I pretended the recent Town Hall Meeting called by Humboldt County 2nd District Supervisor Estrelle Fennell to appease local drug dealers and the businesses that cater to them, who are now upset about the lack of police presence in Southern Humboldt. Unlike many community meetings I’ve attended, at this meeting, my community really impressed me with their honesty, candor and eloquence. I would like to share the highlights, just so that lygsbtd readers get a sense of how this unique community works together to solve serious problems.
By way of background: For many years now, drug related murders, disappearances, violent crimes and home invasions have been a normal part of life here in Southern Humboldt County. At least half-a-dozen people have gone missing, under suspicious circumstances, this year alone, and too many of those crimes go unsolved, but a recent event has shocked this small, remote, rural community to it’s core, and sparked a wave of outrage.
On the night of May10, 2014, an 18 year old kid from Fortuna, broke into a local head-shop and stole some bongs. As hideous as this crime is to contemplate, a skinny teenager, shimmying under the security door of a head-shop in the far back corner of an industrial park on the outskirts of town, one fact in the case horrified the community even more.
It seems that the perpetrator’s initial intrusion triggered an automatic alarm system that notified the Sheriff’s Department, but no deputies were ever dispatched to investigate the break in. Obviously noting the lack of response, the intruder went back into the store a second and third time, stealing more bongs, and leaving fingerprints as well as his image recorded on surveillance video. All together, the kid stole about $3,500 worth of overpriced dope smoking toys, which were then recovered when the kid was apprehended.
As you can understand, even though SoHum owes most of it’s prosperity to the fact that there are no cops here, this event has outraged this community. The idea of a young person, with a wanton disregard for private property, coming to SoHum and stealing from a community of underworld gangsters and drug kingpins, is terrifying enough, but the fact that the Sheriff didn’t send an officer two hours out of his way, to investigate a call from a machine, has suddenly made people feel unsafe in their own homes.
Facing a barrage of criticism, 2nd district Supervisor Estrelle Fennell called the meeting, and dragged Humboldt County Sheriff Morton Downey along, to face a gymnasium packed with angry drug dealers eager to vent their spleen.
Supervisor Fennell opened the meeting with an eloquent statement that summed up the situation beautifully. I think I can recall it verbatim:
“For two or three generations now, politicians, law enforcement and underworld criminals have worked together to perpetrate the most heinous crime against humanity to take place in North America since slavery and the genocide of the American Indians. Over the last four decades, the War on Drugs has decimated cities all over America and destroyed tens of millions of American lives.” Supervisor Fennell began.
“And it’s not like this community has been immune to the terrible consequences of these misguided policies” she continued, adding, “This community has lost lots of wonderful people, and our children are forever scarred by the trauma of the War on Drugs. Still, overall, here in Humboldt County, by working together with law enforcement, we’ve managed to turn America’s catastrophe into our little pot of gold.”
“Whether you make your living in law enforcement, as part of the prison industrial complex, in the black market as part of our vibrant marijuana industry, or in the white market, selling stuff that drug dealers want and need, we should all remember that if it weren’t for America’s tragic War on Drugs, we’d all be working at an Applebee’s somewhere.”
“Today we see that the whole country is falling apart, yet we have money, land and expensive toys. To deal with this new crisis, we need to work together with law enforcement in a new way, to keep America’s disaffected youth from coming to Southern Humboldt and attempting to reclaim their stolen future.” Supervisor Estrelle Fennell concluded, finishing with: “Now I’d like to turn the meeting over to Humboldt County Sheriff Morton Downey to talk about some of the steps the Sheriff’s Department is taking to address this new crisis.”
Next, Sheriff Morton Downey took the stage, and I liked what he had to say too.
“Thank you Supervisor Fennell. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to so many of you this evening. I realize that these are challenging times for all of us. We face budget cutbacks. You face falling marijuana prices, and we’re all facing a generation of angry kids with no money, no place to live and no future. They’re hungry, they haven’t slept well and they’re pissed off. If they weren’t so fucked up on drugs they’d probably slit our throats while we slept, so we in law enforcement do appreciate the effort that you, in the black market, have invested in reaching America’s youth.”
“We know that people hate us and the War on Drugs has given them plenty of good reasons, so we take steps to deal with the threat. Look at us! We don’t go anywhere without a flack jacket and a loaded gun, and if anyone looks at us funny, we pump them full of lead. You’d be surprised at how much more secure you feel when you’ve got a good quality Kevlar vest on and pistol on your hip”
“You guys have got guns! You know how to use ‘em!” Sheriff Downey said emphatically, adding, “I see a couple of murderers here tonight. Hey, a deal is a deal, but we get calls from bereft family members every day.
They want to know what we are doing to find their missing family member. How do you think it looks to those grieving parents when I tell them that we’re short staffed, and there’s nothing more we can do to find their missing son or daughter, and then we put out a county-wide dragnet to find a teenager with a stolen bong? Don’t you see how this puts us in a very awkward position?”
“I don’t mean to be unsympathetic, but I thought we had a deal: we leave you alone, and you don’t complain about it. Well, we’ve left you alone, and now you’re making a big stink about a silly little burglary. Burglaries like this happen every day in Eureka, despite the fact that they have their own police force, and some of the most violent cops in California.
Cops don’t prevent crime; cops create crime. The sooner you realize that, the better.”
“We’re always happy to work with the community, but we do face budget constraints, and after dealing with Gary Lee Bullock, we’d just as soon let you guys kill each other down here as haul your ass up to Eureka. I know you guys are always complaining about the transients and the homeless and the people from out of town, but every time something really tragic happens around here, it always turns out that your kids are responsible. Keep it in the family, folks, and thank your lucky stars that there aren’t more cops around.”
After that, Supervisor Fennell opened the floor for questions, and local community members really had a lot to say, but I’m afraid that it will have to wait. Tune in to lygsbtd next week for the thrilling conclusion to the Town Hall Meeting held in Redway, last Thursday.