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Ron Kaye: How much longer, Pasadena?

April 08, 2012

“How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever.”

“How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Those were the words Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. thundered on the steps of the state Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. on March 25, 1965 after the march from Selma.

One day short of the 47th anniversary of that historic moment, at 11 p.m. on March 24, 2012, an unarmed black man, Kendrec McDade, 20, died in a hail of bullets fired by two white Pasadena police officers — one on foot, the other in a squad car — near the intersection where the history of Pasadena's wealth and its poverty meet, Orange Grove Boulevard and Fair Oaks Avenue.

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Together with the all too similar killing of Treyvon Martin a month earlier by a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, America's unresolved racial attitudes are back in the forefront with the added contemporary element that the man who shot the Florida teenager was half Latino and the man who lied to police about McDade being armed was an undocumented Latino immigrant.

These things don't just happen. They grow out of who we were and who we have become.

For so long, Pasadena, like much of America, has been a tale of two cities — one white, one black, and now, with a third of the population Latino, a tale of three cities.

Pasadena, for all its affluence and hipness, the beauty of its neighborhoods, the resurrection of Old Pasadena, the high quality of life enjoyed by so many, has never fully faced the ugly truth about how nearly a fifth of its population lives in poverty, how an astonishing third of the school-age children are in private schools because of the failure of its public schools, how the disparity in wealth and circumstance is like a cancer eating away at the life of the city.

That's true of much of America, but the death of Kendrec McDade is Pasadena's problem, an opportunity once and for all to start a public dialogue that can heal the wounds of the past and build a future where these things don't happen anymore.

For Pasadena, this is a story that goes back virtually to its founding as a paradise for the wealthy escaping those awful winters back in the East and Midwest.

They built mansions along Orange Grove Boulevard, monuments to the fortunes created by America's entrepreneurial spirit and materialism: Wrigley's chewing gum, Bissell's vacuum cleaners, Busch's Budweiser beer, Gamble's Procter & Gamble consumer products and so many others.

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