The Meanest County In California

This morning I got up, made a quadruple latte, began perusing my Facebook feed and ran across a story about the Redding Police Department receiving naloxone kits. Naloxone is the miracle drug that can revive overdosed opioid junkies like Lazarus from the tomb. There were already a dozen comments on the post, and I knew before looking that at least one of them was going to earnestly suggest why bother raising the dying deplorables from our streets; we’re better off without them.

I knew this because I live in the meanest county in California.

For those of you who haven’t figured out the score in Shasta County, a local criminal defense attorney once put it to me like this: America incarcerates more people per capita than any nation on the planet, California incarcerates more people per capita than any state in the nation and Shasta County incarcerates more people per capita than any county in the state.

Shasta strong!

Those numbers of course are drawn from the good old days, before AB 109, when Shasta County shipped all of its criminals, including nonviolent drug offenders, off to the state prison system, often with longer sentences than they would have received in other counties. Now, after a decade of prison reform, those very same nonviolent drug offenders, mixed in with the new breed of alienated white trash junkie addict thieves, are ensuring our lives are just as miserable as their own.

Alienation is the key feature of our Lazaruses, opioids offer temporary relief, until dope sickness sinks in. Then, a junkie can get mean, real mean, you betcha. They’ll smash your car window in, creepy-crawl your house, torture your cat just for kicks, looking for anything to steal and sell for a fix. That’s not to mention the genuine crazies, who urinate and defecate in our general direction, a message I’m certain is meant to be taken quite literally.

No one likes encountering such behavior. It can be uncomfortable. Life-threatening. Anger is the natural reaction and the temptation is to take it down to the street level. It spills over into vitriolic social media posts and story comments, ratcheting up the meanness of our discourse. Any attempt to inject civility into the conversation is melted down as silly snowflake speak. We’re trapped in a feedback loop of anger and getting meaner by the post.

It’s no coincidence that the failed recall effort that began on a local Facebook page last year targeted the two Redding city council members who more than any other members currently sitting dared to suggest we might do something—besides lock them all up or bus them all out of town—for the down-and-out denizens among us. God forbid we address the multi-generational issues that have plagued this county for decades.

I was pleased that the recall effort failed, but disappointed that the group organizing it has of this writing not released the number of signatures it collected. I was hoping to get a peg on just how many mean-spirited voters there are in the city of Redding. Who was willing to put their name, address and phone number on that petition?

As it turns out, we may never know. I have a strange relationship with Take Back Redding, one of the Facebook groups that spurred the recall effort. Certain members of the group enjoyed sparring with me on posts and were disappointed when whoever was managing the page booted me out of the group last year. Every once in a while, when something hinky happens within the group, one of them will contact me.

Well, it seems like something hinky has happened, according to insiders. It’s too early to name names, but here’s the skinny: Some members of the recall effort who were in on it from the beginning claim that other members who joined later have hijacked the movement, and one of them is holding the signature count hostage, to what end a mystery.

I know, I know. It’s not much of a scoop. A bunch of angry people got together and formed a group, quickly devolved into infighting, then crashed and burned.

But maybe there’s a lesson in there somewhere. This has been going on for a long time now. There has been lots of finger pointing, some of it legitimate, at local law enforcement and government, who’ve attempted to address the issue via taxation at the ballot box only to be turned down every time.

Local officials understand that the grand project of prison realignment is here to stay and that we’re going to have to provide services to these people, including drug treatment, vocational rehabilitation and extra jail cells if necessary. If the tax measures they had proposed had passed, we might be well on our way to making Shasta County great again (if it ever was).

But it only takes a minority of mean-spirited people to knock down a tax measure in red county California, a minority who despite their love of law and order can’t seem to understand it takes tax money to fund public institutions, especially at the levels of incarceration they’re demanding.

So here we are, stuck in the shit, in the meanest county in California. That’s how we look to the outside world. Why would anyone want to come here?

I know I’m no angel. I can be one mean bastard. I’ve said and written many things in anger that I’ve later regretted. This meanness, it rubs off on you, like a virus. We’ve got to rise above it, and ask ourselves, what is it about here, Shasta County, that causes so many young men, mostly white, but a disproportionate number of blacks and latinos, to become so alienated from society? How do we stop it?

Until we all begin asking and seeking answers to such questions, it’s never going to end.

R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas. He can be emailed at RVScheide@anewscafe.com.
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