I am a proud member of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s International Association for Creative Maladjustment. I am writing about Treasure Island

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” – Art: Billy Carter, SF County Jail

by Carol Harvey

I was a graduate student in English at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech at Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo, a hundred miles away, in which he said: “Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in psychology. … It is the ringing cry of modern child psychology – maladjusted.”

“I am proud to be maladjusted,” he confessed.

“Of course,” he said, “we all want to live the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.”

(Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, schizophrenic was the big new thing that you didn’t want to be.)

He continued, “But … there are some things in our society and some things in our world for which I am proud to be maladjusted … I never intend to adjust myself to racial segregation and discrimination … I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will … give luxuries to the few and leave millions of God’s children smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.”

I didn’t hear that speech. In fact, the reel-to-reel tape recording of the live broadcast in which Dr. King made that statement was lost for 30 years, until 1997.

I would have viewed Dr. King’s confession through a very personal lens. Like many girls and women of that time, my family worked with all their mighty powers of disdain and scorn to suppress the maladjusted truth I knew to be alive in me.

Dr. King wrote, with no little sense of humor, “I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world, the International Association for the Advancement of Maladjustment – men and women who will be as maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation would not survive half-slave and half-free … As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could say to the men and women of his day, ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you. Pray for them that despitefully use you’” – the cornerstone of Dr. King’s nonviolent direct action.

Around that time, I actually heard Dr. King speak at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor. My roommate forced me away from a paper on Robert Frost, urging: “You’ve got to hear this man,” she said. “He’s brilliant.”

I never forgot the energy of his voice. I was mesmerized by its power.

Ever since that day, I have been a proud member of Dr. King’s International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment.

I imagine the late John Lewis, Dr. King’s companion on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, was a fellow member. He exhorted us all to make “Good Trouble.”

Treasure Island is an artificial island created adjacent to the natural Yerba Buena Island (from which this photo is taken) in the middle of San Francisco Bay to host the 1939 World’s Fair. The island was seized by the US Navy to support the war effort during World War II and heavily contaminated. When Navy housing was abandoned, poor and homeless people were moved there with no concern about the health effects of the radiation and other contaminants left by the Navy.

As those of you who have read my articles in this publication about Treasure Island know, I have displayed my maladjustment and troublesome nature by becoming the only investigative reporter covering Treasure Island full time for the last seven years. I have written over 100 articles about the island which have been published in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper.

Why did I start writing about Treasure Island?

In 2012, 2013 and 2014, two reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) wrote about unreported radioactive cesium-137 they dug out of island soil and had tested, which sparked a firestorm of concern among island residents, three quarters of whom are poor and people of color. This disclosure in the press contradicted ad nauseam reassurances that the island was safe by the Navy, who had polluted the island with radiation and chemicals when it was a military base, and the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA), the body that governs the island under the mayor’s sole control.

In January 2014, I was invited to Treasure Island by a worried island mother who took me on several toxic tours and introduced me to neighbors who immediately began telling me about their illnesses which they attributed to toxin exposure.

I was startled by the number of people who willingly spoke to me and the seriousness of the illnesses they described. I wondered why the mainstream press hadn’t continued covering this but soon learned these reporters had left for other assignments. I have 25 years of experience as an investigative reporter, so I decided to follow Treasure Island for the San Francisco Bay View newspaper.

Since then, I have established solid relationships with islanders, staying in touch with them and tracking their health. Because I maintain confidentiality for every islander with whom I am in daily contact, I am the only person who is aware of their desperation and the desperately unsafe conditions in which they are forced to live. Islanders generally do not know of the devastating health effects they share with each other. However, during meetings with small island groups, they quickly discover illnesses they have in common.

Because the mainstream media has got the message not to cover Treasure Island, until now the poisoning of Treasure Islanders has never been fully disclosed to the public.

Islanders have told me their goal is to hold onto their housing at all costs. Many are formerly homeless mothers with children; they MUST keep their families housed. They told me that as early as 20 years ago, TIDA and John Stewart set up a snitch system. Many residents feel they must keep their daily movements hidden. They fear their neighbors may force attention away from themselves by telling on them. Any complaint they make about their illnesses or island toxins could be followed by harassment and eviction. I have been present in court – a witness to these brutal evictions.

