Letters for the week of February 18-24, 2004

Chris Thompson: "yellow journalist." Roosevelt Mosby: "pain in the ass." Beto Lopez: "Mooncricket." Will Harper: "scummy" agendaist.

“SMAAC in the Face of Oaksterdam,” City of Warts, 1/28

Pot clubs were the bad guys
Chris Thompson’s piece, along with an extortionistic cartoon of SMAAC’s executive director, Roosevelt Mosby, literally shaking down the cannabis community, makes it clear that the Express is more interested in sensationalistic yellow journalism and shallow storytelling than investigative journalism that thoroughly interviews all sides and tracks the path of an issue from its birth.

Mr. Thompson’s article states that three “prominent medical cannabis activists” claim Mr. Mosby is trying to extort dollars from the cannabis community in order to move SMAAC’s Youth Center away from Oaksterdam.

What is not crystallized in the piece is the fact that we’ve attempted to resolve this issue with City Hall and the cannabis community for over fifteen months. Finally, out of sheer frustration and our mandate to provide a safe, drug-free environment for our youth participants and staff, in August 2003 we decided to bring our plight to the attention of the entire Bay Area.

Since then, we have engaged in a campaign through meetings, letters to the government, LGBT, and cannabis communities, as well as press releases, press conferences, and other attempts to get the community to notice, assist, and urge City Hall to regulate Oaksterdam, so our youth will be safe. In November, it became clear that this process would take another year, so as SMAAC’s board of directors we decided that our best option was to relocate.

Once this decision was made, Angel Raich, Jeff Jones, and Clare Lewis, along with other cannabis community representatives, repeatedly asked us, “What do you need?” and we repeatedly said, “Money to move.” They asked us for a budget and we produced one.

However, two months ago it was cannabis community representatives, including Ms. Raich and Mr. Jones, and not SMAAC staff who offered to provide moving assistance money in exchange for SMAAC canceling a press conference that was already planned. In fact, SMAAC was told that the cannabis community would stand side by side with SMAAC before the press if SMAAC canceled or otherwise “revised” the press conference to suit cannabis community needs.

Two weeks ago, more cannabis representatives, including Ms. Lewis, asked us again to stop our advocacy by ceasing conversations with the White House — a dialogue that had already begun. Ms. Lewis requested a “peace week” to give her more time to raise moving-assistance money. She argued that the dispensaries would be more inclined to donate money to help us move if we ceased our advocacy. Despite our better judgment, we agreed to a “peace week,” but it only confirmed what we already knew to be true: The dispensaries are only interested in helping SMAAC move if we do nothing to help bring awareness to our plight. Well, we’ve waited since November 2002, and we are still waiting.

Quoting Mr. Mosby’s voicemail without the above context was irresponsible journalism; it portrayed him as a common hoodlum demanding money from the medical marijuana trade. It is the dispensaries that are, in fact, the extortionists by offering fiscal help only if SMAAC shuts its mouth — something we repeatedly refused to do — and revoking offers when we continue to bring attention to our situation.

Mr. Thompson did get one thing right in quoting Mr. Mosby about the ugliness of this situation — and his distorted piece has only added to the grotesqueness of it all.
Keith Thompson, president; Donté King, treasurer; Maurice Bryant, board secretary; Olivia Guss-Davis, participant parent representative; Ernest Larkins, Michael K. Lee, SMAAC board of directors

A danger to Oakland?
Let me get to the point: Roosevelt Mosby is a danger to Oakland. I’d like to illuminate why he has gotten as far as he has with the Oaksterdam debacle and within the world of HIV funding:

1. Folks in the HIV world have long dismissed “Rosie” as a clown, a gasbag, and a pain in the ass. It is a mistake to dismiss him. This is precisely why he has not been ferreted out.

2. Roosevelt routinely plays the race card — because it works. He has accused the Alameda Office of AIDS, various Latino and Asian community advocates, the County Board of Supervisors, the medical marijuana advocates, the City of Oakland, and even other black advocates of being racist, homophobic, antiblack, or not black enough when they’ve questioned his past bids for empire.

3. He is schooled in the Anita Bryant/Children’s Crusade school of social manipulation. He knows that anything done “in the name of the children” will garner a knee-jerk emotional response, enough to create a window of inviolability to work his poison.

4. Roosevelt is a fame-whore. Oaksterdam appeals to him because he knows it’s a media-friendly issue. He is after column inches.

5. He cannot be met with logic and negotiation. His behavior, to any casual student of psychology, bespeaks a histrionic and egomaniacal personality.

6. He has little support within the black, gay, or youth communities. Yet he regularly conflated his cause with those of people of color, gays, and youths everywhere, designating himself their spokesmodel. He taps into a white liberal guilt that we have not, as a society, done enough to uplift minorities — decision makers comply because they’ve been battered to believe that if they deny Roosevelt, they’re denying all blacks, gays, and youths.

7. And yet Roosevelt has a silent support base within the black community because he says the things, and makes the accusations, that many black advocates cannot or will not say. He provides a convenient mouthpiece — until he turns to bite them in the ass. In 2001, Roosevelt effectively bamboozled the black leadership at the Alameda County Office of AIDS, halting funding to numerous black HIV service agencies, in order to make sure he got his before they got theirs (see “Racing for Funding, Fuming About Race,” Cityside, August 28, 2002).

