Localism and the Ecology of Fear
In the middle of the night of August 26, 1942, a group of French police under the orders of the Nazis rounded up a group of Jewish families in Nice. My father’s family, including his Aunt Anna and cousins Bernard and Lisette, were among those taken to military barracks. There, according to Bernard’s widow, Dorothy Fall in her book Bernard Fall: Memoirs or a Soldier-Scholar, “They all mingled in the filth and heat for a week.” My great-uncle Leo, husband to Anna and father of Bernard and Lisette, was later tortured and murdered by the Gestapo in November 1943 while he lay sick in a hospital bed. The effort of the Nazis to exclude Jews and other groups of people from everyday life in Europe (and then exterminate them) was the ultimate form of localism.
Long-time residents and citizens of France including my own father, were delisted as “locals” or residents and all their rights and in many cases, their lives, were forfeited. Those images of my father’s family came to mind when in 1980, at the age of 15, I witnessed a shooting in Imperial Beach during a community celebration of a cleanup of the Tijuana Estuary I helped organize and carry out.
While my friend Chris Patterson and I listened to a man and his friend sing and play the guitar outside the old Imperial Beach fire station, two men, members of the Aryan Brotherhood, confronted our group.
“Hey n…., get the hell out of here,” the taller of the two men yelled at the guitar player who was African-American.
“Why don’t you get the hell out of here,” responded the friend of the guitar player.
Without saying anything, the tall man took out a pistol and shot the guitar player’s friend in the mouth.
As someone who had grown up listening to the stories of what had happened to my father’s family at the hands of the Nazis (my mother survived the German Blitz as a child in London), witnessing a racist shooting was my worst nightmare come true. But as a young surfer in the late 1970s and early 1980s in San Diego County, I witnessed similar behavior all the time.
Gangs of self-described surfing “locals” either used violence or intimidation to prevent “non-locals” from using public space. In wealthy enclaves like Palos Verdes, this behavior was ignored and/or abetted by the local police.
Southern California has a long history of excluding “non-locals” from our beaches. Until recently, some residents of Malibu contracted private guards to illegally keep people from using public beaches. In the 1920s, there was only one beach, Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach, in all Los Angeles County open to people of all races.