Eight people were shot and killed in Atlanta last night.
I echo and endorse all the words of our Asian brothers and sisters in grief and anguish at the loss of life and suffering. I share in their anger at the cancerous hate in this country, and more so in the frustration at the continued apathy of so many others who write off the seeds that sow this behavior for so long telling us “they’re just words,” and “you’re overreacting.”
Eight people are dead. I don’t think I’m overreacting. What am I going to do? It’s Wednesday, I’m going to do what I’ve done every Wednesday for close to a year: finish up work, pack soup, snacks, and water into one hundred ziploc bags and distribute them to the unhoused people near City Hall in Downtown Los Angeles so they have something to eat tonight.
I don’t know what else to do.
I’m going to check in on my friends today, I’m going to try to comfort and assure them, though I can’t be confident in any assurances I offer to any true degree that makes them meaningful. Not when I see so many thousands of people automatically jumping to the defense of a murderer rather than victims.
This isn’t just about last night. This is about the past year. Or maybe it’s about last week. Last week I showed up to my usual location for meal distribution, literally City Hall’s back door step. Any given week as many as forty unhoused people are camping there for shelter at night. Many I see week after week.
Let me rephrase that: City Hall with all its powers allows people to remain unsheltered and unhoused for weeks, months, right at its back door.
Last week the people there greeted me by name when they saw me coming laden with those ziploc bags. One called out to another, “he’s here every Wednesday you gotta look out for him!” I had a flash of pride that I had become so reliable to them, but it soured near instantly to disappointment in us as a society that I had to be so reliable, that my silly ziploc bag with a can of soup, a snack, and water should be so much.
It shouldn’t be. My silly ziploc bags shouldn’t matter, they shouldn’t be impactful, but they are, and I hate that they are.
More than the people who call out that I’m “right on time,” this week, or “running late,” another week because they know me by now, I worry about the people who I suddenly don’t see calling me out and recognizing me.
There’s no other way to put it. There are some folks I see in the same place for weeks, months even, and then suddenly they’re gone. Am I cynical for fearing the worst for them rather than being optimistic that they’re suddenly receiving shelter?
40 people sleep week after week right behind City Hall. 5 or more unhoused people die every day in the streets of Los Angeles. I know what I’m going to do about it: I’m going to pack my silly little ziploc bags and go back out there tonight, and I’m going to again be disappointed by how much those little bags matter. Eight people died yesterday in Atlanta.
What I don’t know after the past year with all its suffering, loss, and grief, is what it’ll take make everyone care enough to do something about it.