Letters for the Week of October 23

Readers sound off on violent crime in Oakland, environmental destruction and the drug war, and realtors rebranding Oakland.

“Greenwashing the War on Drugs,” Feature, 10/9

Violence Arises From the Drug War

Over the decades of the drug war we have seen countless headlines reporting “drug-related” crimes of violence and drug-induced frenzy. What is not reported, and perhaps never even considered, is that the madness and violence being reported almost always arises not from a person too high to realize what they are doing, but rather from implementing the mechanisms of the drug war.

Dean Becker, Houston, Texas

Stop Environmental Destruction

I have long been an advocate of legalization of all drugs, not just marijuana, for reasons of civil liberties. You are quite correct that prohibition leads to all of the problems that you described, and many more, including imprisoning people who should not be imprisoned. However, the federal government is not legalizing pot anytime soon, regardless of what the majority of people want. Too many rich and powerful people make too much money from pot being illegal, and until we get a far more representative government, from one dollar one vote to one person one vote, and proportional representation so that people are not afraid of “wasting” their votes by voting for people whose policies they actually support, pot will remain illegal.  So, we have to deal with reality as it is while trying to change it to what it should be.

The reality is that (mainly) Mexican gangs have been invading our national forests and other “undeveloped” (a better term would be “undestroyed”) lands for ten to twenty years to grow pot, as evidenced by the two people identified in your article. While I would far prefer that pot were grown organically and sold and consumed legally, in our current situation of immoral illegalization the only way to stop this hideous destruction of our forests is by military/police intervention. Unfortunately, the people who run the military and police are far more concerned with making and maintaining imperialist wars for resources (mainly oil, now some gas, and soon to be water) and squelching dissent than they are protecting our environment, so we get no response from them.

I couldn’t care less whether anyone, including Mexicans, grows pot in our national forests, but no one should be allowed to cut down trees or kill other plants, suck water out of ecosystems, or poison the earth and its inhabitants to do so. If we’re not going to legalize pot, we should at least provide whatever military and police resources are necessary to stop the environmental destruction described in your article.

And by the way, all of these pot grows use diesel-powered generators that leak diesel fuel into the ground and watersheds, so the problem is even worse than you described.               

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley

“Reality Check: Violent Crime is Down in Oakland,” Seven Days, 10/9

Potentially Lethal Robberies

While I do acknowledge that crime rates might be down overall in Oakland, that fact does not allay my fears for my personal safety. My lower Rockridge neighborhood gets at least one armed robbery per day, sometimes more. Having a gun pointed in your face is not the same as having your smartphone grabbed when you’re not paying attention, or having your house burglarized when you’re not home. Robberies at gunpoint are potentially lethal. My neighbor was pistol-whipped when she wouldn’t give up her purse easily to thugs who followed her home from BART. My husband was held up at gunpoint right across from our house and he missed the casual carpool robbery by a matter of seconds. I used to think that the only people getting held up were those stupid enough to walk down the street with devices and headphones in full view. But that is no longer true. Robbers now point a gun at anyone walking alone, or even in groups, because the odds they are carrying smartphones are very high.

Some people advise leaving your smartphone at home when you go out on foot. But for those of us who moved to this area because it is so walkable (at least until recently) and who are car-free by choice for environmental reasons, leaving our devices at home is not a workable option. And it doesn’t even solve the main problem. I’m not worried about my “smartphone and other electronics being stolen.” I’m worried about having a gun pointed at my head and possibly being harmed physically. Sure, I think it’s important for us to know the average crime rates in the city, but I would appreciate it if the tone of these articles (and this is not the first) did not trivialize the justified fears of people who live in areas where robberies at gunpoint are actually more likely to occur.

Beth Terry, Oakland

Public Perception Needs Balancing

Thanks for giving us information on the recent Chamber of Commerce poll, which helps us view it with skepticism. Knowing that the Chamber of Commerce, which often has a conservative agenda, sponsored the poll, I was skeptical when I read about the poll at first, and now that I know that the group of respondents did not represent a cross-section of Oakland residents age-wise and racially, I feel disinclined to take the poll seriously. Furthermore, residents’ perceptions of criminal activity, as much as they should concern us, should be balanced by law enforcement’s corrections of any public misperceptions of criminal activity. Unfortunately, our news media (the Express excepted) tend to fall down on the latter, crucial part of the story.

Ruby MacDonald, El Cerrito

Thieves Have It Good

So many of us think the city is on the wrong track because every day we hear about at least one, if not two or more of our neighbors, coworkers, and friends being mugged, their homes being burglarized, or their property being stolen. This may not always be violent crime, though oftentimes brute force and pistol-whipping occurs, but it happens daily and isn’t something anyone should normalize. Plus, the police response time to these crimes is slow, if it comes at all. That’s why I think the city has a long way to go before thinking it’s got it under control. The thieves know they’ve got it good.

Rosie Dudley, Oakland

Quest for Safety Leads to Paranoia

With regard to popular perceptions of crime and how they conflict with reality, one area that I think is unexplored is the impact of social media and email lists. I am on several lists in which people will write in about every crime (reported or overheard) and even the most mundane activity that they perceive as threatening, in many circumstances because the folks involved happen to young, male, and/or of color, primarily young, African-American males. This race to the bottom to post online whenever someone hears about a robbery, burglary, or other activity deemed “suspicious” greatly contributes to the perception that we are under attack by criminals here in Oakland.

