Much of the city I live in was decimated last night. I live in Santa Monica. Businesses I’ve frequented, the Optometrist I went to for many years – all broken into, smashed to bits, looted. A small restaurant several doors down from that Optometrist was set on fire. It’s a family-owned business; now it’s ash and broken glass. I went to sleep to the sound of helicopters and sirens; I woke up to the sound of helicopters and an eerie silence beneath them. Fear lay down with me last night and climbed out of bed with me this morning.

Yesterday afternoon, I went down to a street of shops that are finally starting to re-open after more than a month of being closed due to the pandemic. I was standing outside with my friends who own a small store when the sound of shouting and chants began filling the street. A line of protesters – maybe 200 or so – marched up the street with signs, holding up their arms, chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” We raised our hands too, called out our support, as did everyone else who was out on the street. There was nothing violent in this protest – it was a welcome sight. But just down from where we were standing, some businesses were boarding up their windows. My friend said she didn’t know if she should board up, and then tears filled her eyes. She had only re-opened the day before. A tall black woman dressed in bright yellow went past us on the sidewalk cradling a tiny dog. I told her how cute her dog was and, when she passed, I heard her say, “This street’s gonna burn to the ground tonight.”

I wanted to go after her and ask her how she thought that would help anything. What sense would that make? How was that going to ensure that unarmed black men wouldn’t continue to be killed, often by police? I didn’t say that to her, but I thought about her later, when Santa Monica became a war zone.

I thought about the slow burn of rage and how it grows over time, how it’s handed down through generations, until it becomes an inferno that is immune to reason and logic. We hear all the time how the violence that’s sweeping this country right now isn’t going to bring about change, isn’t going to avenge George Floyd’s death or the long, heartbreaking list of other deaths – citizens of color murdered by white people who too often get away with it. Maybe we’re missing the point. I’m sure it’s true that there are agitators coming in to incite violence because they see advantage in anarchy. But I think that’s too simplistic an explanation.

Rage comes from something underneath – it doesn’t arise from nothing. It comes from hurt, despair, a feeling of helplessness that nothing is ever going to change. It comes from not being heard. It comes from the scars young black men saw on their grandparents and the warnings their parents gave them every time they left the house. It comes from asking, Why can’t things change? And not getting an answer.

My friend’s daughter asked me yesterday if I thought things would change and, if so, how? At first I said, “I don’t know.” But then I told her that if someone would just listen, that might cut through some of the rage. If we had leadership that had the courage to stand in front of the flames and the looting and say, “I hear you. And I’m going to do something about this,” maybe a few people might pause and dare to hope. Why haven’t the other three officers who stood by while George Floyd was being murdered been charged? What if we had a president who addressed us as a nation and said he wanted them charged?

Instead, we have a president who is giving rage exactly what it needs to burn hotter – oxygen. With every incendiary word he says, with every vile angry tweet, he makes sure that more cities will burn and more people will suffer. Just like forest fires create their own winds, this president is standing in the midst of a burning country, creating a windstorm with his rhetoric that, if allowed to continue, will destroy us. The carnage he talked about in his Inaugural address was a warning. It’s one promise he is fulfilling.

2 Responses to CITIES IN RUIN

  1. Deborah Widger says:

    Patti as usual eloquent and on point. I’m in NYC as you know
    I’m horrified watching this. My main career for 50 years is the fashion retail business. My clients are devastated. Now their businesses are rubble.
    Some of them videod the looters from their windows in soho last night and posted to Facebook.
    I’m fearful for the 40m unemployed. This will create more bankrupt stores and brands.
    We can’t change maneuver change when we are bankrupt.
    This President is morally bankrupt.

    I will Probably leave NYC in the Fall after 35 years. I can’t bear the homelessness that will follow and the boarded up stores & neighborhoods which will be dangerous.
    I’m so sad, I feel Like I’m living in a horror movie.
    Stay safe
    Thank you

  2. David Deutsch says:

    Patti, your words moved me to tears. I used to live near the Promenade. As I watched the destruction of my old neighborhood I thought, “This is Trump’s Inferno.” You are right. He owns the carnage. Stay safe, stay well. The world needs you.

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