Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What is Wrong with Santa Clara? Fear and Loathing at Yahoo?

The murder suicide of six people by a Santa Clara software engineer, who killed members of his family in their upscale neighborhood, before shooting himself with his legally purchased weapon has left neighbors shocked and alarmed. The native of southern India who immigrated to the US 15 years ago had recently moved from a more modest Sunnyvale to the more upscale

Rivermark, a 7-year-old planned community about seven miles northwest of San Jose with a shopping center, playgrounds and a mix of town houses, condominiums and Spanish-style houses that go for $1 million. His children had been enrolled in a nearby private school.
(read the full SFChron coverage)

But while neighbors, and no doubt Yahoo co-workers of Devan Kalathat, are horrified, there is little public anguish about of the morals of upscale Santa Clara neighborhoods, or assuming that software workers are a hidden danger among us. Instead, most people probably assume Devan Kalathat's terrible violence against his own family members belongs to his own personal demons, the immediate stresses of the situation (his brother-in-law had recently moved on work assignment from India) and say little about his community or occupation.

Contrast that with the heavy handed moral judgments on Oakland and on Oakland's parolee population in the aftermath of Lovelle Mixon's murder/suicide of four Oakland police officers. In a resolutely color-blind column supporting the OPD's ritual exclusion of Mayor Ron Dellums (the only black man among the top political leadership attending the Saturday memorial service at the Oakland arena), SFChron columnist Chip Johnson quotes Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association:

"What the hell are we going to do about these parolees in our town?"

"Parolees have been killing people forever in this town. For-ever," he said with emphasis.

Granted, the the approximately 1600 Oakland residents who were on parole in Oakland, either in good status, or fugitives like Lovelle Mixon, had all been convicted of a California felony and sent to state prison, but our grossly distended prison system is full of felons who have not posed a serious risk of violence to their communities. Of the five to ten thousand individual men and women who have been under parole supervision in Oakland over the last decade how many parolees have killed police officers in Oakland in the past 10 years? How many software engineers have killed their families in the same time period? A pint to the first comment with the correct answer. Too many Oakland Police officers view themselves as at war with Oakland residents on, or who have been on parole. That includes a big portion of all the young black men in town.

We do not yet understand the demons that drove either Lovelle Mixon or Devan Kalathat to murderous rampages that were ultimately suicidal as well. Thousands of Americans surrender to police every week knowing they face a prison term without killing anyone (let alone four officers) just as millions of husbands ride out tough economic and family times without massacring their families (until once in a terrible while they don't). Let us bury the dead, comfort the anguished, redouble our efforts to get smarter about the profiles of lethal violence, but let us stop treating Oakland as if the community caused the tragedy, and stop assuming that parolees are an armed insurgency seeking to kill police officers. In a different moment, any one of them, and even Mixon and Kalathat (on other days) might have been pulling you out of the rubble of your home following a fatal earthquake in the Bay Area.

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