Thursday, April 20, 2006

For the City

In my city of employ---which I call "The Little City That Couldn't"---drugs, political corruption, cronyism, gangs, prostitution, and illegality rule the day in many branches of city culture and life. The housing commission, city hall, they're all crawling with organized crime. Multiple social service agencies scramble for the measly dollars available to keep services afloat, house and feed some of the many homeless, care for the mentally ill, and deal with the soaring rates of HIV and drug addiction. It's a picture of bleak 21st century urban Amerika at its worst, and getting no better. The boards over the large windows behind my desk tell the continuing story of the damage done to property of agencies striving to improve the lives of the city's poorest and most disenfranchised inhabitants. Shattered windows still greet us regularly, and the owners of the building will not allow us to install bullet-proof glass. Thus, we have replaced more than half a dozen large windows in the last six months, a cost born by our already truncated budget.

Today, returning to work after one sick day and another day at a conference, I was informed that the director of a central social service agency in our portion of the city was shot while sitting in her car in front of her office, talking to a coworker at the end of the day. At 5pm, broad daylight, a Tuesday afternoon in the slowly heating city, the spring weather giving a taste of the simmer that settles on the city in the warmer months of summer. Caught in the crossfire of a gang-related shooting, the bullet lodged in her shoulder and did not penetrate past the muscle and sinew, sparing her vital internal organs, the heart and lungs. I hear she's doing OK, and will return to work soon.

My coworker who told me of the incident also reminded me of something I had blocked out: her partner, who used to work for us, was also caught in the crossfire two years ago, a bullet shattering her rear windshield. "They never found the bullet," she said. "It must still be lodged in my car somewhere."

Occupational hazards abound in any line of work. Miners, factory workers, surgeons, janitors, garbage collectors---there are many hidden dangers. We all just hope it won't happen, whether to us, someone we know and love, or someone we don't even know. Senseless violence and killing permeate the world we live in, and it seems to not even stop at some of our doorsteps. I count my blessings as I sit in my quiet, suburban/semi-rural home, safe from the dangers of the city. It's a strange dichotomy, this reality at home and that reality at work. It isn't a cookie-cutter world, and the knowledge of flying bullets so "close to home", so to speak, is enough to give one pause on even the most beautiful of spring days. Is it worth it? Can we all be frightened away? Perhaps some of us, but the struggle for the heart of our society is on, and it is often in the cities where that struggle is most actively engaged.

"It's just enough, just enough, for the city." (with a grateful nod to Mr. Wonder)
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