Good morning, good morning. Here it’s five am, the heater is trying to warm the little office, the quiet is pervasive. I’ve been awake since 3, but only writing since 3.30. A full hour-plus of notebook time feels like a luxury. It is a luxury. I sit with that knowledge.
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Have you seen this week’s SF Weekly? The cover story is about police officers who abuse, molest, rape, and otherwise take advantage of young folks who are participating in the Boy Scouts’ Explorers program. I saw the headline (“Hands-on Experience” (because this story warrants punning for sure) — with a drawing of a cop wearing mirrored shades looking out toward the viewer, his hand on the thigh of a profoundly-uncomfortable young teenage girl wearing in a Boy Scouts’ uniform), felt disgusted with the cover & headline, took the paper anyway. I opened to the story, got through a couple of paragraphs, and then threw the paper down on the seat next to me. Do I really need to read more of this? I asked myself. Then, after a few minutes, I picked the paper back up. What are these kids’ stories? Who’s listening to them? During the long shuttle ride from the UCSF Parnassus campus down to Mission Bay, I did that several times, deciding to give myself a break from this bullshit, and then feeling drawn back to the story, the reporting — yes, yes, like feeling drawn back to looking at a car wreck. What happened there? The language used in the piece made me cringe — a couple of girls described in Lolita-esque tones, asking for it, several situations described vaguely enough that one might come away with the idea that the kids involved were not only consenting participants to the assaults of multiple uniformed police officers, but instigators.
I participated in the Explorer program back in Nebraska, only not with a police department. Instead, I went onto Offut Air Force Base and learned how to program in Ada — we were the Computer Programming Explorers. No ride alongs. No one-on-one time with the men charged with teaching and guiding us. We were always a group on the weekend afternoons when we met (Is that true? I’m remembering other kids in the program, but also remembering working alone with a lieutenant. Anyway, all I learned was Ada, and some of the intricacies of getting permission to come onto an air force base. I remember feeling really privileged, lucky, and nervous. The coding itself was pretty boring, even though I was learning to program in a language named for the first computer programmer, who was a woman, Ada Lovelace.)
After reading this article, I find that the kids in the police Explorer program went off with individual officers, it would appear, for ride-alongs and rape. Not all of them, no. Maybe not the majority. But enough. Enough. And a lot of the officers, at least as reported in this article, got off with warnings — because their departments hadn’t specifically told them, through handbooks or departmental rule books, not to rape or molest or have sex with the young folks they were charged with guiding and teaching about police work (and didn’t they do just that, though?), they couldn’t be expected to know, apparently, that it was wrong. The Explorers programs also got in trouble for not having code or language in their handbooks outlining expectations that police wouldn’t abuse or have sex with the Explorers in their charge — because why would we expect police to know that? They need it in writing. We all know that written departmental codes keep everyone in line. Send a memo next time. That’ll do it.
The Catholic Church. The Boy Scouts. The US Military. Penn State. Syracuse University. Police Departments. This is not even a fraction of the institutions that are systematically abusing/raping people and/or covering up for abusers.
Yesterday, when I left San Francisco, headed for home across the bay, the corners down across from the Ferry Building were all coated, crawling, dotted, smeared, filled with cops, many of them in riot gear. In the middle of the night, early yesterday morning, the SF Police Department had rousted the folks at the OccupySF encampment and driven them out of Justin Herman Plaza. Then the police and the city destroyed all the protesters’ belongings and scrubbed Justin Herman Plaza clean, sanitized away all markings, all signs that anyone had tried to create a new way of living together in that space named for a man who once said, “Without adequate housing for the poor, critics will rightly condemn urban renewal as a land-grab for the rich and a heartless push-out for the poor and nonwhites” — and who also ‘urban renewal’ed people out of their homes and businesses in the Filmore and SOMA.
The first phalanx of cops in riot gear I saw were standing right next to a B of A down at Market and Spear; didn’t this tell me all I needed to know? They were protecting not the people — not the people who need housing and jobs, not the people who need food or healing — but the banks and an empty public park.
They are protecting power, I thought, and not just the power of those over them in their own hierarchy — they’re protecting their own assumptive access to those they have power over, their right to beat, to abuse, to molest, to take to take to take to take. This is what they get, now, after delivering themselves into whatever humiliations they undertook to rise up the ranks in the police force — don’t they get to take some of what was taken from them?
This is the stone cold bedrock we’ve finally hit, all of us, together, finally, isn’t it? This is what liberation means: someone else can’t just take me, my body, my home, my belongings, my life, my labor, my creative work, my energy, without my consent. Period.
I want the Occupy movement to take this on, not replicate the same sexist dynamics. I want to hear what a vision for a world without sexual violence, a world of equal access to resources, a world of safe housing and food for all would look like — because I can’t imagine it. We must be able to envision what we’re moving toward, and I’m sunk in the mire today. This is the aftermath, possibly part of the underlying aim of so many news stories about so much institutionalized sexual violence: we are surrounded; those in power don’t listen to/believe/take action on our stories; we only can heal in the aftermath — we cannot change the culture that perpetuates these violences.
I know that last line isn’t true. I’m just not able to feel my way into the possibility at the moment. It feels enormous, un-entrenching this assumption (that those in power have the right to harm, at any time, those with less power) that seems to be a part of the human dna.
Please help me — it’s selfish to make this request, but I’m also thinking about my little cousin who was just born, any niece or nephew of mine who might come into the world, my friends’ baby girls who have just landed on this planet — all of the babies that have just come into your lives, too: they deserve more than what this society offers them right now. If you’re writing your visions of a new possibility, of a world utterly rid of sexual violence (which would, wouldn’t it, entail being rid of other forms of oppression, by necessity), then that work, that idea, your vision becomes a part of the collective unconscious.
I’ll keep trying, too.
Thanks for the times you write anyway, even when it feels useless. We know, after, that it wasn’t — sometimes after is a long time coming, though.Thanks for your extraordinary vision, the depth of possibility that you hold in your hands.