Burglars Bring Out Dirty Laundry

Originally, published in HaasWeek, the newspaper of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley on May 5, 1997.


In the last two weeks, i have been the victim of two burglaries. This is not about my wallet, but about incidents that took place at my home in Oakland. Not break-ins, but things wandering off my doorstep.

The first time, the miscreant took off with a bag in the middle of the night. Imagine their shock at finding out that the bag contained 78 soiled diapers that i had put out for the diaper service to pick up in the morning. I found the bag at the end of my street the next day.

The second time the thief was smarter, waiting until the diaper service left a sack full of clean diapers before committing the crime.

So what is my defense? With the ‘keys to the kingdom’ i am now in the elite. With my brand new MBA, just like the rest of you i command an obscenely high salary, far more than i need, and can move. Away from BART, away from the poor, away from crime. A place with great schools, with a responsive police force, a place where there are no homeless. A place where its easier to identify those who don’t belong by their bags, their shopping carts, their junky bikes and their old cars. Someplace where i can be safe for a few years.

What am i fleeing? What am i afraid of?Oakland homeless encampments

Should i be afraid of a bunch of people desperate enough to steal garbage bags to find some goody to eke out their existence? I see these people outside of BART stations every day and am not threatened by them.

But should i be? What is their limit? The moment when they stop panhandling and try manhandling. The moment when they try to mug me or break into my apartment because they are so desperate.

I am terrified not of this limit but of the next. The moment when they cannot control their anger, their frustration and decide to let it out on me. When they don’t want anything i have; they just want me.

While MBAs are in high demand and our salaries and sign-in bonuses are outpacing inflation, the bottom 50% of the population have seen their wages fall for the past 15 years and cannot see the possibility of future improvements. The people further down the economic chain are in worse shape and their population is increasing. Yes, we are in a rising tide, but one that does not lift all boats.

How long will they accept the state of affairs? Are we acting like the French nobility before the Revolution? Remember the LA riots?

We can and probably will continue our move to safer places-it’s survival. That will mean longer commutes and isolated communities. There is another solution that involves facing the problem and trying to solve it. Try to heal communities, to increase equity, to help meet the needs of the desperate. To give hope to people who have lost it.OAKLAND HOMELESS CAMPS

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