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“What’s happening? Is everyone OK?”

Bombs of benign neglect falling on all our cities — including yours

Destruction arrives in many ways

When we think of war we often think of bombs and explosions. We have seen lots of movies, cartoons, and games that often use bombing as a theme. On 9/11 I saw the result of bombing done by passenger flights. I was on the sidewalk in Manhattan. I know the horror of such destruction. I will never forget watching, from Hudson River Park, the two towers fall down. A group of us standing in shock spontaneously burst into tears.

There are other types of destruction most of the middle class never see, except in a film or TV show. There are no newsworthy explosions but there are casualties. Lives have been destroyed for many decades but the harm is invisible to most of the privileged.

Living in what we politely call “an unresourced community” won’t mean that a thousand people die instantly, as they do in an act of war. Instead, it’s a slow death by a thousand cuts. Untreated medical and mental health challenges. Lack of effective schools. Non-existent job training. Trauma. Drug overdose. Hunger. It’s a very long list.

And all happening as you read this. All on the other side of town.

Your city and county policies, or more accurately your lack of policies to ensure vital services, doom our children, families and elders to a world where the vital services for surviving are not within reach.

In your county, or the one next door, there are communities lacking access to medical care, mental health care, safe housing, secure food or transport to vital services. You know all about this and most likely earnestly assume that some local government policy or program is addressing the hardship. That would be the wrong assumption.

You are a caring person and need to believe that elected leaders in city hall care, too. You do pay taxes to fix problems like this, right?

The data on disparities are not difficult to come by. I am happy to direct you to data or to a survey to implement that would present the stark lack of basic services for your neighbors no more than a 10 or 30 min. drive away.

What we have had in each city and county is a policy of benign neglect. This would be policies or attitudes of ignoring a situation instead of assuming responsibility for managing or improving it.

It goes like this. I have conversations with elected leaders and say, “Almost 30% of families seeking medical care can’t easily access it. Almost 50% of families seeking mental health care are finding it very challenging to access.”

They say, “Thank you for bringing that to my attention. Your work is so important.” Then nothing. Are there exceptions and exceptional local leaders? Absolutely. And they are rare and need your support.

We do elect leaders to handle this, right? And we do know that it’s our local leaders–our mayors, city councilors and county commissioners–who decide if vital resources are easily available or not.

As the frenzy around the presidential election consumes the airwaves and perhaps a large part of your screen time and consciousness, know that it is the local benign neglect that is the enemy. Until that’s fixed, nothing changes for our most vulnerable populations. This benign neglect has been going on through the reign of both political parties for as long as we’ve had elections.

We would never allow bombs to drop on our cities. That would be unthinkable. Yet, in many ways, we allow destruction to rain down on our families every day. All this was happening before the pandemic and economic free fall. Now it’s become far worse as the few jobs and support services that did exist in these forgotten communities evaporated.

If you’re not OK with your city leaders ignoring health disparities and a long list of social injustices, you can be the change agent that creates the opposite of benign neglect. According to one definition that would be called kindness.

*The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.

Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of Joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real human or three-headed hydra, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Questions? The Plan Forward awaits you here: www.tenvitalservices.org

A NY Times bestselling author, social justice activist, Oprah guest, co-author of Attack of the Three-Headed Hydras, 100% Community and Anna, Age Eight.

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