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Millennial Life: The Shadows Turned Away From the Sun

Cassie McClure on

At 5:30 a.m., it was still dark when we -- five cops, two city council members, and one city manager -- took off from City Hall on bikes. Within a few minutes, the sun started creeping over the mountains, showing us the muted colors of the old adobes in the nearby neighborhood.

We pulled up next to three people sitting outside a house. The police wanted to check the cleanup status codes they had requested, and the three explained they had tapped in to help the property owner. Breakfast was cooking on a little grill as two dogs tussled gently around it.

One of the men came out to be a witness to the work they wanted to do for their friend. The other man came to talk about having grown up in the neighborhood, gangbanging in the same streets, and now wanting to be its caretaker after doing his time.

"But the streets have changed," he said, "The kids now are so quick to anger. It used to be we'd finish things," he mimicked with a closed fist against a palm, "like that, but now it's just," and his gun-shaped fingers rat-tat-tatted toward us. "There's less for kids to do now."

Sadness lingered against the dawn of the new day. The heat increased slowly but steadily as we rode on.

We stopped at another boarded-up property. The backyard was filled with bicycle parts, piles of trash, and a box of 8-track tapes under a dilapidated gazebo. An officer called into the blackened window frame, which had been covered with plywood up the day before. No one was there, but they had been overnight.

They explained the case: a son thought the mom had left the property for him in her will. She didn't. He refused to leave and brought in friends and their drugs; the property had decayed around them in short order. The property was sold, and the son had threatened the new owners. The police supervised the move-out the day before.

 

Driving by a Walmart, a man sat slumped in a wheelchair. One of the officers veered over to check on him, calling him by his name. The man in the wheelchair woke up to curse the officer. After a few minutes, the officer rode over and told me his story. The police knew him. The man was on track to lose his legs from infection. His family lived in the city and wanted to help -- as long as he stopped using. He refused.

At another location, a young woman spoke to us about her drug habit, never raising her eyes to us. She had three kids at her mom's house she didn't see. The officers offered to call for a local treatment facility to come get her. She wasn't ready.

Even as we consider that police offering help has layered connotations -- invoking real fear for many, especially people of color -- what is the step for those who outright refuse treatment for substance abuse? That's the challenge in our city, throughout New Mexico, the country, and the world: the gap between saying no to help and the possibility of change.

It's that gap, somewhere in the twilight between the justice system and the various rehabilitation systems, that becomes a gaping hole -- one that our neighbors fall into every single day.

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Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at cassie@mcclurepublications.com. To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


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