An Unknown Life

Here is one of those incidents that happen without getting much attention, Iowa City woman found in Iowa River identified (Lee Hermiston, The Gazette). The woman died, probably as she lived, largely unknown. A passing stranger in the world. Her death is a mystery and probably will remain a mystery, although there may be people who know something and are afraid to speak to authorities.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office is running into an unexpected problem in investigating the death of a woman whose body was found in the Iowa River last week.

“We know that people are not answering the door when we’re standing at them,” Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said Friday.

Pulkrabek believes people are not talking with his investigators in the death investigation of 30-year-old Darling Yosseli Acosta Rivera because they are concerned the questions will turn to their own immigration status.

My brother thinks he saw this lady before she drowned. Working for the City Parks department, he and a coworker were locking up bathrooms in Terry Trueblood Recreation Area, along the Iowa River. Someone was inside one of the bathrooms and, after knocking, a woman came out a few minutes later. She had a backpack and he assumed she had been sleeping there, indicating she was homeless.

They later saw a backpack that looked like hers stashed under a bridge near the river. It had been there for a couple of weeks and had been rummaged through with the contents strewn about. My brother’s coworker checked it out. In it, there were things that identified her, including a passport and a badge for a local temp agency. The coworker brought these to the temp agency where he was told her body was found in the river.

It seems highly probable that it was a suicide. If she were an undocumented immigrant and if she were alone and homeless in a foreign country, she obviously was hitting a low point in her life. But it could have been homicide, as being a homeless woman is not a safe situation to find oneself in. There are many ways to come to a tragic end as either an undocumented immigrant or a homeless person.

Like so many other things going on in the world, it makes me sad. We live in a heartless society. There should be somewhere to turn to for help, for people like this woman. Instead, she seems to have been forced to seek temporary refuge in a public bathroom during an Iowa winter. One could imagine she lived in fear of the authorities and other systems of help, as do many people in that kind of situation.

It’s likely she was a refugee from the US-promoted violent conflicts in Latin America, as she had a Guatemalan passport which is one of the major places of civil unrest and mass violence. Being deported might have seemed worse than even being alone during an Iowa winter. Whatever the cause of her death, it was surely preventable. She likely had come to a point where she had few options left and found herself in a bad situation.

Such suffering exists all around us. Yet few ever see it. These are the invisible people, unheard and unacknowledged. They go on with their lives largely unnoticed and they disappear unnoticed, at best local media reporting that their body was found. But that body once was a person who had friends, family, and a home. Someone somewhere cared about her and will miss her. At least, she has been identified and so will be buried with a name on her gravestone.

Immigrants, Their Children, & Contributing Factors

In discussing comparisons between the US and France, someone brought up the issues of immigration, assimilation, and violence. The specific focus was the children of the North African Muslim immigrants. Some have noted that violent crime, terrorism, and radicalization is seen more with the native-born second and third generations than with the immigrants themselves. So, this violence is learned in Europe, rather than it having been brought here by refugees.

It’s an interesting point, but it’s hard to disentangle the strands and harder still to put it all into context. For that reason, let me offer some of my commentary from a previous post, in response to Kenan Malik — Good Liberals vs Savage Nihilists:

“He does admit that some terrorists are refugees. His argument, though, is that they aren’t the majority. That’s true. As I recall, something like 20% are refugees, which admittedly still is a large number. More important is the entire atmosphere. Even for non-refugee Muslims in Europe, they likely would be surrounded by and regularly in contact with Muslims who are refugees. In general, they’d be constantly reminded of the refugee crisis in the media, reminded of the public response of hatred and bigotry, and probably mistaken as a refugee themselves. […]

“Many European Muslims still experience the negative effects of xenophobia, racism, ghettoization, and other forms of isolation, exclusion, and prejudice. They aren’t treated as fully integrated by their fellow citizens. Simply being born in a country doesn’t mean most people will see you as an equal. It takes generations for assimilation to take place. Even after centuries, Jews and Romani have continued to struggle for acceptance and tolerance in Europe. […]

“Plus, consider the situation in the United States. American Muslims on average are wealthier and more well-educated. But unlike in Europe they aren’t ghettoized nor racialized in the same way (we already have our racialized boogeyman with blacks). Maybe it should be unsurprising that per capita American Muslims commit far less mass violence than do native-born American whites. In the US, you’re more likely to be shot by a white terrorist and treated by a Islamic doctor, in terms of percentage of each population.

