Thursday, November 5, 2009

Open Letter to the Discovery Channel

Dear Representative,

First, I would like to thank you for your program "Gang Wars: Oakland." I am writing to let you know how much it means to us Oakland residents that the longstanding problems of our city are finally being addressed. Ideally, I would like to participate in a focus group or somehow give feedback to the producers of this segment, because I really would like to have a chance to let them know my opinions.

While I am very grateful that you have chosen Oakland as the subject of a program, I was struck by the polemical tone of the production. While this is certainly an occasion for heartfelt messages, I strongly disagree with the narrator's assertion that the 8-man Police Task Force on gangs is our "only hope." The Oakland Police and municipal government have asserted since the 80's that this is in fact not at all true--it is, rather, the responsibility of citizens such as myself who have been personally affected by homicide to build relations with law enforcement and between citizens in order to tackle this problem.

I know that the producers of the show may have been aware of this--that the 8-man task force is not actually our "only hope"--but they may have figured, perhaps with a keen entrepreneurial spirit, that the mostly-suburban viewers of Discovery would respond with more excitement to the idea of a select few versus thousands. Indeed, this image conjures any number of popular action and war movies, from Rambo to Kill Bill, and is very much a part of the American popular imagination.

But, speaking as a person who has seen the intimate relationship between social policies, which destroy communities by starving them of the most basic resources like education, and homicide, I do not appreciate the metaphor of Oakland as an action movie. In order to do justice to Oakland, or any other city whose plight is similar, one would need to show that the people dying are real people, not extras with squibs, and that their families and communities are torn asunder by their premature deaths.

It is my dream that Discovery and its affiliates could produce television that gives more of a voice to the people involved in the battlezone that is the American ghetto. We must collaborate on this.

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