Saturday, October 1, 2016

September Breakfast

If survival is a game only the living can speak on, then the fact that Lance is still here after being released from the county jail with nothing except his wits, speaks to a certain survival creativity certain ones among us readily tap into.  The formerly incarcerated man says he spent 17 years in multiple California prisons.  Still on parole, a recent violation set him back when he lost everything after a car accident more than 50 miles from Oakland. He had no one he could call to pick up his belongings so his possessions were seized. Several months later when he was released, he made his way to West Oakland where he met relatives he didn’t know he had.  They didn’t let him crash in their garages, but Lance's cousins did introduce him to one of the men at this encampment on Wood where he has been living in for the past seven months.

A published artist, Lance is also entrepreneurial. His home has multiple rooms, electricity and a flat screen TV and solar electricity. His belongings are neatly arranged and he clearly takes pride in his abode. He is also an accomplished illustrator. He showed me several drawings of famous people like President Obama and rap artist Tupac. Other art has imaginative themes often romantic. His work is listed online for purchase.

If the side of the road, an open field separated by a fence were not just outside his doorway, we would never guess where his house sits.  Certainly a feeling of being at home is a vibe felt at this address as well as in the neighboring tiny homes or campers.  If Lance and the others had plumbing and toilet facilities, this situation would be a lot easier to bear than what they experience now.

In the past few months, the strip has been targeted for arsonists. Campers have been set on fire and other arsonists have set fire to tiny houses. Luckily no one was injured before the fire department was able to extinguish the blaze. The strip is a high speed thoroughfare where people have had their bikes crushed by careless drivers.

One young woman, Nicole (34) told me how she was hit by a car in July and dragged several feet before the driver disengaged and kept on going. She was helped by another driver who called the ambulance. Luckily, once again, the injuries were not life threatening. The police told her to get an attorney and sue, since the entire incidence was caught by one of the many cameras in the area, but she cannot get the footage without an attorney.

As we stayed after the meal and spoke with the residents, I learned that Lance is the nephew of a good friend of mine, Fritz Pointer. Fritz hired me at Contra Costa College in 1998. He grew up in West Oakland with his famous Pointer Sisters. I also met the brother of Sechaba Mokeoena, a good friend of mine from South Africa who was lead singer of Zulu Spear. Sechaba died a number of years ago at Reggae on the River. We sent his body back to South Africa for burial.  It was fun to reminiscence about our good brother Sechaba, who was a warrior for peace and worked to unify Africans, especially those abroad, like himself an expatriot.

The Auset Movement normally start at 35th and Peralta, but the population has changed and we do not know anyone there now. Robert, our friend and ally was kicked out (I heard). First his tent was destroyed. I hope he is well and housed as I write this.  We have not given up on 35th, in fact, we’d gone by to speak to the residents and police were present harassing three people—two men and a woman. The police looked to be conducting a random sobriety check. Since when is a sobriety check necessary or permitted when there is no vehicle nor danger present?

We watched the check from inside the car for about 15 minutes before leaving. The officers seemed disappointed the detainees were able to perform the tasks required, so they had them repeat the tasks over and over again. We could not see the officers’ badge numbers. If the police had been harassing any of the people we’d come to know and love, we would have gotten out of the car and intervened.

The Auset Movement crew was tiny Sunday, Sept. 25.  It was just, Kwalin, Jovelyn and me,  so when Desley called and asked where we were and showed up with her sister to help we really needed the extra support. They served and then we walked the length of the encampment and served breakfast to men and women on both sides of the road. We invited people to the table where we had fresh fruit, hot coffee and orange juice. We also had toilet tissue, canned goods, and lots of clothing—pants, shirts, shoes and a few sweaters. It all went. We also had sanitary napkins, pillows and a few blankets. I gave away the last blanket and pillows up the road where another encampment is. We know the people there. Unfortunately, we’d run out of food, so all I could offer one of the residents who was awake and dressed, was canned soup. Ms. D was having her hair combed by her niece.

Nicole also complained about the surveillance cameras pointed towards the residents. Desley told her they were legal.

There were quite a few men along this strip. Strong black men and women who are articulate about their situation. As were were wrapping up, clearing the table and putting away the plates, cutlery, water and left over toilet tissue, two women started to argue. We didn’t know what the problem was, but obviously the angry woman felt her turf was being violated by this other woman’s presence. Desley’s sister stepped between the two women and then Kwalin stepped between them too, as the verbal altercation escalated, coffee went flying and the women were about to exchange blows. Someone said, “she has a gun in her bag.” What the trespasser had was a really long handled hammer which I found inside a bag she dropped as she ran to avoid being hit.

Residents, including the man the women were fighting over, intervened and the woman scorned left. Afterward, several of the men apologized for the disturbance and chided the woman who could not hold her temper. I saw her trying to stay cool, but the former wife, kept pushing her. Clearly there are unresolved issues between the former wife and the ex-husband, but she picked the wrong morning to drop by.  The new wife said she'd moved from another encampment to be with this man. As in all domestic disputes, I kept my opinion to myself. I suggested we talk about something more pleasant as the new wife seemed to be getting angry just thinking about the fight we just helped her avoid.

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