Friday, March 1, 2013

End of an Era


Forty minutes from the sprawl of Silicon Valley, my town is isolated, like an island, bordered by mountains and ocean. I have met people here who have never been “over the hill” in their entire lives.

I moved outside the city limits in the fall, to an even smaller town with two main roads. It’s quiet, a relief after living amid the growing population of drifters, addicts, and mentally unstable people around my old apartment. The local bumper sticker campaign to keep my city weird is a success. You can check that one off the list.

In my experience, over the last couple decades, the weirdness has mostly been aesthetic. While I was eating lunch at a table outside a deli in the middle of downtown years ago, I noticed an unusual man who once gave me a small box carved out of bamboo and decorated with suns and moons, antler and purple stones, approach a tall man with dreads to discuss the powerful magic of the spring afternoon. I listened, fascinated, by the spiritual tone of their conversation. I’ve forgotten what they said, but I will never forget the deer that came suddenly barreling in through the backdoor of the deli, hooves beating against the wood floor rhythmically until it burst out the front door and streaked by, the tall man declaring, “That’s powerful magic.”

My town’s stereotypical hippie vibe is a draw for people who embody more of the so-called weirdness than the families who have lived here for generations, though I don’t think this is what co-workers meant when describing Jeremy Goulet as weird. Goulet’s weirdness was much darker. Reportedly, he came here a couple months ago for a new start.

I have lived in a city where police behaved inappropriately; my family and friends have experienced police harassment firsthand. That is generally not the case here.  

In my college days, my friend had more alcohol than he could handle one night, coming to in his running car, in an intersection, facing an ocean cliff he was feet away from with a police officer standing over him. He came to my friend’s aid, parking his car and driving him downtown to a payphone. Before the officer drove away and after a lecture about how lucky he was he didn’t end up in the ocean, he handed my friend a quarter to make the call, saying, “Remember, Santa Cruz cops are cool!”

When I was assistant principal at the charter high school, I used to team with the neighboring sheriff’s department. One sheriff was a body builder who went on Oprah to discuss the molestation he experienced as a boy at the hands of a Catholic priest. Another was an ex-NBA player, a father of a teenager himself, who worked with me to scare kids just enough to keep them out of juvi.  He also coached youth basketball.

This is a town where you know faces.  When I worked a downtown job, I became familiar with the bank tellers, shopowners, chefs, parking enforcement officers and florists. I knew a little about their jobs and backgrounds, and over the years, I’ve watched a few of them raise families from a distance. After living here for several years, there seems to be no more than one degree of separation between any two people.

The police officers who were killed in our town were familiar faces. Detective Elizabeth Butler might have been the one to give my daughter’s brownie troop a tour of the police station. Over the years, I’ve noticed her driving by in her police car and talking to homeless people downtown. Sergeant Butch Baker signed a fixit ticket for me a couple years ago. When I approached him, he was patiently talking to a man who seemed half out of his mind - and a big fan of Baker’s. I have driven by police incidents and glimpsed at one or the other officer many times over the years. The aura of these two people always seemed calming, not elevating.

Goulet was one of those new arrivals who like so many others in our town, thought a new location was the answer to his problems. Perhaps he hated police. He must not have been able to see these two people for who they were – kind, hardworking, humble contributors to the community he was drawn to.

In the style of our strangely interconnected town, a popular astrologist with a local column used to live where the police officers were killed, and her daughter now lives next to Butler’s home. Her assessment was this.

To understand it more deeply & as I wrote a friend this morning, violence in our cities will accelerate. It doesn’t have anything to do with guns. It has to do with the changing of the ages = a time when laws no longer hold sway. It is a time of all levels of social breakdown. Societal restraints will no longer be respected. It is a time when each of us must choose where, how and with whom we will live in order to have protection and safety. It will not be in the cities, large or small. Gangs will take over the cities. It has already begun.

I’m not one to spout doom and gloom, but I have to wonder after what I saw around my old apartment, a short walk from where the murders occurred. The growing number of people who seem to be good candidates for social services of some kind, the slashed city budgets, the overcrowded jails, the lack of decent jobs, the high cost of living, and the reputation of our town drawing mentally unstable people flame the instability and chaos. And gangs are certainly in the mix - selling, stealing, threatening, and protecting.

Recently, I was running errands with the kids. We stopped by Whole Foods, across the street from where Goulet lived. As we walked in, a man behind us got close and I turned around, expecting to recognize the person, but instead it was a stranger with a smile and look in his eyes that made me uncomfortable enough to grasp the girls' hands in mine as we walked away. He resembled the pictures I’ve seen of Goulet in the paper. It might seem like a long shot that it was the same person but maybe not in this town.

Our community is wounded. It’s not that murders don’t happen here; they do. But to take away two public servants so brutally and unfairly is the end of an innocent era.

This is not something that gun control laws can fix. A person who is capable of this kind of violence is not concerned with permits. S/he will obtain a gun illegally or use a different weapon. The problem of people who are not connected to their communities in productive ways, who need health services, who need jobs, who need education, cannot be ignored without great cost.
 



 
 







 

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