Roosevelt: The winds of justice are swift. I, and many others, will bear witness against you at every turn, and we are everywhere. We will sweep you into the light.
Philip Huang, Berkeley

“Breakin’ 3: Outta $$$,” 12/10, Music

Don’t call me Roberto!
Hello, my name is Beto Lopez, “Mooncricket.” I just want to say thank you for posting the story about me and my film in the paper. I was surprised that it got into my personal business how I been living. The story about the bling-bling kids was not so important and confusing to readers that asked me about that. I had to explain.

Also, I was upset when you print my name as Moon Cricket as separate words. It is one word: Mooncricket. On search engines, people say they look for this article and type my name as Mooncricket and Beto Lopez. I told Darren that I go by Beto Lopez. I never use Roberto, only at the DMV or job interviews. Beto is short for Roberto, and most folks know me by Beto or Mooncricket. Just thought you should know. Thank you for the article.
Beto Lopez, aka Mooncricket, Stockton

Editor’s Note
The article also reported that breaker Crazy Legs would be executive producer of another breakdancing doc. He is actually a coproducer, providing insight and arranging interviews, but not controlling the film’s overall content.

“Class Struggle,” Bottom Feeder, 1/21 and “American Spin,” Books, 1/28

Harper was the offender
Will Harper’s attack piece on the School of Social Justice and Kali Akuno-Williams is a low blow. As a white journalist with four years of work in the Express — in other words, another “card-carrying Caucasian,” as Harper puts it — I’m not offended by the school’s mission statement saying [they’re] not looking for culture vultures, and I certainly don’t think it’s racist, unlike Harper.

I first heard the phrase “culture vulture” in the early ’90s. Criticizing white, privileged people who appropriate the cultures and identities of oppressed peoples — to paraphrase the school’s statement — has a long history; furthermore, it means exactly what it says. What’s truly funny is that Harper reads “oppressed” as “nonwhite.” When it comes to critical discussion of race and ethnicity, how European ethnic immigrants became white in America, and how Europe underdeveloped Africa, I have more confidence in Akuno-Williams, his background in education, and his grasp of history, than I do in Harper.

To my mind, the point about “culture vultures” is little different from Edward Said’s critique of Orientalism; it’s a recurring debate in literary and music criticism that will last as long as white supremacy does. For proof of that, we need only look at the recent debate over Jeff Chang’s piece “Return of the White Noise Supremacists” (SF Bay Guardian, 1/7/04), which Matt King opens with in his Express review of rock criticism (“American Spin,” 1/28). Writing about music journalism, Chang makes a valid point that I would expand to Bay Area weekly journalism: In my experience, the staff and decision-makers of local papers are disproportionately white and usually distant from the communities they claim to cover.

A century after the birth of jazz, there’s a reason a responsible critic like Eric Porter writes a book in 2002 called What Is This Thing Called Jazz? African-American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists. One reason is the mess white critics have made of it — from those who conflated jazz with immorality, to many liberal defenders, to radicals like Frank Kofsky who sought to revolutionize the music in the late 1960s — and their tendency to impose their own agendas over the words and ideas of the practitioners. As Porter puts it, “Unfortunately, African-American intellectualism is still often seen as oxymoronic,” and Harper might as well call Akuno-Williams a moron: Harper follows his quote with obvious disdain and disrespect, writing, “Or something like that. It’s kinda hard to understand lefty-speak sometimes.”

If we’re going to talk about “agendaism that ruins music writing,” as King puts it — or news writing, for that matter — let’s start here. But now we’re having a serious discussion, which is different from an eight-hundred-word smear piece that misrepresents the school and could materially damage its operation.

Racial discrimination is a serious charge, and Harper shouldn’t play games with it. Near the end, after he infers that no changes are forthcoming to the phrase he found offensive, he adds, “The offending phrase appears to violate the district’s boilerplate nondiscrimination policy.” This reads like an extra twist of the knife by someone who was out to get the school and did. That’s a polite way of putting it.

When Bottom Feeder debuted, didn’t it have something to do with muckraking? The scandal in Oakland is not the mission statement of one school attempting to serve about one hundred students with an innovative and necessary pedagogy and curriculum. The scandal is the district trying to close many schools.

The scandal is also the number of “press-card-carrying Caucasians” who recently arrived in the East Bay, and the power they wield to define it. And that’s not hating on all Caucasians; Harper could check Chris Thompson on contentious topics such as the Oakland Education Association and the Black Repertory Theater, and Linnea Due’s article last year on the School for Social Justice and Life Academy. And then he should check himself.

In the second part of his story, Harper reports news of a fight at the school not as a story with two sides but as an opportunity to be seized to further smear the school and Akuno-Williams. That’s scummy. The ‘burbs may love reading about hip-hop in the Express music pages and allegedly racist black men who allegedly won’t work with white people in the news section, but that has little to do with what’s really going on in Oakland, and all Harper did here is reproduce his own biases. The scandal is the politics of education and incarceration that defunds schools, leaves principled, hardworking, caring individuals like Akuno-Williams high and dry, and force young people in Oakland to pay the ultimate penalty. And if Will Harper had problems with Akuno-Williams, I think that’s Harper’s trip.
Aaron Shuman, Oakland

A sidebar (“Color Coding”) to our February 4 cover story “Magic Man” made reference to a “Tinkerbell” deck. Editor’s bad: That should have been a “Tinker” deck.

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