Letters for the Week of September 21

Readers sound off on curfews, Bar Dogwood, and Amazon.com.

“Swimming Coach or Sexting Coach?,” News, 9/7

A Community-Wide Failure

There seem to be a few things worth expanding upon both in further coverage, and, more importantly, with dialogue in our community:

Why didn’t the dozens — if not hundreds — of parents, swimmers, coaches, and others who have known Ben Sheppard over the years come forward with a helpful approach to this open secret? What is our shared responsibility after almost fifteen years of Sheppard coaching in our community?

Why didn’t the College Preparatory School or Claremont Resort, two places that Sheppard coached, get him help, warn the Undercurrents, or engage the community at large, or take special responsibility for sharing what they knew about Sheppard’s past behavior? Why, of the three institutions he’s worked at, is the least powerful one — and the only one that has any positive relationship with poor people and people of color in Oakland — the one being hurt the most by how this situation is being handled?

How can we make sure that we don’t simply engage in another round of this long-term cycle of alternately demonizing then ignoring unhealthy sexual behavior in our community? It’s too convenient simply to destroy someone whose behavior was so widely known, and too irresponsible to paper over Sheppard’s obvious untrustworthiness. Ruining his life, or hurting the important work the Undercurrents does, is not an adequate or responsible response.

We don’t need a scandalizing Express article to float rumors we’ve known to be true but refused to talk about. Express or not, what we need is the bravery and honesty it will take to create real solutions to the range of sexist and otherwise unhealthy relationship patterns Sheppard is only one example of.

Lastly, the police are absolutely the last entity we could expect to help this situation — for anyone and all of us. Like it or not, this problem is bigger than any one person, instance, or community. In the Bay Area, there are plenty of organizations working on immediate and long-term solutions to stopping, addressing, and preventing situations like this one. Letting OPD get involved in what is actually a community-wide failure is passing the buck at best; at worst it allows us to ignore the terrible depth of sexual violence in all communities.

The only way to create the thriving, healthy, safe community we want to live in is to build it together.

Ari Wohlfeiler, Oakland

Don’t Jump to Conclusions

Come on, Express — before you ruin a man’s life, get more than this to report on! Your other article on Jesse Stovall (“Swimming in Sex Abuse,” Feature, 4/10/10) was more responsible. This article seems to be going more after USA Swimming than Sheppard, but he gets caught in the crossfire. I’m a father of two young daughters, and I would be the first to get justice, but come on — this is irresponsible reporting! There’s not much here but now the world thinks this guy is a child molester.

Full disclosure: I worked for Oakland Parks and Recreation both as a lifeguard and swim coach, and was one of those ‘hood swimmers that grew up in the pools. Sheppard was just coming in when I moved on. I didn’t particularly care for him because I felt he was getting too much credit for the positives that were already happening in Oakland swimming, but nonetheless, I respected his efforts and love for the kids.

If there does turn out to be more, then report on those facts, but right now, this is shaky and irresponsible. You could have made the article more about USA Swimming and then mentioned Sheppard as a possible example, and you could have reported more about all of the good that the pools are doing for the youth of Oakland. They are literally saving children’s lives with swim lessons, junior guards, swim team, and then giving them jobs as swim coaches, lifeguards, cashiers, and pool managers. I challenge you to follow up on this article to speak of some of the positives (not to hide the inappropriate, morally reprehensible behavior by Sheppard) so that the news isn’t all about scandals. Check out the new ESO Sports Complex; Alison at Lions Pool, who has taught tiny tots for three decades (including my two daughters); Harith leading the charge at OPR; and the hundreds of lifeguards who are employed in the summer rather than running around on the streets.

Andrew Park, Oakland

A Tragedy

My family has been involved with Oakland Undercurrents for more than more years. We currently have no affiliation with Undercurrents, but to know that this adult has been doing this over the years and hiding it really sickens me. It makes me feel like trust is nonexistent.

