Friday, April 20, 2018

He Shot a Hobo in the Back

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

As if being homeless isn’t bad enough, those of us that end up living in the streets due to market failures and/or mental illness in a society that pays no serious attention to mental illness other than filling the jails with its victims, is repeated attacks and abuse from the general public that often result in death.

At one point in time about one third of the homeless were Vietnam Veterans, working class people that survived a devastating war perhaps with physical damage but certainly with severe emotional trauma.  The Hollywood propaganda wars of John Wayne, Silvester Stillone and others are simply nationalistic garbage. Neither of these two characters faced what so many ordinary young workers have. They are despicable individuals, an insult to those who actually experienced the true horror of war.
Homeless camp Oakland CA. Source East Bay Times

In the years I have lived in the East San Francisco Bay Area, I have seen homelessness mushroom. There are entire tent cities now all over the place; under freeways, in wooded areas, or out in the open along sidewalks. I worked in the streets of Oakland and the surrounding area for 30 years so I know this is the case.

The highly censored mainstream media doesn’t delve too deeply in to this subject, after all, if the homeless had made better choices they wouldn’t be homeless. We all know that if you work hard in America, you will succeed; if you’re poor, it’s your own damn fault.

The US is the worst of the advanced capitalist economies to be poor in. Last year homelessness was on the rise again, particularly on the West Coast, perhaps because of our weather. Gentrification, housing costs and rents are another driver of homelessness. A two bedroom apartment in my small town can cost $2500 a month, when one considers that to get in to a place one needs to fork over a first and last month and a deposit, getting in to a basic place could cost $6000. Beyond the most desperate, there are many people that sleep in their cars and still keep a low waged job not earning enough to get in to a regular place. The working poor are perhaps the most numerous as without a car, having a dismal transportation system can make it hard getting to work and at least a car can function as a makeshift home as well.

Those living on the streets are the most vulnerable and fall prey to racists, masochists and other types of sociopathic elements. Homelessness is in a crisis situation for Native Americans and they are among the most vulnerable to attack. Just writing these words presents me with a bizarre thought in that those whose land this was, who roamed free on it for the most part, suffer the most and are often homeless, separated from decent housing and the land. The genocidal wars, driving them from their lands and herding them in to camps has had catastrophic consequences for the Native people.

Last month, in Albuquerque New Mexico, two teenage boys shot and killed a 50-year old homeless Native American man. According to reports, he was shot a dozen times, four times in the back as well as in the forehead and temple. The suspects, one 15 the other 17, apparently shot the man “for fun” according to the police and the 15 year old boasted to a friend at a party he attended after the murder, that he shot a “hobo in the back” They even returned to the scene of the crime and saw that their victim Ronnie Ross, was still alive, so the older kid pumped four more bullets in to him to finish the job.

As a handful of Americans continue to accumulate massive wealth in to the billions, coupon clippers basically, and we fork over close to $800 billion a year in order to defend US corporations’ profits abroad, living standards and basic social services decline and homelessness continues to grow.

Native Americans are about 4 percent of Albuquerque’s population but 44% of people living in the streets and some 75% of them have been physically assaulted according to a 2014 survey. Ross’ brutal murder occurred three months after the body of Audra Willis was found east of the city---Willis had been decapitated. Back in 2014, two other Native men were beaten to death with cinder blocks at a homeless encampment by three teenagers.

There’s no doubt that there is a mindset that homeless people are less than human, and therefore fair game, but in my mind it is inconceivable that racist motivations are present as well in most cases. As the Guardian pointed out last year, “….out of frame and ignored, a Brooklyn-sized housing crisis has languished in the 617 American Indian and Alaska Native tribal areas and 526 surrounding counties where 2.5 million of this land’s first peoples live. There, Native men, women and children occupy the most severely overcrowded and rundown homes in the United States.”

I once spoke to a tribal official at the Pine Ridge Reservation some time ago and she told me that the living conditions when teenage girls, unemployed men, and alcohol are thrown together under one roof, trouble arises in the form of violence and sexual abuse. The same Guardian article points out, The 11,000 members of the Northern Arapaho in Wyoming, for example, share just 230 reservation homes. A staggering 55% are considered homeless because they’re couch surfing. In the Navajo Nation, 18,000 homes or roughly 40% of total Navajo housing stock lack electricity or running water.”