“The same identity politics and decline of traditional politics have happened in the United States. In some ways, the loss of community and culture of trust is far worse here in the States. Yet Islamic integration seems more of a reality than in Europe. American Muslims apparently don’t feel disenfranchised and nihilistic, as Malik assumes they should feel. This undermines his entire argument, indicating other factors are more important.

“Obviously, there is nothing inherently violent to either Arab culture or the Islamic religion. The Ottoman Empire was one of the great powers of the world, not particularly different than European empires. If any European empire with large contiguous territory (e.g., Russian Empire) had been defeated and demolished in a similar fashion and then artificially divided up as a colonial prize, we’d probably now have something in Europe akin to the present violence-torn Middle East. There is nothing that makes either region unique, besides the accidents of history. After WWI, the Ottoman Empire could have been left intact or even given assistance in rebuilding. In that case, none of the rest would have followed.”

Europe is having issues with assimilation based on a refugee crisis involving and related to more than a century of problematic relations with the the Middle East and North Africa. There is: the post-WWI forced dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, neo-colonial exploitation, Cold War conflict, proxy wars, covert operations, coups, assassinations, puppet dictators, destruction of democracy, support of theocracy, millions of innocents regularly killed over several generations, War on Terror, climate change-caused droughts, etc. All of this has been caused or contributed to by foreign governments, especially Western governments. This is built on centuries of ongoing racial and class conflicts in European history, including the legacies of colonial imperialism.

Assimilation is always a slow process. The Roman Empire spent centuries trying to assimilate the barbarian hordes of Europe, but they ultimately failed before those backwards Europeans took down that once great Mediterranean empire. Yet after the collapse of the Roman Empire, various European societies slowly assimilated aspects of the Roman Empire, developing into Western imperialism, colonialism, and feudalism. This process took most of Europe about a millennia or so, until finally a new assimilated culture could begin to be clearly identified as Western. For example, it took the Celts, Scandinavians, Germans, and Normans more than a millennia of bloodshed to assimilate into what eventually would be called the English.

As for our present situation, even in Europe, immigration violence is relatively low. Most of the increase in violence, as far as I know, hasn’t come from immigrants and their children. There has been a right-wing and reactionary radicalization of the native-born ‘white’ populations of European countries. It’s that few people ever bother to compare this native population violence against the immigrant population violence. I would like to see good data on this. I hear lot of people repeating what they think is true, but I never see the evidence for why they think it is true other than other people also repeating the same claims.

Even if it were true, this might be a normal pattern. Europe has seen millennia of violence rates that increase and then settle down following population shifts. And Americans were making similar complaints against European ethnic immigrants in the early 19th century. Yet immigrants almost always assimilate, slowly or quickly depending on the kind of society, but the only time assimilation fails is when there is enforced segregation (e.g., American blacks). I always take such allegations with a grain of salt because, when one researches them, they so often are found to be nothing more than stereotypes. Still, I do take seriously the problems of refugee crises, especially those that could be avoided, from the English-caused Irish potato famine to the US-promoted Latin American destabilization.

Unsurprisingly, desperate people act desperately. So, if the children of refugees are being targeted with prejudice, oppressed by systemic and institutional biases,  economically segregated and ghettoized, it would be entirely predictable that bad results would follow. I’ve pointed out the research that shows diversity only correlates to mistrust when there is segregation. What I’d like to see is the data on prejudice and oppression, violent crime and police brutality committed against these immigrants, their children, and their grandchildren. And then I’d like to see that compared to rates of violent crime in immigrant communities, broken down in various ways: older and younger, foreign-born and native-born, etc.

