The World in a Tunnel

Can the whole world shrink to the size of a walking path tunnel in Chaska, Minnesota?

On our morning walk, while Barclay sniffs his way along the path for signs of smaller creatures who might not have made it through the night, my eyes were drawn to the graffiti on the both sides of the tunnel. Boldly painted in black or red, the logos belonged to gangs or gang wannabes.

Eight years at the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis left me we a knowledge of graffiti and tagging. Our defense attorneys sometimes defended “taggers”, self-proclaimed creative artists who used public space as their canvasses. Other times the graffiti was posted by a gang member to announce the gang’s claim to a block or a neighborhood. Often the gangs were competing for control. In that case, there were at least two “tags” and sometimes many: Latin Kings, the Crips, or the Gangster Disciples. The graffiti meant, “Don’t mess with us. We own this neighborhood.”

In Chaska this morning the tunnel walls were filled with gang symbols, most likely by kids who are gang “wannabes”, kids in a small city pretending to be gangsters the way my generation used to play cops and robbers or Cowboys and Indians. You couldn’t be both a cop and robber. You couldn’t be a cowboy and an Indian. You were either in the one gang or the other. We’re all in some kind of gang where we get our sense of identity and the security that comes with belonging to something.

Walking through the tunnel was like living for a moment in a microcosm of the world where the small town folks’ claims of ownership and the threats of violence mirror and replicate the power of greed, the lust for power and “the good life” that filters down from The Boss, Trump’s Tower, Wall Street, the Mall, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Washington, D.C. where the will to security and power is the motive force.

Meanwhile, six-month-old Barclay, the 10-pound puppy on my leash ignores the walls and sniffs the macadam for a mouse that has already died, unaware of handwriting on the walls of the superior species of his master.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Saturday morning, November 16, 2013

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