Columns written for the Berkeley Daily Planet newspaper, Berkeley, CA
Berkeley Daily Planet

Portrait by John W. Pearson




September 18 , 2008

Keith Olbermann’s Countdown has its Worst Person In The World award each night. Today we present the Worst Blog Item Or Column Entry In The East Bay.

Worse: The Blogger Calling Himself/Herself (Themselves) East Bay Conservative

In an August 18 entry called “Memo To Allen-Taylor: Dellums’ Police Plan Insufficient,” the Blogger Calling Themselves East Bay Conservative provided three items for today’s list.

The main portion of the blog refers back to an August 14 UnderCurrents column in which I pointed out that San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson (he’ll show up again in a second) was opposing Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums’ parcel tax measure to hire more police, even though Mr. Johnson had spent the last half of 2007 loudly proclaiming that the mayor needed to hire more police. In his/her blog, East Bay Conservative tries to explain why Mr. Johnson is not being inconsistent.

“The problem is.” East Bay Conservative writes, “that Johnson called for this kind of action nearly a year ago. The mayor did literally everything he could to ignore the issue and even blame it on the law-abiding citizens of Oakland for having such a big problem with criminals. … Dellums’ plan, while nice in that it shows he’s finally acknowledged the issues we had in 2007, completely fails to account for the realities of 2008.”

The realities of 2008, as I see it, are that many of the mayor’s critics found a new issue to criticize him on—ethics—which they picked up in substitute for the previous issue they were criticizing him on—public safety. So maybe East Bay Conservative is right, and there’s no inconsistency in Mr. Johnson’s changing positions on these issues, because the important thing is not the issues themselves, but simply to use them as a way criticize Mr. Dellums.

In her/his August 18 blog entry, East Bay Conservative also refers to the part of my August 14 column in which I note that Councilmember Desley Brooks is using members of the Nation of Islam’s Fruit of Islam as security for their annual series of free music concerts at East Oakland’s Arroyo Viejo Park. “Does it make anyone else a little worried that the Nation of Islam is policing these events?” East Bay Conservative writes. Why should that worry East Bay Conservative? Because they are Muslim? Because they are African-American and Muslim? Or is this one of those wink-wink, hint-hint backhanded slurs that some people easily get, but pass over other folks’ heads?

Finally (we said this was a three-fer), East Bay Conservative concludes his/her August 18 blog entry by asking “what’s the deal with Allen-Taylor spilling so much ink about Brooks and Dellums—Oakland’s top black politicians? Is this some sort of racism at work?” Now I’m thoroughly puzzled. Is East Bay Conservative saying that an African-American columnist shouldn’t be writing about African-American officeholders “so much?” Or is East Bay Conservative saying that “racism” (that is, Black Folks talking good about Black Folks only because they’re Black) is the only reason an African-American columnist could have a couple of good things to say about a couple of African-American officeholders? I’m curious.

Worser: East Bay Express Contributor Chris Thompson

You might have been understandably worried as you began read one of Mr. Thompson’s September 16 items in the Express’ 92510 blog, which is headlined “Crazed Bikers To Storm Oakland Council Chambers Tonight!” Mr. Thompson’s item begins “Attention Oakland parents! Lock up your daughters! Members of Oakland motorcycle gangs plan to pop wheelies, beat bystanders with chains, and snort meth off their old ladies' boobs tonight at the Oakland City Council Chambers!” Mr. Thompson then goes on to explain that this is just a joke, and that the “biker gangs” are coming to City Council “to politely ask for a special hearing on how to comply with large party permit requirements.”

I guess I just don’t get the joke, but then, Mr. Thompson has a different sense of humor than I have. In 2003, when the East Bay Express ran the has-been African-American child comedy actor Gary Coleman as a joke candidate in the California gubernatorial recall election, Mr. Thompson thought the plight of California African-Americans was hilarious. “Although Gary Coleman calls himself ‘the whitest black man in America,’” Mr. Thompson wrote at the time, “we're pretty sure he's got the black vote tied up in October. After all, who else are blacks gonna vote for—Bill Simon? ... And while most voters will probably sit out the recall election, black voters will finally have a chance to vote for someone they can believe in and will turn out in droves. Our analysis: Coleman wins big in Oakland and Richmond!” I didn’t think what Mr. Thompson wrote was funny then. I still don’t think it’s funny now.

