Defamation Station

Bullets and name-calling buffet South Berkeley, cheats seek seafood, and parents take their baby on a car chase.

After dark on July 11, her house shook. No earthquake — it was being pelted with lemons plucked from the tree out front. The next day, Laura Menard saw that something was killing the large wisteria whose colors she had painted the house — bought as-is in a probate sale 22 years ago — to match. The trained horticulturist realized that someone had dosed it with herbicide. In an area where sporadic automatic gunfire is the soundtrack of a dealers’ turf war, it’s a retaliatory hate crime, says Menard, who ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2004 and whose years of anticrime activism as head of South Berkeley’s Russell-Oregon-California Streets Neighborhood Association have drawn “libels and defamations,” she charges. “Because of the color of my skin,” which is white, “I am being targeted.”

As she crusaded against B-Town Dollar Store, calling it a public nuisance and drug-hub before the city council voted unanimously on July 19 to close it, several people apparently delivered letters to city hall that she feels “incited reprisal” against her. “I really question the validity of … any group involving Laura Menard,” reads one missive on file with the city clerk, dated July 7. “Laura Menard is known in our community as a racist disguised as community activists. … The City of Berkeley must be careful who they aligns themselves with.” Another argues that the B-Town battle is less about drugs than about racial profiling: “CLOSING B-TOWN DOLLAR … IS A SOLUTION FOR RASCIST PEOPLE TRYING TO MOVE US OUT OF THE CITY.”

Feeling singled out by the letters and unprotected by city government, Menard plans to seek legal counsel, stop leading the ROC Association, and leave Berkeley, where she no longer feels safe. She calls the July 11 incident the second hate crime to strike her family, following a 2000 assault during which her son was “stomped on the head repeatedly” by fellow teens who she says shouted racial epithets as families crowding Oregon Street Park for Memorial Day watched: “It took five days for his head to be iced back to normal size. At the time I said, ‘We can get through this,’ because that’s what moms do.” But after the lemon-pelting, “I went right through the hole. I was a fucking basket case,” exhibiting PTSD symptoms. “In Berkeley it’s an absolute taboo to even consider that black-on-white hate crimes could happen,” Menard says. “I’m tired.”

Crimes? In Berkeley? It’s like a kooky action-film caper, but not funny because it’s real. Around 3 p.m. on July 20, a gunman stole marijuana from dealers at a house on the 1500 block of California Street. Exiting the house, he saw a car out front containing a couple with a baby. The couple had come to buy pot. He shot into their car. Unhurt, hitting the gas, also armed, the couple chased him. As Lieutenant Wesley Hester puts it: “An off-duty officer in his private vehicle, minding his own business, looked up to see someone in a car pull out a gun and shoot at this guy who appeared to be running for his life, pulling up his pants, clearly not just going for a jog.” A hot zigzag pursuit ended with the couple arrested as their baby watched. The white-shirted pot-thief who started it all escaped.

Something fishy: They’re angling for free seafood in Berkeley. On July 19, three patrons skipped out on their lunch tab at Spenger’s. That same night, someone spent a counterfeit C-note at Skates on the Bay. On July 13, two men pretended to be customers at Whole Foods, waiting on adjacent checkout lines with baskets full of merchandise. But as the clerks were scanning their respective items, the men demanded cash, revealed that they were armed, got $494, and fled. At least one ran across Telegraph toward Alta Bates Hospital. A thirsty thief was less lucky ten days later at Berkeley Bowl, arrested after swiping carrot juice and beer.

The String Cheese Incident incident: With its blend of bluegrass, calypso, country, jazz, and reggae, String Cheese Incident comes off all mellow. Why, then, did a vicious fight break out during its Greek Theatre concert on July 21? As a security guard intervened, one scrummer whipped out a six-inch knife, threatened the guard, then fled. But the young fan returned for the band’s subsequent show the next day, where the same guard saw him in the crowd and called UCPD, who nabbed him and found marijuana on him. No encore for you, Cheeser. Did someone say string? In Walnut Creek on July 16, four juveniles wrought $3,000-worth of damage to the Century 14 movie theater by barraging its seats and screen with Silly String. They fled on bikes.

The A-team: The 34 students implicated in the Diablo Valley College cash-for-grades scandal include Marvin Nuqui, who — calling himself “MeSSY MaRViN NuQUi” — avers on his Friendster page: “So what’s the rush, my game is royal like a FLUSH, they call me MC SWuUR cuz i always fuckin CUSS.” And on his MySpace page: “Seriously i’m just a regular dude // work a 9 to 5 get drunk 10 to 2 // act a fool, holla more than ja rule.” His interests include “Fettucinne Alfredo (is that how u spell it?) and Kit Kats.” Another accused fraudster is Julian Revilleza, who having decamped to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo placed an ad on a campus Web site offering a flat-screen monitor “in Perfect condition, Clean, and ready to use! This is not a Flat Panel Monitor, but has a Flat Screen front instead of the round. Hurry! Great offer! First come, first serve!!” What was his real grade in Capitalization 101?


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