My work on Treasure Island since January 2014 has revealed extensive radiation, chemical, heavy metal, asbestos and toxic black mold contamination on this Superfund site rivaling anything at Hunters Point.

While seven years of research has given me expertise on the technical aspects of this issue, my main concern has always been the many ways these poisons have affected the people of Treasure Island.

There are sick and dying people living on Treasure Island. They needed help when they were brought to the island in 1999 and afterwards, and they need help NOW!

In 2014, I attended a poster session updating the Navy’s radiation and chemical cleanup. At that meeting, I requested of Amy Brownell, radiation expert for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, that SFDPH conduct a longitudinal health study of islanders. Brownell declined saying the results would be skewed because the sample would be too small. I instantly recognized this as nonsense coming from a person who later turned out to be a paid operative of Lennar.

The only alternative was to conduct an “unofficial” health survey by myself, and I began tracking and describing these illnesses in articles I wrote for the SF Bay View newspaper.

Radiation warning signs cover the chain-link fences surrounding the one remaining cleanup zone on Treasure Island, the Westside Solid Waste Disposal Area, a long strip of land along the shoreline facing San Francisco. It is the oldest and most toxic cleanup zone on the island. In 2016, the Navy dug 600 radioactive objects out of a 15-foot hole just inside the gate at Avenue B and Gateview Avenue. Residents who read the signs daily can’t trust the authorities who assigned them to island housing knowing the extreme dangers to their health and ignoring the symptoms of severe illnesses they never had before moving to the island.

Illness patterns on Treasure Island

These are not isolated illnesses among a few islanders attributable to other possible causes. These are disease patterns that established themselves among groups of islanders years ago.

[1] Respiratory disorders beginning with asthma, progressing to more serious bronchial diseases, among which the most serious is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD);

[2] Strokes;

[3] Spots on the skin including crusty painful skin rashes, pustules and lesions;

[4] Hair loss;

[5] Seizures;

[6] Tumors, external and internal;

[7] Reproductive system damage: miscarriages, still births, birth defects, accelerated reproductive organ growth;

[8] In 2007, California Pacific Medical Center doctors ordered extensive tests to determine why a 7-year-old island girl had developed full pubic hair accompanied by breathing problems and “fast heart palpitations.” Two years later, at age nine, her breasts had completely matured;

[9] Cancers: Skin, reproductive organ cancers and others;

[10] Spontaneous bone breakage;

[11] Blood diseases. One woman who was exposed to multiple chemical and radiation sources on Treasure Island developed uterine tumors, along with a chronic and incurable blood disorder, Ideopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), an auto-immune disease in which the body attacks the platelets which are blood parts that cause clotting – essential in accident or injury. To keep from bleeding to death from a minor cut, she must take enormously expensive medication each month for the rest of her life.

[12] Radiation burns. A Treasure Island resident leaned over to pick up what looked like a screw to use as a weight for their fishing line. They were burned so severely that nine years later they still feel a burning sensation in their hand. Their doctor wrote a medical report saying that they had suffered radiation burns. Their bones began breaking after their radiation exposure.

Sometime in the near future, the Land Use Committee of the Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing, the goal of which is to call for the complete retesting of Treasure Island.

I hope to continue my maladjusted behavior by exposing these illness patterns for the first time at this public forum. After I speak, extremely ill former residents who are safely off the island will tell their stories

Treasure Island is being redeveloped with condos for the rich ostensibly to solve San Francisco’s housing crisis. The poor and people of color who were enticed to the island by low rents were never informed of the island’s toxicity.

They have been subjected to virulent poisons by what Dr. King called “economic conditions that … give luxuries to the few and leave millions of God’s children smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.” All of this took place with the blessing of politicians at the federal, state and city level. The beneficiary is the City and County of San Francisco. But San Francisco taxpayers paid the bill for the Navy’s cleanup and will pay for the island’s retesting if it is approved.

I submit these facts to you in a spirit of maladjustment and “Good Trouble.”

Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at carolharvey1111@gmail.com.