With Liberty and Safety for All
“Is it always in the interest of the public safety to seek the prosecutor’s traditional solution — the harshest penalty possible? Or is the public best served by finding ways to change a kid’s lot in life for the better, even if that means opening the prison door?”
― Edward Humes, No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court
“You can’t lock yourself up and make yourself completely safe. You can’t. It’s not possible.”
― Pramila Jayapal
As most of you know, we are spending some time in Spain, Málaga province, Málaga city. For us, it started out as a short vacation to escape winter weather. In late January, the daytime temperature in Málaga hovers around sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Almost every day is sunny.
We were delighted and would have been quite satisfied had there been no other attraction to the region. But we figured that maybe we should venture out some. Not because of wanderlust: we are too old to have a bucket list. Our buckets are empty. Honestly, we did not want to go back to Saint Louis with no stories to tell. It would have been supremely embarrassing if we had run into someone who has been here, and they had asked us “did you go to ___?, and we would have had to remain silent.
We booked a tour. A smart, striking young woman drove us to a hiking trail 60 miles north of Málaga. We saw hundreds of limestone hills that had once been at the bottom of the ocean and had been thrust above ground by tectonic shifts that happened millions of years ago. The steady erosive effects of rain on limestone produced exotic and fascinating shapes. We were hooked on the tour thing.
We saw modern art, and ancient sculptures. We hiked along intimidating cliffs and well-kept botanical gardens. We signed up to see a performance at the concert hall. We toured a huge cave where a symphony orchestra can perform, and we climbed atop a fortress that was almost a thousand years old.
And we ate. One of the greatest benefits of living on the shore (besides walking on a beach) is to have fresh seafood available six days a week (the fishermen do not go out on Sundays). Peppers that would knock you out if I threw them at your head. The sweetest mangoes ever. Dates; figs; almonds; cashews; all grown without a trace of pesticide or herbicide.
We decided that the next stay would be for three months. “The virus” did not let us make it past ten weeks, but three of our children came to visit while we were here. None of them, or any of the grandchildren, wanted to go back. The most memorable moment happened when Jonah, our perpetual-motion grandchild, sat transfixed in front of a churro that he soaked in hot chocolate until only a stub was left. Then he drank the chocolate. There was not a single millimeter of his face that was not covered with the dark brown stuff.
“I like it here. Is there more?”
There is indeed. One evening we were walking back to our apartment after a night of dining and wandering through the old town (Málaga is one of the oldest cities in the world). I was not sure of where I was going, but the GPS asked me to turn into a dark alley. It was after 11. Phyllis recoiled a bit.
“Are we going to be safe?”
I did not hesitate to answer.
Yes. One hundred percent.
It was not always like that. Twenty years ago, Málaga was not a safe place. I have spoken to many locals who tell me that there were many streets and neighborhoods to avoid. The residents got together with the tourism industry and the municipal, state, and national authorities. The European Union chipped in.
A determined, if a bit piecemeal, approach followed. Residents of the undesirable neighborhoods were given assistance in order to make their properties look clean and painted. There were several contests to encourage graffiti artists of international fame to come to Málaga to paint the sides of buildings, both tall and small, with their art. Tourists were encouraged to eat and shop in the once-unsafe places.
The national government provides free health care for all. The system works well, but you will not see any three-story tall lobbies with spectacular fountains when you visit a hospital. Maybe a few tables and chairs that have seen (much) better days. There is a universal minimum income, which is barely enough to live on, but, at least until SARS-CoV-2 hit, nobody went hungry. Illegal narcotic trade is an issue (always worse in border and seaside towns, because of smuggling), but nowhere to the extent that we see in America.
There were 21 murders in Málaga province in 2018. All but three of them due to infighting among narcotic gangs. The population is 1.6 million. There were 194 murders in Saint Louis in 2019. Among 300,000 inhabitants. You do the math.
You may be tempted to say that Spain does not have the same racial composition that we have in Saint Louis. I will answer that in 1936 Spain was consumed by a Civil War that killed so many people (at least 500,000) that nobody has been able to come up with an undisputed number. The Spanish are not immune to violence. Race has nothing to do with why people kill. Murders happen as a result of failed government policy. Or lack of one.
Government has one foremost obligation: to keep us safe. From each other; from policemen who abuse their power; from a legal system that favors the rich and well-connected. Yes: we must educate our children; we must care for the sick without driving them into bankruptcy. Of course. But first, we cannot ask our people to be afraid to leave their homes or to go to sleep in them.
I hope that both parties get the message. Smart people need to come up with suggestions as to what needs to be done. Until we see some change, there will be no progress on any of the other plagues that strike us.
This is why we vote for you. This is your main job. KEEP. US. SAFE.