But most importantly I’d like to see research that controls for at least the most obviously significant confounding factors: poverty, inequality, segregation, political disenfranchisement, racial/ethnic targeting, etc. Consider that last one. We know that American blacks get stopped, arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned more often and more harshly than do American whites, even for crimes that have been proven to have higher rates for American whites. So, how do we know the bias against these populations aren’t built into the institutions, such as police departments, that create and keep this data?

Now consider this. All these points I make, all these questions and criticisms, they seem obvious to me. And I can’t help but think that they should be obvious to everyone. Yet most of this is rarely if ever mentioned, much less seriously discussed, by right-wingers and neo-reactionaries, by race realists and genetic determinists, by white supremacists and ethno-nationalists. As far as that goes, you won’t hear much about it by mainstream liberals, Democratic politicians, and corporate media. Why is that?

Look at the essay below, “Crime and the Native Born Sons of European Immigrants.” It is from 1937. The author, Harold Ross, discussed and analyzed these very same kinds of issues, although about European (Christian) immigrants. He even considered the confounding factor of economic segregation, among other issues. So, how is it that such an essay could be written 80 years ago and so many people to this day continue to make ignorant arguments, as if such confounding factors don’t exist? Was Harold Ross a genius or, like me, was he simply willing to state the obvious?

* * *

Crime and the Native Born Sons of European Immigrants
by Harold Ross
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology
Volume 28, Issue 2 July-August, 1937

The European immigrant, landing on American shores, was forced to find cheap lodgings as he was usually penniless. These cheap lodgings he found in the disorganized slum areas of the industrialized American cities.5 The behavior of the new-comer himself was determined by behavior patterns organized in the culturally more stable European environment but his native born children suffered the stresses and strains of the new individualistic environment.

These children, the native born offspring of foreign parentage, were reared under those barren, poverty stricken socio-economic conditions that produced a higher crime rate than a more sheltered and prosperous environment. The environment of the slum dwellers meant for all the inhabitants there, be they of native or foreign parentage, a life conditioned by irregular, poorly paid employment, by a family disorganized by the necessity of the mother to leave the task of home-making in search of work to supplement the chief wage-earner’s meager income, by the general institutional disorganization, by inadequate educational opportunities and a sordid, barren milieu for the children. These vital forces were far more powerful than the fact that one slum-reared child’s parents spoke Italian and another’s parents spoke native American slang, that the one ate spaghetti, and other beef stew

If the crimes of the native born of native stock and those of the native born of foreign stock were stimulated by different causes, the cause in the latter case being a cultural clash between American and European customs which is non-existent in the former case, then there should be little similarity in the growth from childhood to careers of crime between both groups. If, on the other hand, crimes in both cases were stimulated by the same cause, namely dwelling on the same socio-economic level, then there should be definite similarity in the maturation from childhood to crime.

Anti-social behavior first becomes evident in the delinquencies of predatory boy gangs. Boys naturally tend to play with other boys. The environment determines whether this spontaneous grouping is social or anti-social, whether it is a respectable Boy Scout Troop or a predatory gang.’ The typical city “kids” gang consisted mainly of the native born offspring of foreign born parents, but nativity per se was not responsible for the gang problem.7 All boys of the same socio-economic class, whether of foreign, negro, or native white parentage, enter into gangs with equal facility.8 Boys of the more prosperous classes do not form anti-social gangs, not because they are of native white stock, but because of their prosperous environment.9 It is needless for them to rebel against the mores and law, for life has been comfortable to them. Others, regardless of parental nativity and because of their lower socio-economic position, did not willingly accept the mores and law that doomed them to a barren life, so naturally violated them.

This disregard by delinquency of nativity is illustrated by Chicago districts near the Loop, the stock yards, and the south Chicago steel mills which have had high delinquency rates as far back as the records go, and yet whose” population composition has been constantly changing. 0 In many cities it has been noted that the incidence in delinquency varied more accurately with community background than with nationality. High rates coincided with the areas of physical deterioration.”

