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April 12 - April 16, 1999

Tuesday, April 13, 1999

Thin blue line

I wonder if drumbeats can be heard in certain American cities these days, for the neighborhoods are indeed restless. NIMBY --- Not In My Back Yard --- has taken on new significance as urban residents refuse to tolerate criminal behavior on the streets where they live. Private citizens are discovering the power of organization and popular vigilance. Using tactics developed by community activists and working with a cooperative police force, they have racked up a series of successes in law enforcement and crime prevention. In San Francisco, in campaigns worthy of Clausewitz, local groups are taking back Boedekker and Mission Dolores parks. In North Oakland, a story in Sunday's Chronicle revealed, a neighborhood officially designated as Police Beat 11X has been waging a five-year war against violence and ongoing nuisance behavior. One of the veterans, electrical contractor Don Link, says with pride and some fatigue, "We have turned the corner and are starting to win the battle now."

Community policing is part of a nationwide movement to --- as the Community Policing Consortium puts it --- bring the people back into the policing process. In its emphasis on highly approachable neighborhood officers who patrol on foot, bike or horse, it marks a return to the virtues of small-town law enforcement. Gone is the image of the hostile porcine police force that prevailed in the 1960s and 1970s. The cops of the 1990s spend much of their time talking to people, attending meetings and civic events, getting to know their neighborhood. Their goal is a partnership based on mutual trust, as a way of efficiently and economically solving specific local problems.

In their attempt to re-create Andy Hardy's America (or Garrison Keillor's, if your memory doesn't go back to the films of the 1930s), the new community police have a number of genuinely happy stories to tell.

New Orleans School Resource Officer Peggy Martin spends much of her time with kids: "Instead of always arresting the same students for misdemeanor offenses, we take a different approach. One example is a community service program launched in the schools. The students report to me once a week and are assigned an hour's worth of services to provide. I help tutor them in their homework, offer conflict resolution classes, role playing, etc. Through my position as a SRO, I try to be a positive role model for our children."

Sergeant Roger Haines of Woodlawn, Ohio, presents a different kind of role model as one of the two highest-ranking non-Asians in the sport of Tang Soo Do. He and a fellow black belt, Indianapolis Deputy Sheriff Charles Ingram, have developed a national program where inner city kids learn to use self-discipline and self-awareness to escape the anarchy of violence. They combine martial arts with common sense techniques for avoiding assault --- "Do the unexpected if attacked. Yell 'Fire!' and jump or roll on the ground to attract attention." --- in the hope that ancient values and street smarts will defeat drugs and gangs.

San Francisco has its own chronicles of crime-busting as well. The mayor related one in last year's State of the City speech, where timely visits from the Taraval Station police put a stop to the "illicit antics" of an Outer Sunset resident that were about to force a couple to sell their home and move away. "Serious crime is down everywhere," the mayor boasted. "Neighborhood meetings at every district station in the city have forged new partnerships between police and citizens."

But friendly though they are, and effective though they may be, the new community policing programs are not really the equivalent of a one-horse constabulary. The Community Policing Consortium that guides them was created in 1993 by the U.S. Department of Justice. As of March 1, 1999, the federal government had provided funds for 92,000 officers in the Community Oriented Policing Services, and on March 31 Vice President Gore announced an award of $34 million more, to go to 208 communities in 41 states. "More police on the streets means safer, stronger communities for American families," said Gore. "That is why the President and I are calling for an extension of the COPS program to add 30,000 to 50,000 more officers to the street."

The program arose to combat an increase in criminal activity in the United States --- or more important from a political standpoint, public perception of an increase in criminal activity. In the five years of its existence, as the Chronicle and the consortium attest, community policing has played an active role in reducing the level of fear in American cities. A much-needed role, and one that is hard to fault.

But community policing strengthens a tendency that has emerged periodically throughout U.S. history --- the tendency to conflate the community and the police. And that's dangerous. Although their interests sometimes overlap, they are --- and should be --- essentially different . The job of the police is to enforce the law; the quality of life is up to the citizens.

