Picture this. A roistering crowd jostles and shouts at the end of your block. You lose count at three dozen. They fill the street. Based on how things have been going around here lately — the homicides, the late-night gunfire, the Tec-9 assault-rifle shell casings on the sidewalk, the daily drug-dealing, the gang graffiti — you're sure that many of them are armed. Even one of them, alone, would terrify you, much less this many. You've called the police four times tonight. Each time, as always, the crowd scatters at the sight of the black-and-white. Then as soon as the cops leave, the crowd surges back. Nothing on Earth could coax you outside your house right now. You can't forget how that crowd surrounded your car the last time you tried to drive down your block late at night: how they pressed against your windows and said: Find another route home. It's hot: Pushing the window open as you go to bed, you think: This might be my last act. You wonder whether your car will get egged again tonight. Or keyed. One of your neighbors, every time she sees you, hisses: Snitch.
Richmond? West Oakland? Nope. Welcome to Berkeley, home of elite academia, wine bars, and terrifying gang activity. Three men who live in the 9th Street/10th Street/Bancroft Way/Channing Way area told Apprehension how scared they are just to step outside. They've been threatened, pelted with rocks. City officials just tune them out, say the trio, who don't want their names used for fear of reprisal. Despite laws against what is officially known as "street terrorism" (for example, PC 186.22a: "Every building or place used by members of a criminal street gang for the purpose of ... any offense involving dangerous or deadly weapons ... is a nuisance which shall be enjoined, abated, and prevented"), one of the trio says, "The city manager and city attorney say very directly that those laws can't be applied in Berkeley because Berkeley is different. And when the Berkeley Housing Authority doesn't uphold their federal mandate to get people out of there who are consorting with known drug dealers, it's business as usual." He says that even after "I pointed out that they're doing violent muggings and our block is covered in Norteño graffiti," Angela Gallegos-Castillo of the City Manager's Office denied that the loitering youths are gang members.
Asked about this, Gallegos-Castillo tells Apprehension, "We do have gangs in West Berkeley; the Norteños are clearly in West Berkeley. But within the gang world, there are variations as to the level of activity. Different groups do different things. You have your hardcore groups and your peripheral groups, and — not to negate the car thefts and break-ins — some groups are more egregious and some are less. She says that if she lives in the trio's neighborhood and there were people dealing drugs outside, "it would be very stressful." But gang-prevention programs are afoot in Berkeley to work with the most at-risks kids and their families, she said.
The frightened resident says that whenever he offers constructive crime-prevention ideas to City Hall — such as long-range remote surveillance cameras that can read license plates 200 yards away — he gets dismissed as a troublesome right-winger. "Let's get real," says this lifelong liberal. "I moved to Berkeley because of the progressive values. Because I'm asking for law and order, I'm conservative? That's baloney."
As you bed down in this jasmine-scented night, know this: Some of your fellow townspeople, grown men, are scared out of their wits.
To Each His Own Protest
It was hair-raising, in the election spirit and all, to see in the Berkeley PD logs that on September 28 an American flag was stolen from a Webster Street house, then the next day someone was caught vandalizing "campaign signs" on University Avenue. Whose campaign signs? Why? Is damaging campaign signs actually illegal? (Not planning to do it or anything. Just, uh, curious.) Officer Andrew Frankel explains that it's illegal when it's on private property. The signs promoted Measure GG, the Fire Protection and Emergency Preparedness Tax, and a witness saw someone "using a tree-trimming saw to cut down the materials." The Berkeley firefighters' union "reported losing thousands of dollars' worth of materials. ... The suspect admitted to having done it countless times because he didn't agree with the measure." As for the snatched flag, it simply "was taken," Frankel reports. "Unknown as to the motivation."
How do daytime burglars know which homes are unoccupied and thus fair game? They ring doorbells or knock. If you answer, they lie about selling subscriptions or looking for your neighbor (usually giving a fake name) down the block. No answer? Good-bye, stuff. If you're the type who only answers if you're expecting guests, beware. An Oakland Hills-dweller tells her neighborhood-watch group that on September 27, "we had a break-in ... at 4:55 pm when my husband and son were home alone. The burglar knocked, waited (husband didn't answer the door), then broke in through the patio screen door. My husband ran to the door and yelled at the burglar, then chased him down the block. He sped off in a 1990s Blue Ford Bronco. ... Suspect is a Latino male, early twenties, medium build, approx 5' 8", with buzz cut."
And when you aren't home, play it extra-safe by locking up. Yes, they smash doors and windows, but don't make it any easier for them. Burglars swiped $200,000 worth of jewelry from an Orinda home on September 18, according to a police report, which adds: "The back sliding door was unlocked." Robbers are making hay in CoCo County, with $10,000 in electronics stolen from a Lafayette house on September 17 and three women fleeing the Walnut Creek Gymboree bearing "armfuls of clothing," according to police reports. The shoplifters escaped in a car. Couldn't run fast or far, probably: Witnesses described all three as 5'6" and 300 pounds.
We Need to Talk
Scheduled for an October 16 court date on tax-evasion charges filed by federal prosecutors, ex-Oaklander Christina Warthen, aka Brazil — the Stanford-grad wife of Ask.com founder David Warthen — still had her escort-service web site up as of October 1. "Hi, and thanks for taking a few moments to visit my site," it greets the visitor politely, promising: "I am sure you will never forget any time you spend with me." Certainly not, at $600 an hour for a "cocktails meeting." (Ah, the word-dissection possibilities.) "I never understood why you had to be a down-to-earth educated chaste career-girl OR a sexual, sensual adventurer and temptress. ... If any warm body will fulfill your needs, I am not the girl for you. If you are however, searching for something more, someone who wants to understand, appreciate, and savor every aspect of what makes you unique, we need to talk." Just talk? "Multiple-hour visits are necessary to achieving your satisfaction." And by the way, "I currently live in San Francisco with my bird, Wilson ... I live to brighten your day."
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