Pro-lifers? In Oakland? In fact, abortion protesters in this liberal bastion are not so rare as you might think. They're a regular presence, for instance, at the Family Planning Specialists clinic, which over the years has attracted some of the movement's more-extreme elements.
Before James Kopp murdered an abortion-clinic doctor in upstate New York, he was a regular protester at the Oakland clinic. Then there was a religious fanatic named Martin Ray Temple, who dressed in a clerical robe and a bicycle helmet, and was arrested for accosting a 74-year-old clinic escort almost a decade ago.
More recently, the clinic's doctors have been enduring the exploits of self-described "sidewalk counselor" Fred D'Alesio and his fellow "antis," as the clinic escorts call the demonstrators. The pro-lifers reportedly say things like "You're going to earn your blood money today" to the staff, and yell "Don't kill your baby" at women entering the clinic, who then sometimes run inside crying and need to be sedated.
Things came to a head with D'Alesio, a pro-life Catholic from Sausalito, this past January. According to police reports, he was standing out in front of the clinic, blasting an airhorn at those who entered. Jackie Barbic, Family Planning Specialists' director, decided she'd had enough and called the cops on the sixty-year-old protester.
That might have been the end of the story, but to Barbic's chagrin the Alameda County District Attorney's office chose not to prosecute, so long as D'Alesio didn't cause the clinic any more trouble and stayed one hundred yards away. "We were a little disappointed with that," she acknowledges.
Barbic thinks D'Alesio should have been prosecuted under California's Freedom of Access to Clinic and Church Entrances Act (aka the FACE Act), a 2002 law that made it a misdemeanor to interfere or intimidate patients or staff outside an abortion clinic. But few have been prosecuted under the law. Stats gathered by the attorney general indicate that Alameda County has never used it.
In an interview last month, Deputy District Attorney John Creighton said he wasn't convinced that the FACE Act he didn't sound too familiar with it would have applied to D'Alesio's case. Moreover, taking this kind of case to trial would have been risky, Creighton said. It would give D'Alesio a forum to air his views, and who knows? He might get a sympathetic juror who hangs the case. So instead, Creighton said, the office decided to defer prosecution and go with a stay-away order. "Generally, what we attempt to do is stop the behavior in these cases."
Barbic, however, says that the court order hasn't done the job. First, she got word in September that one of D'Alesio's minions had gotten into the car of a would-be client and persuaded her to drive to a cafe. A clinic escort says the woman was "quite shaken" by the time she returned, and told staff that a man at the cafe had tried to talk her out of getting an abortion. They showed the woman a picture of D'Alesio, and she confirmed he was the man she'd spoken to.
More recently, Barbic says, D'Alesio has shown up near the clinic in person, "harassing patients" from a distance.
D'Alesio's attorney, Stephen Naratil, says his client has honored the court order and has not gotten within a hundred yards of the clinic. Moreover, Naratil says D'Alesio never broke any laws in the first place. He says his client has offered peaceful and prayerful counseling to women seeking an abortion. "Of course he's interfering with the business their business is murder," Naratil says. "But he's doing so within his constitutional rights."
Apparently the DA's office doesn't agree. Prosecutors confirmed last week that they are reinstating a misdemeanor disturbing the peace charge against D'Alesio for violating the stay-away order. Looks like the thing might go to trial after all.
In Loving Memory
Here's one for all you voter-fraud conspiracy theorists: Civic-minded Berkeley punk rocker Jesse Townley, aka Jesse Luscious, was all set to vote a couple of weeks ago when he discovered his name wasn't on his precinct's voter roll. Feeders should know that Jesse is no apathetic anarchist he votes in just about every election. He even made an earnest run for city council back in 2004.
Townley, who actually was supervising his polling station for the county, couldn't figure out why his name was missing. He hadn't done anything to trigger a change to his status, such as move or reregister. Townley says he wasn't the only voter in his North Berkeley precinct who experienced problems. About a half dozen other regular voters discovered that their names had been put on the inactive list, which is reserved for people who haven't voted for several cycles.
Feeder went to the Alameda County Registrar's office in order to solve the mystery: Townley is no longer on the voter rolls because he's dead. According to the registrar's records, Jesse Townley of Berkeley has been deceased since last June.
Guy Ashley, a spokesman for the registrar, says staff is investigating why Townley was, ahem, deactivated. He says the elections division hasn't heard any other complaints of voters dying without their knowledge. "It's not part of a massive effort to kill people off," he says.
When told of his demise, Townley laughed. "That's weird," he chuckled. "So a dead man was running that polling place. They better pay me!"
Contra Costa food inspectors are seeing an increase of illegal pushcart vendors around the county. Joe Doser, head of the county's food safety program, says he used to only hear complaints about the black-market tamale makers in Richmond and San Pablo, both of which have significant Latino populations. Now Doser gets complaints all the way out in Bay Point. "It's definitely more widespread," he says.
From the county's perspective, unlicensed sellers pose a health risk since they're usually not following proper food-handling techniques. Doser suspects that a spike in shigellosis, a food-borne illness that causes explosive diarrhea, might be related to street food. Earlier this year, a child who consumed Mexican soft cheese from a street vendor had to be hospitalized for food poisoning. Doser says the pushcart sellers often operate near schools. The health department cited one vendor eight times at Cesar Chavez Elementary in Richmond.
Recently, inspectors busted a backyard food-prep facility that Doser estimates supplied ten vendors. Among the items seized: big garbage cans used to boil ears of corn. Still, it wasn't a total sty. Doser says inspectors found cleaning schedules at the site. "That's like a drug dealer paying his taxes," he says.
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