George Bush's 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:

Joining war on terrorism urged
Terrorists likely to be from poor areas, poverty fighter says

The "poverty 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:

Low-income Americans and the communities in which they live are isolated from the mainstream of society and from the information designed to keep us all safe, but low-income communities are often closest to potential terrorist targets, e.g., power plants and biological and chemical factories. Media reports have documented that persons in low-income communities lack access to information on terrorism, thus putting these households and communities at greater risk. Residents with literacy issues and those who are limited English speakers may have difficulty understanding and following government recommendations....

Community Land Security training will equip Community Action Agencies (CAAs) with the information and skills necessary to organize low-income communities around America's homeland security effort.

Nothing wrong 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.

"Terrorist 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 terrorist recruiters."

The Community 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.

Executive Director 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 hepainted 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.

Confronted with 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 United States."

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," said Span.

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.

Your comments are welcome. Visit the Contact Us page for E-mail or Feedback.



Bookmark and Share




If someone passed along to you make sure you visit the Free Sign Up page.

Don't miss anything!


Other commentaries in this issue:

Cynthia McKinney's Honorable Defeat: The Hard Right's New Black Strategy rolls on

E-MailBox: Randall Kennedy and bad whiskey… McKinney: pain, sorrow and anger… Dr. Onyeani challenged on Zimbabwe… Offer to buy out The Black Commentator

A letter to our readers: Mugabe in the cross-hairs

Commentaries in Issue Number 10 - August 22 , 2002:

Zimbabwe's Mugabe and White Farmers: by Dr. A. Chika Onyeani, Guest Commentator

The Promise of Reparations

DC's Measure 62: A Green Light for Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation
by Opio Lumumba Sokoni, J.D., Guest Commentator

A letter to our readers: Fight on, Sister McKinney... Afghan dope on U.S. streets... Don't bet Black futures on the market... Rep. Clyburn bears witness to racist crime

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety on the Past Issues page.