There has been no fixed boundary between the boy’s predatory gang and the adult’s criminal group.’ 2 Behavior patterns organized in the former were carried over into and accentuated by the latter. Sons, both of native and foreign born stocks, made this promotion from juvenile delinquent to adult offender with equal facility. A follow up of 420 Chicago cases found a negligible difference.’ 3 Continuance of anti-social conduct was dependent upon other conditions than nationality. 4

Further, evidence that the crimes of native born white of both European and American parentage were the resultant not of conditions peculiar to either group but of the same general socio-economic pressures affecting both is shown by the fact that the types of crimes the immigrant’s sons were guilty of were similar not to the offenses of their parents, but to the offenses committed by native Americans. This tendency of the second generation to shift away from crimes peculiar to immigrants and towards native crimes is substantiated by records of all commitments to Massachusett’s penal institutions during the year ending September 30, 1909, and by the records of convictions in the New York Court of General Sessions from October 1, 1908 to June 30, 1909. 25

In summary, then, it was noted by an examination of both American and European reports that the differences in socio-economic conditions between urban and rural life resulted in differences in crime rate whatever may be the nativity or cultural heritage of the individuals. Further it is contended that there are just as marked differences between the environment of prosperous and poverty stricken districts within the urban areas which also result in differing crime rates. Thus the crime of the native born sons of foreign born parentage may be a result not of cultural maladjustment as is usually held, but of their position in a poverty class, a class which breeds criminals with equal facility from all its constituents be they of native or foreign parentage. This view is substantiated by evidence that indicates that native born whites of both American and European parents, if on the same socio-economic level, formed predatory groups, that both grew up into careers of crime with equal facility, and that both were guilty of the same types of crime. This coincidence of factors indicates that the criminality of both was not due to conditions peculiar to each group individually, but to general conditions affecting both equally, namely, their residence in a poverty stricken socio-economic class.

This explanation, if accepted, harmonizes the apparent contradiction between statistical studies, on the one hand, which demonstrate a higher crime rate for the native born of European parentage than for the native born of American parentage, and the personal experiences of countless officials and investigators, on the other hand, who claim, after handling hundreds of second generation offenders, that the foreign stock from which the offenders sprang was in no way responsible for the criminality.16 As the native born sons of foreign parentage tend to be segregated on that income level which has a high crime rate and the native stock tends to be dispersed through all income levels, then obviously statistical studies would endow the former with a higher crime ratio. […]

In conclusion concerning the number and causes of crime of native born individuals of foreign stock, in contradiction to accepted opinion, these views are tentatively presented.

2) Statistics seem to indicate a higher crime rate for the native born of European stock only because they disregard the various income levels. What their actual crime rate is is still a matter of opinion and it is this writer’s hypothesis that all peoples on the same socio-economic level have approximately the same crime rate.

1) The second generation is not a group culturally adrift with neither the culture of their parents nor of their new environment to guide them, but is a group with a very definite culture, a culture of a socio-economic level that is determined by irregular, poorly paid employment and results in broken homes, inadequate eductional and recreational opportunity, and a general stunted environment. And this culture determines for its inhabitants, whatever their nativity, a high crime rate.

 

A Sense of Urgency

There is something that has become more apparent to me than ever before.

The greatest divide in our society isn’t ideological or partisan. It can’t even be simplified into a divide by race or any other standard demographic. Rather, the divide is between those who have a sense of urgency and those who don’t.

Everything comes down to that. It doesn’t matter if you see, understand and acknowledge the problems we face, if you don’t appreciate the struggles and suffering of the victims of these problems. For those who personally know these problems, they don’t have the privilege to be patient for reform to eventually come next election, next generation, or next century. You either feel this sense of urgency or it simply makes no sense to you.

