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Say it Ain’t So, Joe.

BELL’S VIEW--The other day a video posted on Facebook drew my attention. In it, a motorcycle moves in slow motion toward the middle of an intersection and a certain crash with a left-turning car. I could see where this was heading, but I couldn’t look away. I have no real desire to watch a motorcyclist pinwheel through the air and crash to the pavement (he survived, thanks to his helmet), but I watched anyway.

So many events I have seen I wish I hadn’t. I’ll never get the video of the Tamir Rice shooting out of my head. And I don’t suppose I should. Maybe this destruction of our illusions – the illusion that we can prolong our innocence through looking away – is the price we have to pay to bring any real change to the world. We live in in-between times, where one person’s truth is another’s lie. How can that be possible? I’ve never completely bought the old chestnut that there are two sides to every story. Tamir Rice was a thirteen-year-old boy playing in the park. I don’t care what the grand jury said. 

Another slow-motion wreck sucking my attention these days is the continuing saga of the Joe Bray-Ali (photo above) campaign to unseat incumbent City Councilman Gil Cedillo – the 70’s B-movie villain currently ignoring his constituents in Council District 1. As anyone following the story knows, Bray-Ali either had his character assassinated or his true identity revealed last week when LAist broke the story of Bray-Ali’s former career as an Internet troll. The story prompted Bray-Ali to publicly attempt to recreate John Hurt’s chestbuster scene from the first Alien movie. He apologized, but he didn’t do it. He’s only human, but he’s not that guy. He made mistakes, but he was only trying to do the right thing. 

Flailing, he revealed a few other juicy indiscretions (tax evasion, marital infidelity, and tagging, in that order) and promised to explain it all later as he blithely reassumed his campaign persona. Meanwhile, the old Joe came out swinging on a few Facebook threads, where he just couldn’t seem to help himself. In one, he trotted out a list of some of the crazy misdeeds (bigamy anyone?) of our current City Councilmembers, including Mike Bonin’s long-past meth habit. How, one commenter asked, is Bonin’s triumph over addiction comparable to your Mr. Hyde impression on Voat

How indeed? One truth has emerged: Bray-Ali’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington shtick is not exactly the real thing. He’s brash, he’s bold, he’s – either – racist, sexist, and transphobic, or some kind of satirical anthropologist employing the awesome power of the n-word to move us all toward positive social change. 

The question remains whether Bray-Ali’s move-along, nothing-to-see-here approach can sweep him into the Council chambers on May 16th. A few prominent Bray-Ali supporters have jumped ship, while others have either drunk the kool-aide or just admitted they don’t care. I sympathize fully with the impulse to support the lesser of two evils. City Hall needs a shakeup. The question District1 voters have to ask themselves is: how much is too much?

Bray-Ali’s explanations have been satisfying only to the rubberneckers and the kool-aide drinkers. The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword, but, at this point, Bray-Ali needs to get hold of something sharp and cut out the rotten bits. Words just aren’t going to do it this time. As a proponent of the power of language, I’ve never felt so adrift. Debate has evolved away from a means of challenging ideas and into a method of silencing our opponents. Shame, humiliation, degradation, and name-calling – all dressed up as free speech – work only to drive speech into hiding, oblivion, or meaninglessness. Joe Bray-Ali has seen this process from both sides – from give and take – and now he’s in the fight of his life with the beast we’ve all been feeding since the turn of the millennium.

On May 16th, the voters in District 1 have a choice – but the choice is all Joe’s at this point. He needs to find a way to the other side of the wall he’s built for himself. And he needs to do it fast.

 

(David Bell is a writer, attorney, former president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and writes for CityWatch.)

-cw