In past years, when we didn’t have lists and online social networks, unless a crime was heinous enough to make the newspaper or TV, the only way people heard about nefarious activity was through happenstance, by talking to a neighbor or friend who heard something from someone. This was true in times when crime was truly worse — far worse than it is today. Now we can easily read about someone getting their house broken into across town, and for many folks on the lists who are older, primarily white homeowners, they immediately internalize it as the city gone amok.

I am not excusing criminal behavior, denying crime rates, nor am I saying that I agree with the way the current leadership at City Hall is steering this great city. I am saying that in many instances people’s quest for safety and information has led us to the brink of paranoia and mistrust. In order to find sustainable and systemic solutions for the problems of our city, we need to take a step back and find out what the root causes are, and how each one of us can contribute to making a more just, equitable, and safe city for all of us.

Joel Tena, Oakland

We Need More Police

Our leaders need to be replaced. Oakland has so much potential to be a place that attracts new business, like technology, retail, etc. Crime is the number-one thing holding Oakland back. The bad guys just switched to gun-in-the-face, give-me-your-stuff mentality. Who knows what the flavor will be next year? We need 800-plus police. How about an article that lays out how a proposed tax could pass and increase police right away? Measure Y is in the rearview mirror. Help us folks in Oakland dig out of this mess.

Joseph Merriman, Oakland

Unreliable Crime Data

The points about perceptions of crime rates and actual rates need further context. It is most important to understand that criminologists like Frank Zimring at UC Berkeley say that general crime numbers are notoriously unreliable for a number of reasons, including poor data collection and analysis and unreliable reporting. Oaklanders know that our short-staffed police department does not and cannot respond to more than a small number of the most violent incidents, so citizens often don’t bother to make reports. We also need to keep in mind that Oakland’s computer-based resources for data collection and management are absolutely not the best.

Second, the reasons behind crime are very complex and rates of commission vary greatly from year to year for unknown reasons. Thus reliable trend analysis must be longer-term — say over three to five years — rather than year-to-year. As they say in the data biz, garbage in, garbage out. Year-to-year data is not meaningful.

The most reliable crime data has to do with homicides because there is a body. A dead body is, among other things, absolutely reliable evidence of a crime. Oakland has had for forty years a homicide rate, again reliably reported and recorded, of several times the national average. A meaningful reduction in violent crime in Oakland might be seen in a significant, say 25 percent, reduction in the homicide rate that occurs over three years and maintains for several years after that.

Lastly, the perception of crime generally in Oakland, however unreliable it may be, is actually not to be discounted. Violent crime largely affects the poorest and most disadvantaged among us. Violent crime keeps Oakland’s communities as a whole from growing and developing socially and economically. Oakland’s elected leaders have not been able to deal adequately with crime for many decades, yet Oakland’s economy is significantly better than those of comparable cities with much lower homicide rates. Perceptions of crime may eventually bring about the political change in Oakland needed to reduce crime and allow our city to become all of what it should be.

Mike Ferro, Oakland

“Can Realtors Rebrand Oakland?” News, 10/9

Bigger Fish to Fry

Area resident here with a strong opinion on this topic. I happen to live in the Longfellow neighborhood and while I dislike the name “NOBE,” I also don’t understand what difference it makes what this area gets called. We have way bigger fish to fry than what moniker ends up sticking. I agree that realtors and other businesspeople have the right to call it whatever they want and the community has the right to accept it or reject it. And if we want jobs to come to the area, jobs that many insist are one of the solutions to Oakland’s poverty and crime problem, then those jobs just happen to come with residents who have the means to not only start those businesses, but patronize them and therefore keep those businesses’ employees employed.

Catherine Montalbo, Oakland

Acronyms Don’t Gentrify

I’ve lived in 94608 for almost eleven years, at the meeting point of Oakland/Berkeley/Emeryville, and this acronym is new to me. Our neighborhood association has referred to this distinct geographic spot as Three Corners for many years. No one calls this the “Golden Gate District” of Oakland, trust me. And “gentrification,” i.e., further eradication of crime in the area, has been a great thing and very slow over the course of ten years. NOBE: no different from calling a neighborhood anything that helps people orient themselves to an area. The acronym won’t “hipsterize” or gentrify this spot any faster than anywhere in the crazy unaffordable Bay Area.

Peter Perez, Emeryville

“Maxed Out,” Feature, 10/2

Resources for Parents in Crisis

With great sympathy I read the article, “Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink.” In 1971 a single mother of a toddler in Berkeley was striving to get her graduate degree while trying to make ends meet for herself and her son. One night when the little boy was being difficult, she snapped. She grabbed him and was about to bang his head on the bathroom floor, when something stopped her. She said to herself, “I can’t do this. I need someone to talk to.” She called a dear friend back east and had a phone conversation. The friend listened and helped her down off the crisis point so that she no longer felt on the brink of harming her child.

After that experience, the graduate student made a vow to start a program so that other mothers in similar situations with fewer resources than herself could find someone helpful to talk to.

The result, 41 years later, is Family Paths. We now provide direct services to children as well as parents through a whole array of programs helping to prevent violence or help people through the trauma of experiencing it. But the core of our operation is the 24-hour free parent support hotline, which gets well over 6,000 calls a year. Any parent (and by “parent” we mean anyone responsible for a child — many callers are grandparents or foster parents) may call at any time, and may call repeatedly for support, for referral, or just to be heard. The caller may be in a crisis or may just need to talk to someone who will listen. The hotline is staffed by professional clinicians and by volunteers who undergo a training course. The hotline number is: 1-800-829-3777. The foster parent advice line is: 510-893-5444. Feel free to call us. We can help.

Marcella Reeves, Executive Director,
Family Paths, Oakland


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