An ex-militant whose group bombed the Pentagon and a man who spent ten years behind bars for his involvement in an incident during which, as he put it, "someone lost their life" drew wild applause during a conference October 26-27 in UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall. "Juvenile Justice Reform: Forty Years After Gault" — named for a landmark case establishing young offenders' rights — featured lunchtime speaker Bernardine Dohrn who, as a leader of the radical Weather Underground, was a fugitive for ten years after a WU bomb destined for a US Army base exploded prematurely. Now she's a Northwestern University law professor. "Despite her many accomplishments," Cal law lecturer David Onek declared when introducing her, "Bernardine remains one of the most humble people I know." Dohrn railed against "white supremacy in the justice system" and "America's addiction to incarceration," and called youth prisons "dungeons," "medieval fortresses," and "medieval snake pits." The term "white supremacy" popped up twice more (as did "gulag," once) before Dohrn advocated releasing "the vast majority of children behind bars into safe alternatives." She quipped: "We did it, we can undo it."
Alternatives to incarceration were a popular theme at what was, after all, a justice-reform conference. "Lockin' kids up is not what we want to do," announced San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Marta Diaz. "We want the juveniles at home with their families." (Diaz floated the speculation that of every hundred first-time juvenile offenders, 85 percent will never commit another crime if left to their own devices.) "Let them go home," urged Santa Cruz lawyer Raquel Mariscal. "Take the boot off their neck." Offenders were represented by, among others, Detention Diversion Advocacy Project staff member Perry Jones, who told the crowd that he was fourteen and "in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong peers" when the death occurred that launched him into "what I consider a corrupt system." While behind bars, "when I told them I wanted an education," Jones recalled, "they gave me an outdated book."
But while dozens of academics and advocates spoke up for offenders, victims remained conspicuously absent. They were alluded to obliquely via the term "public safety," and Diaz described young murderers ordered by judges to write their victims' biographies. It's hard for them, Diaz explained, but ultimately "it's a win for everyone — especially the kid who realizes what he has taken away."
Well, almost everyone.
This theme was pursued further by civil-rights lawyer Fania Davis of the Measure Y-funded group Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, aka RJOY, a pretty name that Davis said was devised by Oakland City Councilmember Nancy Nadel. Characterizing crimes as constellations of "needs" and "harms," Davis praised "peacemaking circles" in which all parties affected by specific crimes "collectively address those needs and harms." In the process, she declared, "the locus of justice shifts from the courtroom into the community."
Transit trauma: For public-transit patrons, these are apocalyptic times indeed. First, a man on a Baypoint BART train sustained a bleeding cranial wound on October 26 when, according to BART police, two women aged 17 and 23 beat him over the head with a spike-heeled shoe. (Charged with assault with a deadly weapon, both suspects were arrested at the Orinda station.) Then at 8:30 p.m. the next night — the shank of a Saturday evening in the heart of downtown Berkeley — a UCB student was waiting for a bus when, according to UC Police, "two men came up on either side of him." Forcing the student down onto a bench, one suspect commenced "striking him across the face" as the other emptied the victim's pockets, seizing his wallet and phone. Realizing that they'd been seen, one suspect chased a witness who escaped into the nearby BART station. Both suspects evaded capture; the student's neck and face were lacerated.
Brief pause: Oakland City Councilmember Jane Brunner brought representatives from local agencies to MacArthur BART plaza on October 29, having circulated an invitation that read in part: "Measure Y outreach teams will be available reaching out to youth and Youth Radio will also be on hand interviewing local residents about their perceptions on public safety. We know that crime is a top priority for North Oaklanders and I am happy to report that over the past six months, we've made progress." Meanwhile, a group of residents protested. One banner declared, "Oakland Needs 1,100" — i.e., 1,100 cops rather than the force's current 730. Distributing a flier he had created was Charles Pine, a cofounder of the Oakland Residents for Peaceful Neighborhoods group who plans to run next year for councilmember-at-large. It read in part: "Once or twice a year City Hall concentrates resources for a day on a particular neighborhood. City staff clean it up, and their presence gives one part of the city a pause from muggings, vehicle thefts, and burglaries. Tonight and tomorrow around here the screeching cars, the gunshots, and the open drug dealing will resume."
Warm fuzzies: You know winter's coming when the cold-weather-gear heists increase. In a well-coordinated theft at a clothing store in Walnut Creek's Broadway Plaza on October 21, three women — one in her twenties, one in her thirties, and one in her forties, witnesses said — made off with forty sweaters, valued at $7,200. Maybe one will end up under your Christmas tree.
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