There is a basic and seemingly insurmountable challenge. There appears to be no way to make someone feel this urgency, much less get them to grasp the visceral experience of urgency for those who do feel it. There is no way to communicate this. Either someone gets it or not. Yet the urgency grows as problems worsen for so many. And the conflict between those who do and don’t get it likewise grows. I see no way for this to be easily resolved until the comfortable begin to feel uncomfortable when the dirty masses get restless enough to disturb their slumber and threaten their good life.

For those who don’t feel urgency, they assume the vocally urgent are just complaining. They see them as petulant children who are pestering the responsible adults trying to have moderate, reasonable adult discussion. Only children and ideologues, as they see it, always want to get their own way. These people don’t realize how unreasonable they are being in expecting those who struggle to suffer in silence. Can they really be that disconnected from how bad it has become for those less advantaged and fortunate? Will it really take mass protests or revolution before the clueless finally get that these are real problems that have to be dealt with now and not later?

As an example, consider the worsening unemployment, poverty, and homelessness. The government hasn’t kept full unemployment data since the 1980s. No one knows for sure how bad unemployment is at present. And the mainstream media rarely talks about this in any depth.

It’s as if data not being kept means the problem doesn’t exist. Just ignore the growing number of poor people barely making ends meet or living in homeless camps or ending up in prison. This problem doesn’t exist because it doesn’t impact people who aren’t poor. But even if the problem did exist, I’m sure it would solve itself. We just need to get all the low income people to shut up and quit supporting candidates like Sanders who is a spoiler. Let’s threaten that Trump will win and that’ll shut them up, right?

Homeless camps are popping up in cities all over the country. That is what happened during the Great Depression. And then those temporary homeless camps become permanent shanty towns. There eventually will be a breaking point that easily could turn violent as it did during the Great Depression. People turned on each other. The government was finally forced to intervene, but only after they let the problem get horribly bad for so many.

It’s not even limited to the United States. Worsening poverty and increasing homelessness is found in the UK (“one in ten parents would not be able to pay housing costs during January – and 2.5 million parents were forgoing household essentials, including food, clothes and energy, in order to pay the rent.”), Greece (“number of new homeless as high as 20,000. Moreover, nearly 20% of Greeks no longer have enough money to cover daily food expenses, according to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The nation’s unemployment rate is 26%, the highest among 28 European Union members.”), France and all across Europe.

That is just talking about the Western world. On a related note, there is the global refugee crisis. The number of refugees in recent years returned to the levels last seen during WWII and in the past year has hit the highest level ever recorded. This is related to wars, instability, overthrown governments, etc (often caused or contributed to by Western governments), but another major factor is climate change with major droughts. This has been a major problem in the Middle East and Africa, along with parts of Latin America, Asia, and Europe. Scientists, politicians, and even the Pentagon have pointed to the link between climate change and terrorism. This problem is only going to get worse.

Consider also one of the main reasons there are so many homeless and refugees. It’s related. A large number of homeless are veterans who are dealing with neurological and psychological trauma from war. And many refugees are escaping war. Meanwhile, the comfortable back at home in Western countries rarely if ever personally experience war, on either side of the equation. If they did experience it, it would be hard for them ever be fully comfortable again and they would feel cut off from the cud-chewing herd. Many war journalists end up traumatized simply by seeing the ravage caused, an experience that like that of the soldier they’ll never be able to explain to family and friends back home.

It’s not only about such dramatic events as war. For the poor, all of life can be traumatizing. And the traumatized tend to end up poor. The homeless have high rates of mental illness, in general. Obviously, much of that is simply because mental illness doesn’t lead to a well functioning life and we live in a society that is heartless toward those who can’t help themselves. But being homeless probably increases mental illness as well, because of stress and trauma, lack of healthcare, malnutrition, etc. A similar set of problems likely exists for refugees. And it is also likely that refugees that find their ways to other countries often end up homeless or else in severe poverty. It simply sucks being homeless or a refugee, to be made a pariah and cast out from acceptable society.

It makes me wonder if these two problems are more closely related than we normally think. We tend to keep the homeless and refugees in separate categories, but maybe it’s more meaningful to think of them as variants of the same problem. These are people who have no place or purpose in society. They are unwanted and often despised. They are part of a large and ever growing proportion of the global population that is feeling urgent and sometimes causing others to feel urgent.

