Today is a sad and painful anniversary for me. Twenty years ago, I was mugged in broad daylight after leaving a restaurant on a bright, sunny autumn day. I was injured and left for dead in the middle of street. It is only by the grace of God that I am alive to tell the tale, for He gave me the superhuman strength to get up off the concrete, and He sent me two of his lovely people to help me.
Of course, there wasn’t even a teeny tiny mention in the local newspaper about what happened. Being a victim of crime around here is as commonplace as the ubiquitous scam artists and the madmen screaming at the top of their lungs at the demons in their heads.
In the world of business, there is an expression, that unnecessary expenses are just “the cost of doing business.” When it comes Berkeley, the black eyes and broken noses, and much much worse, are simply the cost of living in or anywhere near Berkeley.
All of this carnage is a well kept secret. You won’t read about it in the San Francisco Chronicle or in the glossy SF Magazine. You won’t hear about it from the locals, or learn about it if you and your offspring take a UC Berkeley college tour. If a resident dares to mention it, there is immediate denial, obfuscation, and words designed to silence, blame, and shame the victim, e.g., privilege, social justice, imperialism, and the like.
There are no Occupy movements around here protesting the obscene amount of violence; no citizen uprisings, even when victims are women; children; gays viewed as easy targets; college students who come here hoping to become part of the dream; Asian immigrants, who escaped brutal regimes only to find more brutality in Berkeley.
There are no shout outs, no righteous indignation, no tears and no grieving when people are robbed not just of their belongings but of basic dignity. Of course, those same deluded victims will oftentimes excuse the act and defend the perpetuators as victims themselves, thus enabling this vicious cycle to continue.
Silence can be both a beautiful and a deadly thing: silence is beautiful when beholding a sunset, or a new baby; or when worshipping God and feeling His Presence. But silence can be repugnant and deadly, too, such as when the truth is suppressed through bully and fear tactics. Dare to speak out about an obvious fact — the astronomical black on white/Asian crime — and you’ll be called a. . . well, need I say more here? We all know how the game works, the thugs more than anyone else.
Instead of speaking the truth, new versions of reality are constructed; for instance, that no one in the whole wide world is luckier than those of us in Berkeley; and, that we are special, set apart from the unenlightened heathens, with their big families and noisy children and their churchgoing and all of those ridiculous flags displayed on the 4th of July.
Although the amount of mental illness, depression, drug use, muggings, rapes, and general heartache around here far surpasses anything seen in flyover country, still the myths are promoted and embraced. In place of the child never birthed or the love of one’s life never found, these myths keep people in Berkeley warm and secure in the dead of the night.
The suppression of truth in the Bay Area, supposedly the most open-minded place on earth, reminds one of larger suppressions, for instance, in Communist China. There the state runs the news outlets, which are carefully monitored. And then there’s the old Soviet Union, and how, even today, dissidents beg the US to have their papers published or housed in libraries, only to be rebuffed over and over again. Some secrets, I suppose, are too hot to touch.
Berkeley, Oakland, SF are a lot like that: full of secrets, mythology, and outright lies. For instance, no one dare tell the real story behind those fabled anti-war and civil rights movements of the 60s, for instance, the misogyny and the brutality towards women, much of which spawned the angry feminist movements of the 70s.
But the truth about Berkeley, both then and now, is like a third rail; no one wants to touch it, not even with a ten foot pole. In most residents’ minds, the mayhem and madness are no big deal; they are simply the cost of doing business and living around Berkeley. But for some of us, there is an untold cost, one that we can never get over, not even after 20 years.