Friday, January 11, 2008

Sorry to burden you, Senator Crapo

Imagine this. You send your kid off to his first piano lesson and he gets shot.

I don’t want to get too flip about this. It actually happened here last night. As of this writing, the boy is in critical condition. He got the bullet in the abdomen and has lost a lot of blood. He is ten years old.

Some low-life decided to rip off the gas station at Piedmont and Pleasant Valley in North Oakland and used a gun. The bullet went through a parked SUV, through the wall of the piano studio and into the kid. So happened there were cops nearby who saw El Creepo's Ford Mustang race away from the scene. In the chase, the guy crashed into two vehicles and then hit a check-cashing business at 51st and Telegraph. They got him and recovered a loaded handgun, a ski mask and money in the Mustang, along with his female accomplice.

That’s North Oakland. The Temescal Neighborhood, an “up-and-coming” neighborhood with all sorts of things going for it. But it is Oakland, after all, and Oakland has a wretched record of crimes of violence.

Meanwhile, here in Berkeley, about twenty blocks to the North, a recent check with the police crime statistics web site shows that within a half mile of my front door there have been 48 robberies within the last six months.

I live between Shattuck and Telegraph, two major routes in and out of Berkeley, and with Richmond to the North and East and West Oakland to the South, we’re sitting ducks.

We have meetings galore in the neighborhood. We learn to leave our porch lights on, to “be aware of our surroundings,” to carry a flashlight at night. Never mind a third of these crimes happen in daylight hours. We have “take back the night” walks with our neighbors, keep the police and other emergency phone numbers handy and keep our windows and doors locked. I can’t be bothered with the 198 house burglaries and 193 car burglaries in the same area in the same time period. Or the 105 stolen cars. I find my fear goes to somebody sticking a gun in my face.

Things could be worse. There was only one case of arson and one case of an attempted rape (the guy didn’t succeed – whoo-ee) and no homicides. Truly Allah is kind.

But 48 robberies?

Now, to be fair, some of these robbers had no weapons. So you get the shit scared out of you. Who the hell promised you a rose garden?

Now knives are not much fun. But it’s the guns that flip me into a panic. I have no problems with spiders or barking dogs. I just don’t like men with guns in my face for some reason.

I’ve been trying to get information on how many of these 48 robberies have led to arrests. Can’t get that information yet. I will, though. I’m persistent. And then how many of those arrests have lead to convictions. I’ll get that too, eventually. I’ve only been looking for those figures for three months. Rome wasn’t built in a day. (Of course, I don’t search 24/7, either. Sometimes I walk around Berkeley and enjoy its charms. They are legion. There are lots of reasons people don’t move to Walnut Creek.)

We have three neighborhoods here in South Berkeley – LeConte, Willard and Halcyon – with people concerned about crime and lots of things going on. At every meeting, crime is on the agenda, and inevitably somebody reminds us how lucky we are not to be Oakland. Never mind that 48 crimes in my neighborhood are worse than the figures in most Oakland neighborhoods. In today’s San Francisco Chronicle one columnist is reminding Mayor Dellums of Oakland that the “overarching issue…is crime, crime and crime – forget the rest for now.”

In Japan, I lived in a city the size of Oakland where there were no killings in one year in which the homicide rate in Oakland was something like 112, if I remember right. One can’t help but note the comparison. We got a problem, folks. We’ve got lots and lots of kids whose first recourse to problems is to pull out a gun and shoot somebody.

Meanwhile, we also have a Republican governor who needs to slash the state budget in order to address the $14.5 billion dollar deficit. 22,000 inmates have got to go. 6000 prison guards have to be let go too. Just ain’t got the money. Now if any of these perps of the 48 robberies ever get caught and sentenced to jail, I’m not saying they will be let go for lack of money. It’s just that I can’t seem to get the information that would allow me to make the connections, and it’s starting to piss me off.

Meanwhile, back at the national capitol, forty-seven lawmakers are petitioning Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to lift the restrictions on carrying guns in national parks. It just isn’t fair, they argue. If people can carry guns in the rest of the country, they ought to be able to carry them in Yellowstone, don’t you think?

Can’t argue with American logic. “It’s about consistency.”

Didn’t even get the National Rifle Association in on the letter, these senators. They came up with this idea all on their own. Senator Crapo’s behind this. He’s from Idaho. He says, “These inconsistencies in firearms regulations for public lands are confusing, burdensome and unnecessary.”

Sorry to burden you, Senator Crapo.

But from where I sit, you get a different perspective.