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corrosive breath is wafting into the ghettos and barrios, threatening
to stupefy every mind in its path. So deeply poisoned has the post-September
11 American political atmosphere become, that a perfectly sensible
public safety program for the poorer population must be packaged as
a cloak and dagger mission in service of the national security state.
In a world of
Us-or-Them, every human and social need is held hostage to the White
House War on Terror. To justify a modest effort to protect the poor
against chemical or biological attack, the Community Action Partnership
of Washington, DC found it necessary to generate headlines like this
one in the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger:
war on terrorism urged
Terrorists likely to be from poor areas, poverty fighter says
fighter" is Derrick Span, an intense and articulate young man,
recently named the first Black executive director of Community Action
Partnership (CAP). Through its more than 1,000 affiliated local community
action agencies, CAP offers home weatherization, Head Start, consumer
education and other programs to more than 10 million low-income people
a year. However, this has been a year like no other. Anti-terrorism
tops the political menu and, as Span tells the press, "We need
to align ourselves with significant causes of the day."
The premise of
CAP's Community Land Security program is eminently democratic: the
poor are as entitled as the rich to be safe from devices of mass destruction.
Tens of thousands could die in a Bhopal, India-scale disaster triggered
by political malice, for example. Poor folks can't afford protective
cocoons or helicopter escape, and are not included in the Federal
Emergency Management Agency's plans to safeguard 5,000 corporations
deemed "vital" to the survival of American society.
The Black Commentator
agrees with the CAP program statement:
with that, we thought; a worthy project. However, CAP had decided
that, to "align" itself with the "significant causes
of the day" it would be necessary to distort urban American realities.
Evidently, the simple idea of providing a measure of safety to the
poor is not considered compelling enough to set money in motion. The
project must be wrapped in cloak and dagger fantasies.
recruiters often prey on people in need," says the CAP literature.
"Low-income people and communities who are more vulnerable to
these recruiters will receive guidance on identifying and reporting
Land Security program would train local people "to alert the
proper authorities when suspicious activity is observed.
The CAP literature
beckons to those who believe that foreign-directed terrorists swim
in an urban American "sea of the people," as the old saying
goes. The Community Action Partnership suggests that it can break
the wall of silence that protects the evildoers. "Low-income
residents have historically viewed [community action agencies] as
organizations that can be trusted," says CAP. "CAA staff,
many of whom come from the low-income communities they serve, intuitively
build relationships of trust with their program participants."
As if in some
1940s film noir, Span and his staff are telling the feds that the
poor will rat out the terrorists and "recruiters" - but
only to the "trusted" operatives of the community action
agencies, under the CAP umbrella. The conspiratorial tone would be
laughable, if the backdrop were not so serious.
Span was quoted by The Sun Herald newspaper in Biloxi, Mississippi,
as stating, "People in low-income communities are... more likely
to have terrorists residing in their neighborhoods."
The Clarion Ledger
also covered Span's barnstorming through the Magnolia State, where
he painted a picture of international terrorist intrigue in ghetto
hideaways. "They're not hiding out in Beverly Hills," he
said. "They're more likely to be in the poorer communities where
they won't be noticed."
Span seems to
believe that grotesque contortions of mission and distortions of truth
are necessary to get a grant. The CAP sales pitch is based on false
and unnecessary premises: that foreign-directed terrorists tend to
live among the poor, and that American poor people are being actively
recruited into bin Ladin-type cells. In the current climate, these
are dangerous falsehoods, inviting infiltration and abuse of Black
and brown communities.
the CAP literature and his own, quoted words, Span backtracks. "I
do not believe that terrorists reside in poor communities," he
assured The Black Commentator. He disavowed CAP statements on the
presence of terrorist "recruiters" among the poor. "We
don't know of any evidence that that is the case. That statement does
not suggest that there is evidence of terrorist recruitment in the
But of course
it does. And who will provide "guidance on identifying and reporting
terrorist recruiters?" That will be "exclusively tailored
to the communities," who will construct the training programs
"as they see fit," Span told us. In other words, CAP won't
be bringing in the FBI or the CIA or any other "experts"
on terrorism. "I don't think they will have that kind of training,"
What he is really
talking about is local cops holding get-to-know-us meetings with neighborhood
people under local community action agency guidance. So why doesn't
CAP tell the straight story? Because that would not sufficiently align
the project with the "significant causes of the day," such
as political surveillance, internal security hoopla, watch-your-neighbor
paranoia, and fear of strangers with strange ways - the kinds of projects
George Bush wants to pay for.
Derrick Span doesn't
really believe in any of that stuff - that's what's so insane about
this story and the political environment that created it. Shorn of
the bizarre packaging, the Community Land Security program is a modest
but worthwhile project, estimated to cost about $50,000 per locality.
It requires only four elements: Each community would have an evacuation
plan; a central command post, where a computer would send and receive
safety information from law enforcement, homeland security officials,
etc.; a two-way radio to aid in evacuation; and a cadre of volunteers
for the elderly and others who don't understand the homeland security
officials' emergency color-codes.
We want Span to
get the money for the Community Land Security proposal, lots of it.
There is nothing threatening about the program except Span's marketing
strategy. With each day, George Bush draws a tighter circle of hate
around the United States, and it becomes more likely that some of
Them will strike in ways that kill masses of Us. If there is shelter,
we should all know the way. A computer and two-way radio might help.