The confusion here is all too evident. In his State of the City speech, the mayor continued, "Hundreds of people have been trained by police and the Office of Emergency Services to act as the 'eyes and ears of the streets,' as Chief Lau puts it." A copyrighted notice on the SFPD Web site reads: "The San Francisco Police Department's Volunteer Program is accepting applications from people who are interested in their community. Positions are available in crime prevention, neighborhood policing, district stations, and many other exciting and rewarding areas." Another notice announces, "You can be a Crime Stopper AND earn up to $1000.00. You can help make your neighborhood safer. You don't have to give your name. No one will ever know you called. All payments are made in cash." It's an old conundrum: When community does the job of the police, who will police the police?

Suddenly, the warning of the sergeant on "Hill Street Blues" acquires a potentially public context. "Be careful, people. It's a jungle out there."

--- Copyright Betsey Culp 1999

Wednesday, April 14, 1999

No method to the madness

One is tempted, with the requisite foreboding, to invoke Yeats' epiphany that all is changed, changed utterly, and that a terrible beauty has been birthed. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the missionary charged with implanting the West's economic moralism among the remaining malingerers of the former Soviet bloc, is on the ropes.

Yesterday's Pentagon announcement that 300 additional aircraft will be deployed in Yugoslavia signals the beginning of the end. The next phase of the air war will see even more ferocious bombing in the lead-up to a diplomatic settlement. It will be an orgy of face-saving by NATO, in a hopeless effort to spin the inevitability of having to finally negotiate with Milosevic to its own credit. The use of ground forces --- at minimum six weeks away, and that for an invasion of Kosovo only --- NATO knows is out of the question. It is finished in this theater of operations, and can now only wrangle over the details before signing off on the accord and emerging in the best light it can muster.

In the meantime, it has some leeway with which to remain recalcitrant in its bargaining, however, and will use that time to punish the Serb infrastructure at a million dollars per projectile, along with the Serbian and Kosovan environment and their collateral bystanders with an avalanche of depleted uranium and cluster bombs (much more cost-effective, that combo). The measure of private disarray within NATO about the eclipsed future of its power-projection mandate will make this next bombing phase truly horrific. NATO will go out with both a bang and a whimper, but within the space of another month's worth of ill-considered brio and overweening miscalculation, for all intents and purposes it will have departed the scene with little remaining credibility as the enforcer of the political economy of the North Atlantic Basin.

On its face, it is a staggering turn of events. And yet the seeds of NATO's self-deluded collapse have been watered rather publicly for some time. As it recruited new member-aspirants to Western economic trinketdom, in a replay of Cold War encroachment on Russia's borders, its chief pitchman Clinton has cajoled us to concede the "inevitable logic" of global capital and free trade. Europe, as the fulcrum of our global relationships and our ability to sell internationally, is key, he appraised last month. And "this Kosovo thing" is part of that. One couldn't parse it any more precisely.

"American leadership," of course, was envisioned as the means by which a reconstituted NATO would provide the "security architecture" for the integration of the former republics of the Soviet Union and the Soviet satellites of Central and Eastern Europe into the seamless weave of a privatized pan-European future. To that end, American policymakers formulated a document entitled "Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence," which advocated that the U.S. portray itself as "irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked." Our ability to be "out of control can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds of an adversary's decision makers." You can almost hear Nixon barking to Haldeman: "I call it the madman theory, Bob...I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war."

