Thursday, July 7, 2016

Just Two Dead Kids

“Do you really think democracy works?” demanded my student. He’s a very intelligent guy, as well as a very passionate one. So I wasn’t surprised when he went on: “in my democracy, that father of the kid killed at the Caribe Hilton this weekend would be in jail, until he starts talking to the police.”

It was a story that shone by it absence, as the saying goes here. Or perhaps it was I who was absent, since do I look at TV news? Listen to morning radio? Of course not—I read the online version of El Nuevo Día, the largest newspaper in Puerto Rico. And it has to be said, however paltry the news is in the print version, the online version is ten times more scant. So maybe everybody was talking about the murders of two children, ages six and ten, at 9:50 PM at the pool in one of the best resorts on the island.

The Caribe Hilton is one of the oldest hotels in the island; nonetheless, it’s been well-maintained and has the feeling of a new, quietly elegant hotel. The pool is lovely, and the hotel is the only one on the island that has its own private beach. And last weekend, a 29-year old guy who has no job paid 1000 dollars in cash for two hotel rooms, one of which was untouched. Nor was that the only thing a bit amiss--here’s El Nuevo Día:

En el caso registrado ayer en el hotel Caribe Hilton, la Policía halló un arma cargada en el bulto del menor que aún se encontraba en el área de la piscina y fue ocupada por los investigadores.

In short, the police found a kid’s backpack with a loaded firearm in it in the pool area.

According to accounts I read in Facebook, the usual pandemonium ensued: a retired state legislator tweeted that he had dived under a staircase, and was cowering there for the many minutes—which might have felt like hours—before the police arrived. And the supposition of the police? It was one more drug-related killing. And so there are dead children, two men (apparently rival drugs dealers) being held in Centro Médico. And nobody is talking to the police.

The narrative used to be that if you were at the wrong place at the time—well, you took your chances. Now we have to ask: is being at the Caribe Hilton the wrong place? And if so, can we tweak it?

(Camera pans over beautiful hotel grounds, with peacocks exhibiting the full plumage before enthralled, tow-headed children)

Voice: Imagine the lush, tropical beaches of a Caribbean paradise, combined with the thrill of Al Capone’s 1930’s Chicago!

(Shots heard—the tow-headed kid squeals with delights, and dives underneath a sofa….)

Why do I think that commercial has a way to go, still?

The fathers are not talking, of course, because the code on the street is not to talk to the cops. The street will take care of it, which means just what you think: in a week or two, we’ll hear—or not hear—of the murders of two kids of the other father. Or maybe it’ll be his mother and grandmother. But the account, as we say here, will be adjusted.

What is interesting is what there isn’t. Because I was appalled by the murder of a young black man at the hands of the police in St. Paul, last night, but also strangely comforted. There was the spectacle, for example, of all those people, seemingly drawn from the streets of Lake Wobegon, and what were they all doing? The were standing outside of the governor’s mansion, alternately shouting, “Prosecute the Police,” and “Wake up, Governor!”

They were liberals, presumably, and who is the governor of their state? Drayton, their poster child, who raised taxes on the rich and put the money in the schools, and did all kinds of things that made Republicans howl. And so now Minnesota has a surplus, has an excellent quality of life as well as business climate, and…OK, I should look all this stuff up and hyperlink it. But unless I’ve been misreading consistently for the last three years, all of the above is true.

“The first thing that has to happen is for the citizens to get outraged,” said my student, who went on to tell me that when the Cubans came—as he did at age 7—to Puerto Rico, they started complaining. The main road of the town he grew up in—Arecibo, which is one of the largest towns in the island—was unpaved. So all the Cubans complained, and all the Puerto Ricans either derided or made fun of them.

“It’s what V. S. Naipaul once wrote: the worst effect of colonialism is a crippling inability to think critically or act proactively,” I told my student. Did Naipaul actually say that? Think so….

“Of course,” he said.

So now we have two kids dead, with comparatively little press coverage, and no—that I can see or hear—public outrage. The Caribe Hilton, of course, has come out and said what any publicist would say: They are horrified that despite their excellent security precautions, this tragic event occurred. And they are, of course, cooperating fully with the police department.

But why do I feel that none of the rest of us—the guilty fathers, the absent mothers, the uncaring public—none of the rest of us, I say…

…are cooperating?