Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “BART”

Should police have more tasers? -Tom Rossi

In the San Francisco Bay Area, there is renewed discussion about Tasers. Police departments, including BART police, are contemplating making Tasers standard equipment for officers. Of course, this has re-opened the incident that never really closed – the shooting of Oscar Grant by  BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle.

The following is a re-posting of what I wrote following the sentencing of former officer Mehserle. It once again seems relevant.

Oscar Grant: Overkill

The shooting of Oscar Grant was the result of the de-facto policy of many police officers: the practice of using so-called non-lethal force as a form of punishment. If you believe that officer Mehserle did in fact pull his firearm by mistake, then that is an admission that he intended to taser a suspect that had already been subdued and was clearly complying.

Grant may not have been in compliance all along (although he was certainly not violent), but the minute the other officer put his knee on his neck, Grant put his arms and legs back into a submissive position. His body language said, “OK, you’re really hurting my neck, so I’m going to cooperate.” It was only then that officer Mehserle pulled his weapon. This was all clearly visible in several of the videos taken by bystanders. This can be seen here:

We have seen this repeated, although with lesser consequences, many times, thanks to citizen videos. Many police officers seem to have a nonchalant attitude when it comes to their tasers. But what would have been Mehserle’s sentence if he had actually tasered Grant, who then died of a heart attack? Under the law, this is an outcome that could be foreseen by a reasonable person – tasers cause a strong physiological reaction. Therefore, using a taser is an action that requires strong justification. And in fact, over 250 people have died in the United States from the Taser.

So, the issue would not have been whether or not the gun was used by accident, but WHY did Mehserle decide to use his taser under these conditions?

The job of a police officer is certainly one of the most difficult in modern society. Each day, an officer walks a thin, jagged line between levels of enforcement that are either too lax or overzealous. However, the function of the police is never to punish offenders, but to apprehend them using the least amount of force necessary.

The issue of the inappropriate use of force, whether lethal or non-lethal, has been overshadowed by the accident question and the race issue. But the more important question should be: Under what circumstances should the police use harmful or even potentially lethal force at all?

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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A Corner That’s My Own

It is not easy finding a space to write as I share a small house with three other people who, rightfully, vie for a fair potion of my attention. Sure, I can go out to a café and I do, but when I am away for work or book promotion for so many hours of the week, sometimes I want to sit in my own house, and drink coffee out of my own mug.

Last week I took advantage of an Office Depot sale and bought a real desk. It is compact, but sits nicely in the kitchen looking outside to a concrete cube of a garden that my wife has softened up with plants and wind chimes.

Stephen King wrote Carrie in the laundry room, a typewriter (yes I wrote that correctly) on his lap. So who am I to complain? I’m not. I am actually sitting at the desk now, Detox AM tea in a cup, Genesis blasting from my woofer (also from Office Depot – 10 bucks, but hey Genesis always sound good). The family has given me an hour to sit here and the sun is reflecting off the metallic green and red wind chime.

But a place of your own to write is important. It is sacred space with a boundary defined by your craft of writing. It needs to exist: it demands respect.

Now I know you can find this sacred space anywhere because the key component is within. Starbucks and headphones can do it. I have written some solid passages in a busy airport lounge or on the BART train during rush hour.

But I do think we need that space somewhere, defined. It is part of our character as a writer: it really doesn’t need much. Above my head are my writing books. To their left is a small magnetic notice board with my writing goals for the month and some inspiration. Photos of the family are displayed, not staid portraits, rather scenes that make me smile. There is a modest, comfortable chair to sit on and I am ready to go.

Now, to quote the Genesis song: It’s time to Turn It On Again.

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

A Moment of Appreciation

Wade Mayer, who manages an excellent blog called Inviting Conversations: Intelligent Dialog Connecting Thoughtful People, posted a question on our LinkedIn Writer’s group. He asked whether we put our family events on our business calenders. In sharing my response, I realized how strongly I feel about the challenges facing achieving excellence in my work, my writing and my parenting.

My response:
Always! The challenge of maintaining a work:life balance is the most difficult juggling act I face. I love my job and my writing life, both hopefully impact others to create a better world. Raising two young boys that they might become a positive force for change and sharing quality time with a life-partner who makes me a better person, demands just as much attention.

I am learning to live with the fact that I cannot promote my novels that are already published, edit the current completed manuscript, and write the next novel. All this while holding down a full-time (and wonderful) job, and being a meaningful influence as my children develop, as well as being a supportive life-partner.

But it’s hard. I’ve been struggling with the usual winter coughs and colds for too long. No time to slow down and let the body recuperate. In the words of Jack Kerouac:

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh…”
On the Road, Jack Kerouac

And I wouldn’t want it any other way!

Final word: I am speaking at the Californian Writer’s Club on Sunday (March 21), at 2.15 p.m. in the West Auditorium of the Oakland Main Library at 125 14th Street near the Lake Merritt BART station. Enter directly from Madison Street between 13th & 14th Streets.

Love to see you there.

Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

From New Orleans to San Francisco

I am currently concluding a week of volunteering in New Orleans with students from our San Francisco Hillel. A lot has changed: my first time here we gutted as many houses as we could to allow the residents to received their insurance and begin the long rebuilding process. In my second year, we helped build drywall and roofs to those who could only afford the materials but not the labor. This year we have been helping to establish a community garden in the Lower 9th Ward, the hardest hit area. Whereas in the past we were helping to rebuild the physical, this year it felt like we were helping to heal a community.