Unlike Vietnam, the closing of the conflict in Yugoslavia is a stalemate which will endure. The strategic and systemic ramifications for the West are ponderous, and the extent of their impact will be gleaned as the first revisionist blips about Serbia's intentions and its conduct of the war become enmeshed in the discourse: the charge of genocide will more accurately be characterized as deportation; that diaspora will be regarded as a consequence of Serbia's legitimate tactical attempt to isolate the KLA; it will be further shown that the NATO bombing encouraged the depopulation of Kosovo; evidence of the West's financing of the KLA --- and of British and American special forces troops supporting KLA guerrillas in the field prior to the bombing --- will be established; and the definition of the hostilities, however monstrous, as in fact a civil war, will buttress international censure of unilateral cowboy interventionism. Moreover, a far more detailed examination of Serbia's cultural history and its behavior vis-à-vis the other republics in the context of the breakup of Yugoslavia will mark NATO's propaganda barrage as evidence of the no-cost arrogance it believed it could bring to its self-declaimed sheriff's role on the European continent.

That role for some time has positioned Yugoslavia as the test ground for NATO's long-term out-of-area strategic plans. A letter writer to the Chronicle yesterday reminds us that the Bush administration, ignoring CIA warnings that a bloody civil war would ensue, pressured Congress to pass a 1991 foreign appropriations law which provided that any part of Yugoslavia which failed to declare independence within six months would forfeit all U.S. financial support. "Fostering democracy" with exhortations to independence of course had the salutary effect of breaking up the Balkans into small and vulnerable countries, and along with it the concomitant possibility that unaccustomed sovereignty would breed economic complaisance. And while the susceptibility to Western pressure to accept the "reforms" contiguous with market economics was successful in most of Eastern Europe by 1990, Yugoslavia resisted. Socialist and social democratic parties remained in power in Serbia and Montenegro.

Post-Dayton, Milosevic stands as the last remnant of the left in Yugoslavia. As the late Covert Action Quarterly writer Sean Gervasi pointed out in a prescient 1996 article, the dismantling of Yugoslavia would lay the groundwork for a U.S-German condominium in the Balkans. To the German sphere: Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina; access to the sea on the Adriatic; and in the event the Serbs could be overwhelmed, access to the Rhine-Danube Canal, with its capability to handle 3,000-ton ships along the route from the North Sea to the Black Sea. America's dominion would encompass Macedonia and Albania, and Sanjak and Kosovo if they could be stripped away from Serbia. U.S. access to the Caspian Sea and its vast oil reserves would thus be assured.

NATO's dream was of a new division of labor in Europe, with Germany at its center surrounded by concentric rings of resource- and cheap-labor suppliers. Eastern Europe would have occupied the outermost ring, living out its days as a dependent vassal. Russia and its Commonwealth states were viewed as similar tributaries of the center. The NATO imagination was something to behold, wasn't it? May it rest in deserved peace.

--- Copyright John Hutchison 1999

Friday, April 16, 1999

Whole lotta shakin'

Defining moments --- every place has one. They're often remembered only locally. For the little New York town where I grew up, it was the day in the 17th century when the town was founded, when John Harrison leaped on his horse at dawn and rode like the very dickens, knowing that the King of England would allow him to keep whatever land he could mark off before dark. And in the Vermont village where my parents grew old, every school child knew that the local women had governed the farming community during the Revolutionary War and defended it against astonished Redcoats while the men were away, engaged in distant battles.

But for San Francisco, the moment was public, played out in newspaper headlines all over the globe. Wednesday, April 18, 1906: the Great Earthquake, and its sister disaster, the Great Fire, which lasted until Saturday morning, April 21.

For the people who were there, it must have felt like the end of all familiar reality. Examiner reporter Fred J. Hewitt was walking toward Golden Gate on Larkin. "I was thrown...on my back and the pavement pulsated like a living thing. Around me the huge buildings, looming up, were terrible because of the queer dance they were performing, wobbled and veered." San Francisco Call reporter James Hooper found the situation equally surreal: "Throughout the long quaking, I had not heard a cry, not a sound, not a sob, not a whisper. And now, when the roar of crumbling buildings was over, and only a brick fell here and there, this silence continued, and it was an awful thing." Jack London, a man of many words, told his wife, "I'll never write a word about it. What use trying? One could only string big words together and curse the futility of them." (Later, debt-ridden and seduced by a munificent offer from Collier's, London managed to produce a 2,500-word article which he described as a failure, "the best stagger I can make at an impossible thing.")

