Letters for the Week of May 23, 2012 

Readers sound off on Bus Rapid Transit, Matt Stewart, and Occupy.

Page 2 of 3

I have scant sympathy for BRT opposition based on loss of on-street parking spaces, or on not wanting to give the BRT a bus-only lane. If BRT is really going to succeed in weaning drivers from their car habit, then implementing the BRT definitely should make car driving less convenient and more onerous.

All the other issues I see raised — for example, center versus curbside routes, traffic speed, allocation of bus stops and lane access for emergency vehicles, etc. — can be dealt with by negotiation and careful planning, but they are secondary to making sure BRT motivates enough car drivers to become bus riders.

Steve Geller, Berkeley

"Coaches Question How Matt Stewart Got Hired," News, 5/9

The Community Is Complicit

No doubt some investigative reporter is trying to find out how Matt Stewart was hired in spite of his lack of qualifications (and reasons for his disqualification), so that similarly egregious mistakes are prevented in the future. But blame should not be the aim. Instead, informing the community as to what it can do in this kind of situation — other than getting the attention of news media! — would seem to be important for ensuring that competent personnel are hired when a district administration pursues a "stonewall" policy. Cheers for the Express, but West County residents shouldn't have to always depend on its watchful eye.

Ruby MacDonald, El Cerrito

Where's District Leadership?

I am concerned that the West Contra Costa Unified School District leadership has not come out with any statement condemning the behavior of any employee that engaged in or did not report such emails. WCCUSD has spent a large amount of money on consultants to speak on cultural inclusion, racism and sexism. They are very quick to punish students for their behaviors, yet they hide behind "personnel confidentiality," which allows for the perpetuation of racism, sexism, and other deplorable behavior. The district should form a committee to research, review, and make recommendations on the plight of students of color and staff insensitivity.

Scottie Smith, Richmond

"Police Chief Deserves a Mixed Review," Seven Days, 5/9

An Empty "Improvement"

Robert Gammon gives unwarranted praise to Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan for his new tactics of snatch squads, which target select individuals in a demonstration for quick arrest. Gammon, once again repeating the skewed version of reality promoted by OPD, claims that those "pinpointed ... appear to be bent on vandalism and violence," and he is satisfied that this tactic offers a "glimmer of hope" and "an improvement" over previous methods of quashing and dispersing demonstrations by kettling hundreds, along with the copious (sometimes indiscriminate, sometimes targeted) deployment of tear gas and flash-bang grenades. What seems clear is that the latter don't frighten most protesters after one or two exposures, marking their serious failure as crowd-control techniques (for which they are not intended in the first place) — so now OPD brass have decided that a different manner of sowing fear, chaos, and confusion among nonviolent protesters is in order.

What I witnessed on May Day was squads of six to eight officers picking out individuals from their list of Occupiers to watch — which includes not just the dozen activists with dubious stay-away orders. I also witnessed the snatching of those who were especially vocal in their condemnation of the new tactic as it was being used; in being surrounded and protected by up to a dozen of their colleagues, the arresting police can be as brutal as they like. For the most part, though, I saw the snatch squads going after those protesters who were carrying shields to protect themselves and their friends from the routine and punitive use of chemical and other supposedly less-than-lethal weapons. Many times those with shields were targeted just to get the shields away from them, in order to make protesters more vulnerable to attack; no arrest followed those bullying forays into the crowd to grab these dangerous hooligans.

Who were the protesters arrested for allegedly being intent on vandalism? I'm not the only one who suspects they were specifically selected from OPD's Occupy protester playbook, those with previous arrests on trumped-up (and obviously political) charges that will never stick. People who defy arbitrary and brutal treatment, who resist the cavalier deployment of chemical weapons, who dare to stand up to the consistently out-of-control bullying by the police are being targeted for special (punitive) treatment in the streets. And it doesn't matter to the arresting officers if their charges are absurd; the important thing for them is to suppress any manifestation of resistance in that moment. OPD's message all along is that any defiance or refusal to accept their brutality will continue to be met with their first resort: violence.

The primary purpose of the snatch squads is to attack nonviolent protesters pre-emptively, to intimidate everyone nearby, and, like other arrests stemming from Occupy, to take certain people off the street for weeks (if not months), as they are forced into the harassing maze of the criminal justice system. This new tactic for OPD is not a means of arresting people who are allegedly engaging in illegal activity, and is certainly not meant to be a method of crowd control. How Gammon can believe this is "an improvement" over the kettling and gassing of non-violent protesters only makes sense in a climate that tolerates, and encourages, rampant and systemic police corruption and brutality, which is not just a problem in Oakland — see the recent too-big-to-ignore scandals with gang culture inside the LA County Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Joe Arpaio's long-running antics in Phoenix. Readers of the Express might remember that such routine police abuses are the very things that are helping to drive OPD into federal receivership.

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