The recent stay in the execution of Guy LeGrande gave us anti-death-culture activists a sliver of hope, but the cruel injustice of the case should make all of Raleigh take a moment to think about how LeGrande's case reflects our people's treatment of the mentally ill. Western Boulevard is a perfect physical representation of our current approach to the mentally ill. We shut down Dorothea Dix Hospital and sent the patients across the street to Central Prison. This must be what that rarely used crosswalk is for.
I used to live right behind the prison. A few thousand feet from my kitchen, people were being denied the right to spend time with their families. Sometimes they were denied the right to communicate with the outside world. Sometimes they were killed. But we all just walk or drive past and ignore that it is there.
What does this say about us? We are people that tolerate lynch mob "justice" and are so obsessed with filling the city with phallic towers that we are willing to build over the last great open space where we could retreat to preserve our sanity. This is not much to take pride in. Friends often wonder why I choose to live in such a soulless city, and sometimes I can defend it, but sometimes reality is overwhelmingly against me.
But all is not hopeless: The people's plan for Dix Park is still alive (we are the last city in the country with such a huge opportunity to save land in the city's core), and North Carolina is closer than ever to a moratorium on executions (which would make us the first state in the South to pass a moratorium). A victory on both these issues would help us reframe the way we view ourselves. Victories such as this have helped unite the people of other cities and inspired them to see what else they could accomplish.
After we stop practicing human sacrifice in the heart of our city, maybe we will be motivated to tear down Central Prison and build in its place a beautiful and dignified assisted-living facility for the mentally ill, instead of razor wire-encircled warehouses.
Once we stop both state and city government from developing the last piece of Dix land, maybe we could decide to be the first city in the country to have an extensive municipal forest garden, where our citizens can play, learn about true economics through ecology, fill their bellies on the offerings of the forest crops, meet each other, scrape their knees, sleep, grow strong and stay sane. On the Great Field, we can have festivals and concerts. This vision would do much more to honor the legacy of Dorothea Dix than any sandwich shop or law firm.
We could be people who take pride in their city, not because we know the city council will approve our sleazy plans for destructive housing, but because we care about what we have to offer each other, because we stand up for each other, and because we care about the place we all live. Other cities could look to us as a place that does extraordinary things, instead of a city that tries very hard to be ordinary. Instead of being assholes, we could be hearts and backbones.