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.
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
"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
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."
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
Black Commentator agrees with the CAP program statement:
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.
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
Community Land Security program would train local people "to
alert the proper authorities when suspicious activity is observed.
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."
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.
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."
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."
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.
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
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,"
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.
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.
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