Audacity of Hope
It’s time to do more than “imagine” a great Salinas.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
t’s been a great week for America – and a terrible time for Monterey County.
As Barack Obama takes office, the hopes of the nation, and the world, rest on his skinny shoulders. Luckily, the unlikely holder of the highest office in the land seems more than up to the challenge.
Even the pre-Inauguration ceremonies, staged fittingly enough at the Lincoln Memorial, foreshadowed a feeling of optimism and barely concealed emotion among Americans of all colors, ages and faiths, that this historic moment had finally arrived.
The issue barely came up during the campaign, due to the grace and dignity with which Obama handled his candidacy, but there is now a dawning collective realization that we have elected the first African-American president in our history.
SALINAS MAYOR DENNIS DONOHUE HAS FAILED TO STEP UP TO THE PLATE TO DEAL WITH THE MELTDOWN.
Our long racial dilemma remains unresolved, but Obama’s very presence in a position where, in a different time and place, he would never be standing, points to the possibility of honest dialogue and a more positive future course.
The appearances by Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Usher, Shakira and Aretha Franlkin pointed to a new era which had more soul in one afternoon than the previous administration had shown in eight long years.
The mood was one of joy, and of relief. Sadly, here in Monterey, it’s been a different story.
Salinas has been hit by six killings in the first 15 days of 2009.
Gang violence has taken over the streets, amounting to domestic terrorism, as the Norteños and Sureños engage in their sad cycle of mutually assured destruction, and a terrified citizenry quakes.
The community has a right to expect safety in its own neighborhoods, but the political leadership has not been up to the challenge. In an era of budget cuts, law enforcement has not been effective enough, either, although one feels more sympathy for those assigned to patrol the mean streets than the civilian bureaucrats they work for.
Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue has failed to step up to the plate to deal with the meltdown that has left his city on the brink of lawlessness and governed, de facto, by the thugs who have taken the community hostage.
In a particularly clueless television interview, Donohue mouthed meaningless clichés about sticking with the existing anti-gang plan, which he claimed was working, and bromides about addressing the root causes of gang violence.
Well and good, but this comes from an official who led a pointless “sister city” mission to Guanajuato, Mexico, at a peak period of violence in the community. The pretense that a “fast for peace” will stop the shootings is absurd – Donohue is no César Chávez, and even Chávez might be daunted by the current scale of violence in Salinas.
Although Police Chief Dan Ortega’s retirement in March has been a long time coming, his replacement has not been announced at a time when the city is in grave daily peril.
Things have temporarily cooled down as the CHP and Sheriff’s Department have been called in to help, and assistance is being sought from other agencies, but it’s been far too little and far too late.
Under the parliamentary system, Donohue would simply be forced to resign. Instead, he is hyping blue-skies plans with little recognition of the cost the current chaos will create for those who truly want to believe in a “new’’ Salinas.
Fulminating that crime statistics have been high before and blaming the media for a crisis it didn’t create are hardly inspiring examples of leadership at a time when it is most needed.
We agree with City Council-woman Janet Barnes: “It’s not a time for any of us to be pointing fingers.’’ But the price of public office is one of accepting responsibility for mistakes and, at a minimum, for preserving public order. By any measure, Donohue has failed that test.
Back in Washington, Obama has combined the soaring rhetoric that brought him to the presidency with a somber recognition of the realities he is facing.
His own personal journey underscores the possibilities of redemption in the American experience and he has insisted that oppression is not an excuse for romanticizing a life of crime.
Ortega has made similar points, denouncing the parents who accompany their young children, dressed in gang colors, to the mall.
The people of Salinas owe it to themselves, to their families and to each other to tell the truth about who is inflicting violence on the community. Their leaders owe it to them to insure their safety.
America needs to be taken back, street by street, as our new president has said.
Let’s start in Salinas.