The response from so many is to ignore the problem and hopes it goes away. Blame the victims of the refugee crisis, turn the refugees away, or force the refugees into camps. Tear down homeless camps, hide the homeless, use hostile architecture, design cities to drive the homeless away, and other similar sociopathic behaviors and authoritarian measures. Interestingly, some of the kindest acts toward the homeless have come from recent refugees, as it often takes someone who personally understands suffering to have compassion.

To put refugees in camps isn’t so different to the reason so many homeless end up in jails and prisons. These are the places where the unwanted and unneeded are stored away. Similar solutions are ghettoes and housing projects. Homeless camps are just a more short term variety of this kind of response. It should be unsurprising that the number of refugees is increasing simultaneously as is the number of homeless and prisoners. There are now more blacks in prison than there were blacks in slavery before the Civil War. There are also more mentally ill people in prison than has been the case since before the Civil War. People tend to be less bothered by refugees, the homelessness, and other undesirables when they aren’t seen.

We always could deal with the fundamental problems that are causing these other problems. But it’s easier to hide them. It’s like the strip mining that looks like a warzone and yet is never seen from the road, the truth obscured behind a a stand of trees and the people who used to live there simply made to go away. Our world is full of invisible problems of invisible people. Invisible that is until they disrupt the social order.

Explain to me again how voting for Hillary Clinton to stop a Donald Trump presidency is going to make a damn bit of difference to those already being fucked over by our society, no matter which party has power. We have elections all the time and here we are—the problems going unsolved, voices of the suffering going unheard, and the desperation and outrage ever increasing.

There are many other problems that could be brought up. There is growing inequality, inferior education system, a permanent underclass, and systemic racism. There is institutional failure, cronyism, corruption, corporatism, regulatory capture, and crumbling infrastructure. There is the military-industrial complex, military imperialism, drug wars, and creeping authoritarianism. There is the general failure of democracy as our society turns into a banana republic and the public loses trust. And, of course, there is the mainstream media’s complicity. We aren’t seriously dealing with any of these problems.

So, what happens next? How will this end? Are you feeling any urgency yet?

* * *

Urgency can mean many things. Within it, there is a seed of radical change, not a return to what was but potentially a transformation. That seed has to be planted and nurtured, if it is to grow.

That is why it takes a broken person to profoundly understand that the system itself is broken. This brokenness isn’t necessarily a loss. It can be taken as an opportunity, like a seed breaking open, a change from one condition to another. Urgency is a starting point and, for that reason, important.

In that light, here is a slightly different view on suffering…

In praise of patience
Resilience is the fashionable prescription for trauma. But bouncing back is not the only – or best – way to bear sorrow
by Samira Thomas

“In this extended form of time, resilience becomes transfigured from the urgency associated with a need for recoil into something that takes its time, and resembles patience.

“Patience, in its original meaning, was a virtue that enabled a person to overcome his suffering and, in some sense, enact understanding in the face of the faults and limitations of others. Patience today might conjure a sense of inactivity, a feeling that it’s about more or less waiting for things to pass. Consider, instead, the term patient. As an adjective, it is the quality of a person who is able to overcome and demonstrate understanding towards others. As a noun, it is a person who is in need of understanding and, specifically, medical care.

“Patience recognises suffering in the difficulties of one’s life and that of another. Nowadays, it might conjure up ideas of complacence but, with a long view of time – in which time is understood as abundant – patience becomes a way of bearing sorrows. Unlike resilience, which implies returning to an original shape, patience suggests change and allows the possibility of transformation as a means of overcoming difficulties. It is a simultaneous act of defiance and tenderness, a complex existence that gently breaks barriers. In patience, a person exists at the edge of becoming. With an abundance of time, people are allowed space to be undefined, neither bending nor broken, but instead, transfigured.

“And it is an act of courage, because only the unknown lies on the other side of the threshold of events we seek to overcome.”