This is a tragedy. We have trusted that Coach Ben’s heart and spirit were in the correct place. Our children deserve to grow up and not have to look over their shoulders when it comes to people who have been welcomed into their homes and lives. The children deserve to grow up feeling safe and secure in their community. This not only has damaged the young women that it happened to, but it has and will hurt the Oakland Undercurrents and Oakland Community Pools Project, as well as the many families that have supported Coach Ben and the swim team.

Cherie Harper, Oakland

“Why Curfews Don’t Work,” Full Disclosure, 9/7

First, Let’s Focus on Recidivism …

Thanks for your excellent piece on why curfews don’t work to reduce serious crimes. The most effective and cost-effective way to reduce serious and violent crime is to invest more in workable anti-recidivism programs at the state, county, and city levels.

With realignment about to phase in (with more convicts being housed in county jails), now is the time for counties, and the larger cities in each county, to invest serious funds in reducing the recidivism rate.

Dan Kalb, Oakland

… And Truancy

There are plenty of laws on the books if an officer sees someone of any age committing a crime. I live a block from Tech and wouldn’t mind seeing OPD enforce the basic truancy laws, which have been around since Plato started skipping out on Socrates lectures when the old man began rambling.

Ken Craik, Oakland

A Lesson from the Past

Bravo to Mr. Gammon for such a well-researched article. I can give a little more background to our initial discussions in the early-Nineties on the curfew issue.

I was chief of staff to then-Councilman Nate Miley, who was a pretty pro-law-and-order policy maker at the time. He was in favor of a youth curfew, but we went out and held a hearing in every district of the city to get input first. The city attorney at the time told us that, in order to be within constitutional guidelines, we had to develop legal “findings” that would justify this legislation. What we found instead, just as Gammon found, was that the majority of crimes affecting juveniles happened on the way home from school, like at bus stops, and before parents come home — in other words, from 3 to 6 p.m. Hence, no legal findings.

At the time, the police shifts changed right around 3 p.m. and bus stops had become little danger zones. One of the things that was done was that OPD changed its schedule enough that officers could better monitor problems that arose on the way home from school.Nate changed his views enough to propose a City Hall summit in which participants from every walk of life suggested solutions — some of which were implemented. The real upshot was a push toward community policing that has never been realized (due to funding and the Oakland Police Officers Association). A model was designed in which neighborhood schools became community centers at night. Case workers could meet with clients, referred by themselves or by officers who patrolled the neighborhoods and who worked with community groups and knew which individuals presented problems most likely to turn violent; parents could take classes; students could do homework; and more.

Of course, this has never happened. Political will, money, and coordination problems probably are equally to blame. But I still contend that we know what to do about violence and we have decided not to do it. Since Ignacio de la Fuente was on the council at the time and Larry Reid was Mayor Harris’ chief of staff, I am flabbergasted that they suddenly think we are in a crisis. Many of us were aware and willing to address this crisis even then.

Pamela Drake, Oakland

Hoping for a Holistic Approach

Thanks so much for your very thoughtful article on the curfew issue. In recent years, there has been notably little informed, common-sense discussion in the media on Oakland’s violence problems. I work with two community organizations on anti-violence policy and police reform and we always struggle in our efforts to promote rational discourse.

The problems are indeed soluble and David Muhammad’s perspective is right-on. What we are missing is a strategic, coordinated anti-violence program which involves every level of government — local, county, state, and federal. What we have instead are shoot-from-the-hip approaches like gang injunctions, a curfew, and, of all things, an anti-loitering law. We focus on violence prevention programs for middle-school and older kids and neglect the at-risk population of the most vulnerable children, aged five to twelve, where family interventions and adult mentoring are critical. We also need to do adequate policing to take down the gangs. There is no shortcut to police work — it takes manpower, high-quality management, and constant innovation.

It is completely unrecognized here that the main reason that kids join gangs is that gangs are the most powerful social networks available to them when their families fail them. Kids also join gangs in the hope that doing so will improve their personal safety. So the gangs need to be dealt with by the police, which is a huge problem for us with so many irrational city councilmembers, and a mayor as well, who simply won’t face the problem squarely.

Mike Ferro, Oakland

Put Politics Aside

Thanks for a fine article, Mr. Gammon. Not that we’d want logic and evidence to get in the way of a little political grandstanding, of course!