One surprising aspect this time is that we keep meeting people living in New Orleans who were linked to the San Francisco Bay Area. I feel there is an indefinable link between two cities that just don’t comply with the American norm.

The piece below is from Unwanted Heroes. I wrote it after my first trip here.


Chapter 2: The Fog Rolls In

I love San Francisco. Yeah, I grew up in London with fog on the Thames, but I don’t recall locals stopping to admire it.

Other cities share similar traits to San Francisco; Rome has hills, London has immigrants and culture, and Paris the artistic mystique. But San Francisco has all of this and it’s not thrown in your face. It just is.

I lean over the rails on the Embarcadero and stare out at the looming Bay Bridge, gray and partially veiled by early morning fog. Next to me stands a metal woman, eighteen feet high, a creation welded from hundreds of recycled pieces of junk. She holds hands with a child about six or eight feet tall, and together they stare out to sea.

The metal woman lacks the elegance of the Statue of Liberty. That’s what makes San Francisco special; it works without pretentiousness. I’m told that the metal mother and her child stand at the Burning Man festival in the desert. Fire courses through her body and out of her hand into the child.

We could do with the fire right now. I shiver as I watch wisps of fog on the water.  It’s very early and I must open the coffee shop. Despite the cold, I love this hour of the day; the city slumbers, but is not asleep. It’s simply preparing itself for the onslaught.  In two hours, tens of thousands of people will spew out of the BART and MUNI public transport tunnels. Others will stubbornly drive in, searching for elusive and pricey parking spaces. The more enlightened drivers have recruited two passengers from the casual car pool pickup points scattered around the bay, thereby avoiding the bridge tolls and utilizing the carpool lanes. The passengers, for their part, get a free ride into town.

Walking down Mission Street, I see Clarence, a huge African-American, dressed in a shiny black suit. I can’t tell if he’s awake behind those big black sunglasses until he raises his saxophone to salute me. The shiny instrument gleams, even in our fog-filled streets, and Clarence lets rip a short riff to announce: The barista has arrived!

Clarence stakes his position very early in the morning. There are more street musicians than ever these days and, with only a limited number of prime spots, Clarence must claim his territory. But at this moment, he plays only for me and I feel like a king. Clarence knows I don’t have money to throw in his open sax case; perhaps he’d feel insulted if I did.

But later, around 9.30 when the herd is safely corralled into their office cubicles and Clarence’s muscles are aching, he’ll come and rest in The Daily Grind. When I think Mr. Tzu, isn’t looking, I leave a cup of coffee on Clarence’s table. I used to mutter under my breath that some jerk had changed his order after I’d already poured his cup and there’s no use in waste. After about the fortieth time, I figured Clarence had picked up on my ruse and I just put the steaming cup on his table.

No thanks, but I know the gesture is appreciated, just as I appreciate Clarence playing for me as I pass in the early morning. He’ll sit for an hour or so and then slowly move off. I know little of Clarence, but he’s part of my life; another strand that weaves this urban tapestry called San Francisco.

Two weeks ago, some students entered The Daily Grind, their clothes covered with ‘New Orleans’ insignia. They were excited and boisterous as they passed Clarence at his regular table. From the way Clarence eyed them, I thought that their intrusion annoyed him. But I was wrong.

“Hey! What’s with th’ shirts? Whatca y’all doing with New Orleans?”

A young woman, blonde, thin and tanned, excitedly explained how they’d just come back from a week helping to rebuild houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina. “You should’ve seen the damage that hurricane did,” she concluded.

“Ain’t no hurricane that did that gal,” Clarence growled. “Weren’t no nat’ral disaster. Don’t let ’em bull ya’. The hurricane would’ve done some damage, but if those levees had held, if those bastards had built ’em like they should, well, ain’t no one have died there. My grandma’s house waz swept away, broke her it did. Such a proud w’man.”

Clarence rose and moved heavily to the door, but then turned. We all watched him. He spoke now in a softer tone. “But I thank y’all for going down there t’ help. It’s import’nt y’all show ya’ care, that some’n shows they care.”

We saw the tears as he turned and left leaving behind a heavy wake of silence. I couldn’t stop myself. I nodded to Tabitha to cover for me and followed him out of the café.

He stood on the corner of Mission and Spear caressing his saxophone and let rip the most beautiful, soulful jazz I have ever heard. He wasn’t playing for me that time; he wasn’t even playing for San Francisco. I could almost see his tune rolling out of the bay along with the fog and making its way to the Gulf.

When he finished I approached, not knowing what to say. We stared at each other.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered. “I-I’m so sorry.”

I spoke with Mr. Tzu, the coffee shop owner, later that day. I had an idea and from that week, every Friday at lunchtime, Clarence would play in The Daily Grind to a packed audience. Big jars were scattered around the tables with labels: All Proceeds to New Orleans Relief Projects.

And as the music touched our customer’s souls, the jars filled: because San Francisco has a heart, and that heart was bleeding for a sister on the Gulf Coast.


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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 


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