Sunday, December 7, 2014

Berkeley the morning after - a grumble

Protest outside Berkeley Police Headquarters, Dec. 6
My friend Don refers to my blog entries as my rants.  I wear the ranter and raver title with pride.

This is not a rant.  It's just a little grumble. Wasn't even going to post it, except that I'm really conscious this morning that in all the justified protest about racism in the police forces of America and all the abuses of white power, it's easy to lose perspective.

A couple of Berkeley cops were hurt last night, and I feel the need for perspective.


The protests have come home.  Berkeley is all over the national news this morning because a protest turned violent last night and there was violence and looting at Trader Joe’s, Radio Shack, and a downtown Wells Fargo Bank office.  One police officer has a dislocated shoulder; a second one has injuries of some kind, as well.

This is seriously disheartening.  This is a town where the cops are a good lot, in my experience.  We’ve had lots of neighborhood meetings with them; they come to neighborhood events and there is good personal interaction – the way I think people should interact with the cops.  They have even invited neighborhood people to accompany them as they make their rounds.

I call the cops all the time.  We live with students all around who get loud and stupid at times on weekend nights, party through the night, walk to their cars drunk and wake you up.  You don’t get used to it.  You pick up the phone and call the cops.  They come.  Not usually in time to stop a particular noisy party, but sometimes.

The other times I’m tempted to call the cops is when somebody is blocking my driveway.  Usually, though, I pound on doors till I find the idiot, who almost always has that guilty look of a spoiled child on his face.  He (almost always he) looks sheepishly at you and says, “I was only going to be a minute but I got held up.”  It brings home the point that there is a lot for cops to do of this nature in a college town, so it makes sense to me to cut down on the times I’m dependent on the police.  I’m conscious of how much better a view of the police I have than most people currently involved in protesting have.  I also have a clear memory of times gone by when I didn’t hesitate to call the cops pigs.  I know how easy it is to be young and stupid and lash out against the wrong guys.

But the news that two cops got hurt last night bothers me.  Over the years I've lived here, I've gotten to know a number of Berkeley cops by name.  One I consider a friend, actually.  He was injured not long ago when a guy strung out on drugs tried to wrestle his gun away and would almost certainly have killed him if he had.  The cop ended up in the hospital and has suffered months of pain in recovery.  The thought that he might have gotten killed, this guy I regularly eat dinner with, leaves a very sour feeling in my stomach.  These things look so differently when they are up close and personal.

This is Berkeley.  Commonly pronounced Berzerkeley.  Lefty heaven.  You’ve got a cause?  Want to change the world?  This is the place.  Let your feelings out.  Shout for liberty.  Don’t just stand there, asshole, protest! 

I don't mean to be cute or silly.  I’m proud to be part of Berkeley.  Proud of the free speech heritage.  Proud that Daniel Ellsberg lives here.  Proud that George Lakoff lives here.  That Robert Reich lives here.  I think of the United States as a broken system with a terrifying amount of proto-fascist sentiment just beneath the surface.  And occasionally right out plain for all to see, as well.   I think racism in America is a problem not being dealt with and I’m all for protests in the street.  I don’t think anything else is working.  Yes, to the protests.  March and bang your pots and pans till somebody in power starts listening.  And come out in greater numbers and use your influence to keep the violent protestors in line so the cops don’t have to do it all themselves.

And no to the violence.  Absolutely no to the violence.  

At some level, of course, you could call this a media-generated problem.  There were only a few hundred protestors in the Berkeley streets last night, and only a small number of those were violent.  But the destruction was serious, and it made all the national news. There’s something wrong with that picture.

This is familiar stuff.  “It’s only property,” I hear on a regular basis.  “It’s not as if lives were lost, as in the case of this long string of white cop on black kid crime!”  As if one of these destructive acts were actually tied to the other.  There’s the problem with democracy.  We try to run it without firing up the brain power first.

All through dinner last night, and later into the night the sound of the helicopters overhead was relentless and annoying.  I can only imagine living in a part of the country where this is a regular occurrence – and being unable to move.

I don’t know what you do about vandalism and looting.  There were lots of peaceful protestors, the overwhelming majority of them, in fact, people you might even call the average Berkeleyite, students and old hippies and just regular folks, as well.  You could hear them calling for calm and trying in vain to persuade the vandals to back off.  An age old story of a Pandora’s Box situation.   Lots of people out there dying to cause some destruction and bop some heads.  As with war, the only solution seems to be to head the problem off in the first place; once things break out you’re stuck with negative consequences no matter which way you turn.

We have to sit and watch a dysfunctional government go on day after day being dysfunctional.  People could fix it if they would vote, but they won’t vote because they are persuaded the structure is broken and there are no choices worth making.  So we approach chaos and anarchy, and sometimes actually go over the line into it, like last night, fifteen minutes from my house.

This is not a good time.

Hope those cops are all right.

Photo is credited to Sam Wolson, Associated Press - AP Photo/San Francisco Chronicle, Sam Wolson) (Sam Wolson)

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