John Seal, Oakland

Looking for Solutions

Thank you for this informative piece. To respond to the common refrain, “You who criticize gang injunctions/youth curfews, what’s your solution?” I offer a few points.

It is a myth that cops don’t have enough tools. Has anyone looked at the California Penal Code recently? Or any of the federal laws that come to bear? How about immigration laws? California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation guidelines? City of Oakland ordinances? The Oakland Police Department literally has thousands of tools at its disposal to prosecute everything from loitering, littering, and jaywalking to racketeering and first-degree murder. The problem is not the lack of tools. The problem is how the tools are used, who is using the tools, why particular tools are being used, and so forth.

We can’t accept the logical fallacy that anyone who criticizes a particular policy proposal must immediately offer an alternative. If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Period. If I tell you that gang injunctions don’t reduce crime, and I cite studies and such that support that proposition, I don’t suddenly become responsible for solving the age-old question of how to reduce crime. The fact remains, there is no proof that gang injunctions work. There is no proof that youth curfews work. The criticism can stand there — there is no need to go further.

That said, as an Oaklander, and a concerned citizen, I’m down for the next conversation. Let’s talk about something that does work.

On the “need” for suppression: I would ask Larry Reid or Ignacio de la Fuente or Tammerlin Drummond or Chip Johnson to point to an example where suppression is a long-term solution. As far as I can tell, a focus on “suppression” — read: “lock ’em up” — will lead to incarceration, which will lead to more prisoners, which will lead to more people subject to the oppressive horrors of prison, which will lead, a few years down the road, to more broken people being released to our community. Suppression is incarceration, no? And incarceration doesn’t lead to rehabilitation, right? So where does suppression get us? Ever heard of the “short-term fix”? And do you think a few too many short-term fixes is what got us here in the first place?

We’ve got some solutions. The problem is that there are no easy solutions. This is something that takes time, that takes a twenty-point plan, that requires all hands on deck, community policing, after-school programs, mental health services, job training, health care, case management, some accountability mechanisms (but no, not more incarceration), some economic development, some housing support, and much, much more. Not quite as pithy as Reid/De La Fuente giving their two-sentence answers (“More cops! More tools!”), but at some point we need honest answers. Oppression in the United States has been a five-hundred-year process. It will take a few years to unwind all of that.

Michael Siegel, Oakland

“The Importance of Being Earnest,” Last Call, 9/7

In Defense of Dogwood

I represent an older demographic here, and I have to say that Bar Dogwood was comfortable, tasty, and really a breath of fresh air! As for the fingerprints of an interior designer all over the place, I happen to have it on good authority that the proprietor herself, Ms. Filipello, designed and sourced all of the details herself! She shows imagination and wit!

I found the review excessively snobbish and trying too hard to be cool!

Rock on, Bar Dogwood!

Geri Webere, Vancouver

The Long View

Taking a longer view, Bar Dogwood is a really welcome replacement for the two previous establishments at that corner: a disheveled and wackily-run cheap auto insurance place with a broken window, and before that, a wig store. As a former long-term tenant of an upstairs space in the building, I applaud the refurbishment and the reactivation of the corner, and hope it thrives.

Naomi Schiff, Oakland

The Hipster Litmus Test

A hipster rebelling against a hip establishment. C’mon, that’s lesson one of how to be a hipster: denial.

Casey Osborn, Philadelphia

“Amazon’s Gambit,” Seven Days, 9/7

Amazon Doesn’t Need Protection

Either everyone charges sales tax or no one does. The idea that we needed to support the fledgling Internet on the backs of local business was very unfortunate. Time to stop the “subsidy.”

Jerry Derblich, Berkeley

“Down-Home Izakaya,” Food, 9/7

Stick to the Food

Mr. Birdsall should stick to business and write a restaurant review. This article is a headache to read. Too much clutter, too much inside baseball, too presumptuous, too much about him and his whatever.

David Cohen, Oakland


In our September 7 installment of What the Fork, “Eat Real Returns,” we got wrong the name of one of the participants in Behind the Cart. It’s S + S Gastro Grub, not S + S Gastro Club. 

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