Newspapers across the country traced the course of the disaster. Youngstown Telegram, April 18: "San Francisco Is In Ruins: Earthquake Razes Finest Buildings; Fire Adds To The Horrors." New York Press, April 19: Heart of San Francisco In Ruins; Earthquake And Fire Kill Hundreds; Property Loss $100,000,000 And Growing." Pittsburgh Post, April 20: "Flames Rage In 'Frisco And Entire City Seems Doomed."

Meanwhile, California engaged in its own mythmaking. There were tales of horror, such as an incident at Mission and Third, where SFPD Captain Thomas Duke heard a man trapped in the rubble begging passersby to kill him before he was burned alive. "After some hesitation, a large, middle-aged man stepped forward, and after a few words with the unfortunate prisoner, he whipped out a revolver and shot him through the head, killing him instantly." Mayor Eugene Schmitz later commended the anguished Good Samaritan for his "humane act."

There were tales of heroism, including the defense of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Ebeneezer Church, the last barrier before the westward-moving fire spanned Dolores Street and swept through the Castro. As the Reverend Philip Andreen was arming a raggle-taggle citizens' brigade with mops and milk buckets, a neighborhood blacksmith named John Rafferty noticed that --- almost miraculously --- the hydrant at Twentieth and Church was still working. Deeply fatigued firefighters dragged themselves and their equipment to the scene, and they worked through the night alongside 3,000 volunteers to battle the blaze to a standstill.

The cataclysm's one-two punch destroyed 28,000 buildings and left 250,000 people homeless, out of a population of 400,000.

Then the spin doctors went to work.  As the new city rose, "phoenix-like" --- the comparison was inevitable --- from the ruins, a new tale emerged. The movers and shakers of the business world, most notably James Horsburgh Jr. of Southern Pacific, noticed that the New York Stock Exchange panicked at the word "earthquake." "We do not believe in advertising the earthquake," Horsburgh wrote to Northern California chambers of commerce. "The real calamity in San Francisco was undoubtedly the fire." And a week after the temblor, the San Francisco Real Estate Board, fearing a devaluation of city land, passed a resolution that henceforth the earth-shaking event should be known simply as "the great fire."

For many years, San Franciscans bought this blarney, hiding their heads in sediment as unsafe as the sand that underlies the Marina District. But the seismic faults still exist, and so do the parcels of "made ground" where most of the damage occurred in 1906  --- "thick deposits of water-saturated unconsolidated sand and mud," the U.S. Geological Survey calls it. One such area is Mission Bay, where Catellus promises to rest its foundations on piles driven into dense sand or bedrock below the unstable land fill. Nevertheless, the EIR notes, "during a characteristic earthquake...seismically induced groundshaking, liquefaction, and ground settlement could cause unsupported pavement and underground utility conduits to separate from pile-supported structures, thereby disrupting the infrastructure intended to serve this population."

The report adds that it may be hard for rescue equipment to reach the area, what with collapsed older buildings and "warping and fracturing" of the pavement. Nor does the city's Office of Emergency Services hold out much hope, for residents of Mission Bay or anywhere else: "In case of disaster, especially a major earthquake [oops! sorry, Mr.  Horsburgh], it will take some time for our emergency response resources to be fully in place. Demands on Police, Fire and Medical Services are likely to be extraordinary. Food and water may be in short supply. Emergency shelters will take time to open. To ensure personal safety and recovery as soon as possible, it is essential that each of us is prepared to be on our own for at least 72 hours."

Harsh talk? Yes, but also realistic. If we must build a city on a bed of chocolate pudding, we'd better learn to paddle our own spoons. For self-help, check out NERT (the Fire Department's Neighborhood Emergency Response Team Training Program): (415) 558-3456.

--- Copyright Betsey Culp 1999


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