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What Do You Say About A Society That Allows Someone’s Life to Be Taken For A Dollar?

One of the most outrageous and egregious events ever occurred in Los Angeles two weeks ago. It was troubling, not because it was a function of society’s breakdown in the law and policy. Last week, Christine Calderon, a 23-year-old black woman, walking the tourist strip in Hollywood, had her life taken because she took a photo of a sign being held by a panhandler and refused his demand to give him a dollar. A dollar. Christine Calderon lost her life for one dollar.

christine calderon

This is only where the outrage begins. On one of the city’s busiest tourist attractions, Hollywood & Vine to Hollywood & Highland, where people watching is the attraction, a recently released prisoner of the state’s prison realignment program was able to blend into of the oddities of a tourist space. Then he was able to hold up a sign that said, “F#ck You. Give Me A Dollar Please.”

Now think about that. This is not about free speech because every state and city has permitted restrictions to free speech and obscenity is not protected by free speech. Let me put it to you this way… would someone be able to hold up such a sign outside of, say, Disneyland. The answer is, He-ELL naw.

More troubling is that we witnessed a convergence of cultural issues that nobody seems to want to talk about. We have become an irreverent society. Irreverence is a staple of a society in rebellion. It’s expressed in our language and in our cultural expression. The fact that Calderon’s alleged killer could stand on the corner of Hollywood and Vine with such an irreverent sign is an active demonstration of our cultural irreverence by the simple fact that his presence was simply viewed as part of the landscape of the tourist attraction. He was part of the scenery. People walked past him without a second thought, some looked and kept going.

I saw him on the Saturday before Calderon’s death on my way to the jazz festival at the Hollywood Bowl. I said, “That’s the devil, right there” and kept going. Others stopped and took a picture—that’s the whole reason he was there, to be seen—some tipped, some didn’t. This is where the clash comes in. We are now an “Instragram” society. We take pictures of everything and tweet em, post em, share them without regard for permission or commission. We believe we own what we see. Calderon believed she was taking a photo of the cultural tourist scenery. Her alleged killer thought he was entitled to charge for being part of the scenery. This was a classic culture clash.

It is most troubling because literally nobody noticed. Beyond a few mentions on the evening news, nobody has demanded any justice, questioned the motives, called into question why the circumstances existed or even called for assistance for the family. No black press ran the story. No “press conferences” were called to demand accountability of government. No candle light vigil to pray for justice. Not a single word from any of the so-called civil rights groups—who tend to call out the obvious anyway—on the civil liberty and civil rights violations of the event. Not a peep. No politicians (except one) called for any investigation.

More disturbing than the killing of Calderon is the continued perpetuation of fake advocacy that misses the issues that impact our communities the most and waits for a bell to ring or a camera to show up before they speak. It is this kind of absence of sophistication in the advocacy—driven by anti-intellectualism, of course, that robs us of legitimate awareness in exchange for faux notoriety. Waiting for “monkey see-monkey do,” we are also robbed of our outrage—waiting for people asleep at the switch to give us the signal. Our community missed the bell on this. Why? The so-called activists slept through it. The Calderon shooting proves it.

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How can you not be outraged by this tragedy and circumstances that surround it?

L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck responded with more suppression in the area but the politic here is not just about policing. It’s about flawed policy smacking us in the face. The County Board of Supervisors (thank you Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Yaroslavsky) have called for an investigation as to how Dustin James Kinnear was released early and what County mechanisms supervised that release. The state will release another 9,000 this year to meet the court ordered mandate of reducing the state’s prison population by December, 2013. This is the opening of Pandora’s box, as the complexities of how parolees find work and merge civilly into the society become real. In the meantime, how does the city and county address the obscenity and panhandling issues that have become more pervasive in our increasingly irreverent society?

anthony asadullah samad

Anthony Asadullah Samad

We can’t let Christine Calderon die for a dollar and say nothing about the circumstances that brought about her death. The absence of advocacy will not equate to an absence of outrage.

I’m deeply disturbed by this and will not feed into ignorant silence. In the cause of cultural irreverence to stop obscene signage and panhandler aggression, take a picture of this.

(My middle finger)

Anthony Samad

Wednesday, 3 July 2013