blacks out of certain neighborhoods.
The headlines are among the most stark documenting gang violence. A Latino gang member, without saying a word, guns down a 14-year-old black girl standing on a sidewalk. A black gang member shoots a Latino toddler point-blank in the chest.

For the most part, though, the role racial animosity has played in gang crime has gone unexamined, largely undocumented in crime statistics and often tamped down by politicians and law enforcement officials anxious about inflaming tensions.

That changed this month when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Chief William J. Bratton and L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca all spoke with unusual candor of their concern that an increasing number of gang crimes appear to be born out of racial hatred. In a few instances, the Los Angeles Police Department has identified Latino gangs they say are indiscriminately targeting African American residents in what appear to be campaigns to drive blacks from some neighborhoods.

The acknowledgment by top officials, some activists say, has been a long time coming.
Meanwhile, The Gray Lady views with metropolitan contempt the hostile reaction of Clarkston, Georgia to the decision of faraway outsiders, apparently taken without any consultation with the people of Clarkston, once a town of 7,100, to inundate the place with refugees from all over the world.

Clarkston High School now has students from more than 50 countries. The local mosque draws more than 800 to Friday prayers. There is a Hindu temple, and there are congregations of Vietnamese, Sudanese and Liberian Christians.

At the shopping center, American stores have been displaced by Vietnamese, Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants and a halal butcher. The only hamburger joint in town, City Burger, is run by an Iraqi.
These changes don't make the former residents happy, an unhappiness that extends even to kids' sports.

“There will be nothing but baseball and football down there as long as I am mayor,” Lee Swaney, a retired owner of a heating and air-conditioning business, told the local paper. “Those fields weren’t made for soccer.”

In Clarkston, soccer means something different than in most places. As many as half the residents are refugees from war-torn countries around the world. Placed by resettlement agencies in a once mostly white town, they receive 90 days of assistance from the government and then are left to fend for themselves. Soccer is their game.

But to many longtime residents, soccer is a sign of unwanted change, as unfamiliar and threatening as the hijabs worn by the Muslim women in town. It’s not football. It’s not baseball. The fields weren’t made for it. Mayor Swaney even has a name for the sort of folks who play the game: the soccer people.

The Times writer, Warren St. John, presents some of the facts, but it's clear she regards the Clarkstonites as racist rubes. He writes of the refugee children soccer team, the "Fugees,"
Their story is about children with miserable pasts trying to make good with strangers in a very different and sometimes hostile place. But as a season with the youngest of the three teams revealed, it is also a story about the challenges facing resettled refugees in this country. More than 900,000 have been admitted to the United States since 1993, and their presence seems to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others.

The Fugees’ coach exemplifies the best. A woman volunteering in a league where all the other coaches are men, some of them paid former professionals from Europe, she spends as much time helping her players’ families make new lives here as coaching soccer.

At the other extreme are some town residents, opposing players and even the parents of those players, at their worst hurling racial epithets and making it clear they resent the mostly African team. In a region where passions run high on the subject of illegal immigration, many are unaware or unconcerned that, as refugees, the Fugees are here legally.
Let's leave aside Mr. St. James's deviation from the repertorial pretense of objectivity, and get to the facts. Here was a quiet town, living in its accustomed way, when a bunch of outside do-gooders decided their town would be a good place to resettle not just a few, but a flood of refugees from all over the place. Were these folks consulted? Did the do-gooders assume that Clarkston's capacity for cultural mobility in their own little town was unlimited? Would the do-gooders want this proportion of refugees, legal or illegal, in their own communities in just a few short years?

Perhaps the virtuous thing to do would have been for them all simply to welcome the newcomers. No doubt Latino and black gangs-bangers in Los Angeles should be hanging drywall and going to church. People's attachment to their own kind, however, is old news.

Do-gooders and Bushies must know this; even the Wall Street Journal must know this: Too much "diversity," too much rapid social and cultural change, a sense of being driven out of one's own home town by forces unleashed, or at least uncontrolled, by powerful outsiders, and people feel threatened and become angry.

If we get control of the border, and turn down the spigot of refugees (in part by refraining from contributing to the roiling of places like Somalia for a change), perhaps with our history of absorbing immigrants and granting equality before the law to all, we can mitigate the problems we now have and avoid further train wrecks.

What seems unutterably foolish is to put our heads in the proverbial sand and do nothing. Besides, we have to keep our eyes peeled in case those damned emus try to horn in on our territory!

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