And in 2005, “….a CDC Prevention report found 11.7 percent of deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives were tied to alcohol. Over 60 percent of those who died were younger than 50. In the general population, by comparison, alcohol related deaths were 3.3 percent.” Indian Country Today

Native Americans are not the only homeless people of course, and it’s quite likely that European Americans are the majority as they are most likely the majority of the poor population because there’s more of them. But it’s the overall crisis and percentage of certain marginalized groups that is staggering. After centuries of racism and in the case of the Native people, a genocidal war on them, the savagery of the market economy and crisis of capitalism has taken its toll. It is not necessary to look to Syria or the underdeveloped world to see massive poverty and social crises, we have it right on our doorstep.

A significant aspect of the offensive of capitalism that has such destructive repercussions is the ideological offensive. Outside of lip service paid to the noble Natives, the dominant ideology in society---bourgeois ideology----maintains that the resources are there to change ones condition if only one makes the right decisions. History is but a blip on the radar screen. The institutions of capitalism will never alter this thinking or approach history from a perspective of understanding it fully, laying bare the economic and political forces behind it and are today incapable of rectifying past horrors. The system must not be undermined.

What must it be like for Native people to see that mountain with the “New World’s” new rulers carved in to it, those responsible for the genocide?  It’s similar to black folks having to walk post those statues of racist heroes of the Apartheid South. Amherst in Massachusetts is named after an English colonial aristocrat who responded to one of his colleagues who suggested infecting Native people with Typhoid and referred to them as “Vermine” that, “You will Do well to try to Innoculate [sic] the Indians by means of Blankets, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. I should be very glad your Scheme for Hunting them Down by Dogs could take Effect, but England is at too great a Distance to think of that at present.”

No doubt there would be an outcry at the suggestion Amherst change its name but it would be a small gesture a recognition of wrongs, especially if the demand came from working class people and our organizations.

Things are changing though and the  U.S. is reaching a boiling point as more and more people are being driven in to poverty. Insecurity and the fear of being cast aside is everywhere as social services and basic social needs are eliminated in order to pay for the crisis of capitalism.  Millions of Americans live a life of fear, fear of losing ones shelter, the fear of getting sick and being without adequate health care and being priced out of a decent education or the fear of losing one’s life. What sickness must exist in US capitalist society with all it’s supposed freedom and wealth that 15 year olds murder homeless people, or beat them to death with cinder blocks then boast to their friends about it?

Capitalism makes us sick, destroys our humanity. Here in the belly of the beast, Citizens of the United States currently consume 85 percent of all the antidepressants in the world

Gideon Levy, the Israeli journalist, thanked Trump in a recent speech for lifting the mask off of the faces of those Israeli politicians who for years have pretended that they want peace with the Palestinians, the indigenous people whose land they stole. It is an excellent speech about what it is like to live in Israel and readers can watch it here. And we can say the same thing about Trump here at home. He is the “whip of the counterrevolution” that will force the US working class to recognize that their backs are being pushed against the wall, they have no alternative but to fight.

There have been numerous responses to the outright brutal treatment that marginalized sections of society experience, Black Lives Matter in response to police murders and the conditions in these communities in general as well as obscene incarceration rates. We had a near civil war as Native people at standing rock and their allies fought the corporations and security forces assault on the land. Since Trump we’ve had millions of women marching in the streets, some 4 million in one day by some accounts. We had the science marches, the occupations of airports in response to attacks on immigration and campaigns against polluted water and land.

Coming on the heels of these developments there has been an unprecedented illegal strike wave as teachers, particularly in the southern states, have made it clear they have had enough. Teachers struck in West Virginia, a state where strikes are illegal and they won a 5% increase for themselves and for all other state workers. They did this by overcoming their conservative pro-capitalist leadership who for years have told us that we can’t break the law. Next week, Arizona teachers are going on a statewide strike and these actions continue to spread. 

The affect of these developments cannot be understated as millions of workers will be watching. The conservative trade union hierarchy that has suppressed any movement from below that threatened their relationship with the bosses’ based on cooperation and concessions fear nothing greater than a victory that undermines their worldview.Victories inspire.

We are in anew era that is witnessing the end of the domination of the two capitalist parties over US political life and the likelihood of all sorts of developments arising from this.  The intense anger and hatred of the system and those that run it will rise to the surface as this process unfolds and the numerous isolated and separate struggles against a common enemy come together.  Facts For Working People wants to play a part in helping this movement grow and, more importantly, win.

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