Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Katrina”

Remembering Blair Peach

I was fifteen years old when he died. I don’t think I had even met him, but I might have. We had participated in the same demonstrations. We had shared the same political agenda. Yet I took his death hard and it left its mark on me to this day.

Blair Peach and many other Englishmen and women were demonstrating against the unthinkable. Not even four decades had passed before Hitler’s Nazi army were massing on the Normandy shores to invade Britain, not forty years since six million of my people, a third of all the Jews on earth, had been murdered in the Holocaust.

And now the British National Party (might have still been called the National Front) was making alarming gains in local elections. As they marched through immigrant neighborhoods, many of us swelled the ranks of the Anti-Nazi League.

I had been brought up to trust the police. “If you get lost,” my mother drilled into me, “find a policeman. He’ll help you.” The neighborhood bobby was still a British value.

And yet, as I stood in the demonstration, preventing the Nazis from marching, the police charged us. I will never forget the one who punched me in the face. I had learned early to duck and weave. My school wasn’t in the nicest neighborhood and I was Jewish, with friends who were black, Asian and Irish. I just never expected a policeman to pop one at me without cause and then look on with no apology. To this day, I fear the uniform.

But Blair Peach, a man who had dedicated himself to teaching kids in a public school for children with special needs was not so lucky.  On April 2nd, 1979, he was pulled from the demonstration by members of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Patrol Group, and beaten unconscious. He  never woke and died 24 hours later. The  next day, over 10,000 of us took to the streets. Disband the SPG (Special Patrol Group) became our mantra. A huge cover up ensued. SPG members shaved their hair, mustaches and every uniform was laundered the next day before any evidence could be found. Many SPG officers, however, were members of the Nazi Party and used unauthorized weapons such as baseball bats, crowbars, and sledgehammers. No apology was ever given, no one brought to trial for police brutality.


I share this as the police patrol the streets of Cairo. I vividly remember an US army officer, flown in to take charge of the army in New Orleans after Katrina, yelling at his troops to put their weapons down. “We don’t turn them on our own citizens,” he barked.

A police officer, a soldier, like any one else has the right to defend him/herself when their safety is threatened. There is no other justification to use violence on anybody.

Blair Peach should be thinking of retirement right now, at the end of a distinguished career, giving four decades of himself to his students. They were denied him, his family were denied him and the police brutality that killed him is still being denied.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com

 

No Natural Disaster

If you enter the search words: Hurricane Katrina + a natural disaster, you will assume from the first few sites that New Orleans suffered from a terrible natural catastrophe in the last days of August and beginning of September 2005. A mighty hurricane, an act of God, man-made defenses could not stand up to the forces of nature… It is perhaps understandable that people thought that then.

Here’s a word of advice. Don’t say that near anyone from New Orleans. In fact, after hearing their stories, after seeing the levees and the surrounding area, I don’t believe it either.

The levees were designed to withstand a hurricane the strength of Katrina, but they were not built the way they were designed. The bottom line is that the negligence in the construction of the walls was the reason why the city was devastated.

It’s like referring to the oil spill as a natural disaster. Wait, they did. The one article that stands out in the first ten on my google search is John McQuaid, who actually focuses in this post on whether we allow those culpable to subtly hide their shortcomings by blaming nature or God.

“Today, though, there’s a big problem: we can’t tell any longer where nature leaves off. Start with global warming and work your way down. Mankind is now causing what used to be called “natural disasters.” The Gulf oil spill is not a natural disaster in the traditional sense: nature didn’t cause it. But it is a natural disaster in that it’s disastrous to nature.

Or take the oft-litigated (in the courts and the media) case of Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans levee system. I’ll repeat this here, for clarity: most of the devastating flooding of New Orleans occurred because faultyflood walls collapsed because of errors in their designs approved by the Army Corps of Engineers – i.e., the U.S. government. Natural disaster? Not really, though obviously nature had a hand in it. John Goodman’s character Creighton Bernette articulates this eloquently in the first episode of Treme.”

If we are failing to make the distinction between natural and man-made disasters because we are becoming numb to the series of catastrophes that seem to hit us, then this will become an increasing problem. If those who are taking the unnecessary risks, cutting the safety protocol corners to save money, are able to yield the nature/God car without impunity, that is darn right dangerous.

And unforgivable. Strong words? Ask the residents of the Gulf Coast. They’ve been hit twice in five years and, as people with a strong connection with the land, and many being God-fearing folk, they are not fooled by such doublespeak. They are just astounded that the rest of us are.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

California Dreaming.

I’m here in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Every year a student asks: “Why would the residents return home under the threat that the Katrina episode could get repeated.

Last year, one of the staff (from the East Coast) responded by asking how can we live in San Francisco under threat of an earthquake. Fair point. But now we have more to worry about.

Superstorm predicted in California.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

New Interview!

Thanks to Katina Williams from Attribute Magazine. The interview can be found at the Attribute website:

Book Review: Oilspill dotcom <http://www.attributemagazine.com/index/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=240:book-review-oilspill-dotcom&catid=35:literature&Itemid=268>

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