So the other day I take my 7 year old boy to a skateboard event in San Francisco’s Tenderloin — yes, that’s the name of the neighborhood and, no, I didn’t make it up — sponsored by the city Parks and Rec. The Tenderloin, for those of you that don’t know, is one of the more, well, poor neighborhoods of the city — black, Laotian, Vietnamese, and more.
And then there was us — the beast and me, a middle class hebe and his demi-jew spawn. Oh, it was a beautiful, if chaotic, event — loud music, people everywhere, and some professional skater in the middle of it all. My boy, needless to say, was a bit intimidated — he had his board and his helmet but he was sticking close to his pops.
Seeing such a young one — he was certainly on the younger side — people were coming up to us to encourage his participation. One such young man introduced himself as Kevin. Kevin was a 19-year-old black man. He explained to us that he’d grown up in the SF housing projects and that skateboarding had helped keep him off the streets, out of trouble, and in school. So he suggested that I encourage my boy to skate — you know, to keep him off the streets.
But for me and the boy, skateboarding is about putting more street, as it were, into our lives. We’re not trying to avoid trouble; we’re trying to get into a little — just a little, of course.
And this brought to light the relativity of social issues — for one community, skateboarding is a way to stay out of trouble; for another, it’s a way of welcoming some trouble where there is too little. This disparity makes making sense of social policy insanely difficult.
Take the so-called issue of drugs. I love drugs! My friends love drugs! My whole life we’ve been dropping, eating, smoking, and snorting so many different things. In other communities, for other people, drugs have been devastating, laying waste to entire populations.
How can we have a conversation, then, about the role of drugs in our society? And, more complicated, how are we to legislate it? The same act — smoking some crack, smoking a joint, blowing lines — means very different things in different communities. But the law must apply to all, equally — at least nominally. We know, of course, that it is not applied equally — that there is enormous racial bias.
And yet I like the idea of police being empowered to choose when to enforce a law and when not to. Because the same act is not equal for all. I know, I know: our police, unfortunately, are not trained to do that. On the contrary, they are trained — perhaps implicitly — to enforce along racial lines. But I’m asking you to listen to what I’m saying: the equal enforcement of the law does not always make sense, especially in a country as wildly diverse as this one. As legislation can’t discern, it’s the job of the enforcers to do so.
The grand finale of this skateboard event was the giving away of 10 boards to 10 lucky kids, courtesy of this pro skater. When they announced the beginning of the give away, all the kids raced to where the new boards were lined up. My boy, sensing the excitement and wanting a board, began his foray into the group — before Dad yanked his ass back. And I explained to him that those boards were for kids who couldn’t afford their own and, as we can afford one, he had to sit this one out.
Because while the law may apply to us all equally, this doesn’t mean we are all the same.