The large group of bikers that came to Oakland City Council Tuesday night to speak at open forum was a coalition of African-American motorcycle clubs—they made the point that that they are not “gangs”—that includes the East Bay Dragons and the Syndicate Motorcycle Club. Many of them are doing volunteer work with youth and community rehabilitation in many of Oakland’s roughest neighborhoods. The Syndicate MC held an all-day Save Our Youth Picnic & Basketball Game at West Oakland’s DeFremery Park in early August, for example, and I’ve written more than once about the Dragons’ community block parties at their 88th and International clubhouse in East Oakland. In a city where many flatlands neighborhoods are neglected, youth are ignored, and violence is flaring, such volunteer work is deeply needed and should be widely appreciated. Instead, group representatives told Councilmembers on Tuesday that they are having difficulty getting permits to hold large events in Oakland because the city is requiring them to pay for large numbers of police officers for security purposes, even though their events promote peace and nonviolence and they provide their own security.

And as one Syndicate MC representative told the Councilmembers, they’re not asking the city for much. “We’d like to be able to partner with you,” he said. “We’re not begging you or asking for money. We’re just asking you not to put shackles on us as we step up to our civic duty.”

So why would Mr. Thompson misrepresent the motorcycle clubs in his blog, just for the sake of making a cheap joke, and why would the Express editors go along with the “joke” by describing them as “crazed” in the headline? Can’t answer that. Meanwhile, we still don’t know if Mr. Thompson writing his blog entries from the East Bay, or is simply emailing them in from afar.

Worsest: San Francisco Chronicle East Bay Columnist Chip Johnson

Some weeks ago at the height of the Oakland takeover robberies, Chronicle East Bay columnist Chip Johnson was asking that the city do something about it. Well, actually, “asking” is far too mild a word.

In late August, after North Oakland’s Nomad Café was hit on Friday night and East Oakland’s Full Moon Seafood House and the World Nails Salon on Telegraph Avenue were struck two days later, Mayor Ron Dellums and Oakland Police officials held a press conference in which they asked Oakland residents to help find the perpetrators, offering a $50,000 reward for information.

"I believe that people in Oakland know who these people are," Mr. Dellums said. "We need people to look at any suspicious activity, write down license plate numbers and work with the police."

But Mr. Johnson went ballistic, saying that this was not enough.

In an August 26 column entitled “With Oakland Under Siege, Mayor Just Talks,” Mr. Johnson wrote that “As usual, the city's top officials held a news conference [in response to the recent crime wave] but didn't propose a single solution. Their message, whether intended or not, is implicit: We're on our own. … Dellums gave another angry man speech, promising an end to the mayhem and encouraging merchants to take precautions. As usual, he failed to offer a single proposal on how the city would address the problem. It was just more of the same old stuff.”

Three days later, in a followup column called “Dellums Needs To Show Up And Step Up,” Mr. Johnson was at it again. “Oakland's Quiet Mayor speaks to the press—and the citizenry— only when circumstance and necessity scream for an official response, and even then his sound bites are awkward and more often than not completely miss the mark,” Mr. Johnson wrote. “At a Monday news conference, Dellums stood alongside Police Chief Wayne Tucker to announce what everybody thought would be a plan to address a string of holdups at four Oakland restaurants in a three-day crime spree. Instead, Dellums exhorted the community to step up and provide information to the Police Department, which has offered $50,000 reward for information on the suspects. That's not a plan, it's a Hail Mary toss, and doesn't amount to diddly from the city's two most important government institutions.”

Mary, apparently, was listening, and caught the ball.

A week after the press conference in which the $50,000 award was offered—and four days after Mr. Johnson was writing that the reward offer “doesn’t amount to diddly”—Oakland police and the mayor held a second press conference to announce that three suspects had been arrested in the most serious of the restaurant takeover robberies. Deputy Police Chief Jeff Israel said that the suspects were caught in part “based upon tips gained from the public” that had come in since the earlier press conference and reward offer. (It should be noted, of course, that these are suspects, only, and the court process will have to sort itself out before it can be determined if they are the actual restaurant takeover robbers.)

Since that September 3 press conference, Mr. Johnson has written three more columns, one criticizing Mr. Dellums about having his wife volunteering at City Hall (“Oakland Mayor’s Wife Now His Top Adviser,” September 5), one advising Mr. Dellums to step aside and let someone else run the city (“Time For Dellums To Hire Bobb,” September 9), and one criticizing Mr. Dellums—you see a pattern here?—for not responding properly to the city’s pending budget shortfall (“How Will Oakland Handle Fiscal Crisis?” September 12). In none of these does Mr. Johnson acknowledge that he was wrong, and something was being done about the restaurant takeover robberies, and that suspects were caught.

I was always taught that if you asked for something and got it, you acknowledged what you got and thanked the giver, both out of politeness and to ensure you’d get something else the next time you asked. But perhaps Mr. Johnson was raised different.

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