America the hateful
There’s a lot at stake, what with the ongoing war in Iraq; the saber-rattling of the Bush administration (and the McCain campaign) against Iran; the cynical and systematic shredding of our Constitution; the fact that America is now known and despised as a country which tortures; the open, active and disdainful contempt of our Republican leaders for the law of the land; and now, finally, the sudden, shocking implosion of the economy.
Those of us with open eyes and minds saw all this happening years ago. We warned there was trouble ahead, and we were put down as “unpatriotic” and even “treasonous.” But I’d never have believed that so many of my fellow Americans would embrace hate.
And yet, I saw with my own eyes the result of hatred in the booming bedroom community in which I edited the local newspaper. A young Iranian-American man, born and raised in California, opened a small hair salon in a nice, local strip mall. A year later he was gone, hounded out of business by anonymous individuals who pissed all over the door of his shop, left dripping red, spray-painted hate messages on the plate glass windows, and left threatening, recorded messages on his answering machine. It had happened several times when the owner got in touch with me. And of course he’d reported the attacks to the police.
They responded, took his statements, saw the evidence, commiserated with him, and promised to keep a close eye on his salon in the hopes of catching the vandal(s). But of course, nothing came of it. “Hate-crimes,” I was told by one of the investigating officers, are notoriously difficult to prosecute. They’re hard to define, and it’s easy to accuse others of them. He said it’s tough to catch vandals who do their dirty work under the cover of darkness. And of course, our local police force was woefully overworked and under-staffed, with only three officers in cruisers to cover an area of about 25 square miles every night.
I wanted to write and publish a story about the hateful vandalism the salon’s owner was enduring, figuring that most people in the community had no idea such a thing was happening right there, under their noses. I thought that if they were informed, this sort of thing might be stopped. It was nice, upscale community, growing quickly, attracting many well-to-do young families from Southern California and the Bay Area who’d relocated there because it was less expensive, had such good schools and seemed a quiet, safe place in which to raise their children. I thought that many of them would be as appalled at this sort of crime taking place within their community as I was.
But the salon’s owner wouldn’t let me write the story. He was afraid – and perhaps rightly so – that publicizing what was happening to him would only make it worse. This was going on about 18 months after 9/11, and “hate crimes” against the “other” were becoming more and more common. He said that since looked “foreign,” with dark skin and hair, he was fearful of being further singled out. He expressed his fear and frustration to me, but insisted that it was all “off the record,” hoping that as a member of “the press” I might help him by bringing his plight to the attention of the local police once again.
But when I did, I was told that his was the only business in the area under “alleged” attack. To my surprise and disappointment, my contacts within local police force were unhelpful, even curt.
I talked to his fellow shop owners in the strip mall. Those who’d met him said they liked the salon owner, but they’d never seen anyone “suspicious” hanging around after dark. Most of them closed shop by 6 p.m., though, and their own businesses hadn’t been vandalized. A few of them didn’t know that there was even a problem.
Without statements from the victim or permission to print his name or the name of his salon, and without anything of substance regarding the crime from the police, I reluctantly dropped the story. Not long after that, the salon closed its pee-stained doors and the salon owner left the community. I felt bad about it. Helpless.
And now I read that Sarah Palin has been whipping up the crowds during her campaign appearances, using hate as a weapon against Barack Obama.
Am I surprised? No. Palin has proven herself an unrepentant liar, a closed-minded, rigid fundamental Christianist, and more than a little stupid. The campaign has kept her well away from the press unless the circumstances are tightly controlled, and she’s the only Vice Presidential candidate in memory who hasn’t held a press conference to take unscripted and perhaps uncomfortable questions from reporters. We know very little about her but we’re expected to elect her as the person who’d take John McCain’s place as president if he were to be incapacitated or die in office, both of which are dangerously likely given his age and medical history.
I’m not surprised that unbridled hatred has entered the ugly Republican McCain/Palin campaign, but I’m saddened that my country has come to this dark place. And I’m chilled that my fellow Americans would embrace, with such rage and glee, this naked hatred and fear-mongering, reacting to it with enthusiastic bloodthirstiness and even more hate.
I find myself thinking more and more often of that hapless Iranian-American salon owner. I wish I’d written and published that story.