Letters for July 3, 2003

Sacto occupied, but not by protesters

Re “Seeds of discontent” by Bill Forman, Cosmo Garvin and David A. Kulczyk (SN&R News, June 26):

I have enjoyed SN&R’s recent articles about the agricultural conference, including the cover by Ron Curran (“Inside the global dome,” June 12). They provided enlightening background about the protesters and their experiences in Sacramento.

Even so, and despite its other impressive qualities, this article failed to address some of the more serious issues related to the law-enforcement model used by the city during this event. It is evident that the police sought to disrupt the ability of people to assemble and protest to the greatest extent possible, and to intimidate people from participating in protest activities.

On Monday, at a permitted march, they openly pointed weapons capable of firing chemical agents and rubber bullets toward marchers, and they videotaped the march from beginning to end, with an enormous film crew.

On Tuesday, they assaulted nonviolent protesters at 12th and K with Tasers, despite the presence of enough officers to deal with any possible acts of civil disobedience.

In other instances, they threatened to use chemical agents on any group of people that refused to disperse, and impounded vehicles for otherwise minor traffic offenses. They even threatened to arrest protesters outside the county jail if they did not stop waving to one of their incarcerated friends.

Perhaps people consider such police conduct acceptable, in comparison to some of the more egregious practices in other communities. Perhaps we have been sufficiently desensitized to accept practices that we would have found objectionable in the past. If so, we should engage in some careful reflection.

The response of the police is part of an emerging pattern. In the mid-1990s, they engaged in similar tactics to try to prevent janitors of [Service Employees International Union] Local 1877 and their supporters from protesting on the K Street Mall. Critical Mass bicyclists are subjected to a degree of police scrutiny for compliance with the provisions of the Vehicle Code, with the inevitable issuance of tickets, that would lead to a mass rebellion if applied to motorists.

And, most troubling of all, who was in control of downtown Sacramento during the conference? A friend said that the answer was obvious from the overwhelming presence of law enforcement, but I did take the time to express my concerns to the mayor’s office, the city manager and, during a protest in front of the jail associated with a court arraignment, the Sacramento County Superior Court.

It was disconcerting to discover that none of them, while cooperative and polite, expressed any interest in immediately investigating what was happening out on the street. [Lack of] intervention by any of them to deter the more egregious police practices was incomprehensible. For six days, it appears that downtown Sacramento was truly under occupation, with law enforcement having replaced any recognizable civil authority.

Richard Estes

Black Bloc burns testosterone, bloc-heads

Re “Seeds of discontent” by Bill Forman, Cosmo Garvin and David A. Kulczyk (SN&R News, June 26):

Nice coverage of the anti-bio-engineered-food protests—but what “bloc-head” wrote the puff piece on the so-called Black Bloc anarchists?

The author calls them “young, strong and sober”—and then admits that fully 30 of them refused to be interviewed. So, what on earth is this uncritical characterization based on?

Sorry, but the bandanna brigade is living out a Che Guevara fantasy, replete with macho terror-togs. These beef-wits vandalize some poor saps’ businesses and kick over a Dumpster or two, and SN&R calls this frat-boy pranksterism their “strategic direct action.” These anarchists do nothing but hurt their own cause—assuming they have one, apart from the sheer joy of burning testosterone.

Charlie Barnes

Darrell gets an F

Re “The velvet gavel” by Jeff Kearns (SN&R Cover, June 19):

On the Friday before the constitutional deadline for the budget, Capitol Democrats such as Darrell Steinberg had already taken off for the weekend before coming close to resolving it.

That week, he and many of our other representatives were piddling around with inane things, such as a law-enforcement [sport-utility vehicle] bill, and fund-raising for their party rather than doing the required job of passing the budget.

Students who don’t turn their work in on time flunk, and workers who do the same get fired. The same should happen to California’s governor and elected representatives. They should be standing by the road with “Will work for food” signs because that is where they are driving their constituents.

M. Kunert
via e-mail

What is happening here, Mr. Steinberg?

Re “The velvet gavel” by Jeff Kearns (SN&R Cover, June 19):

Concerning your article on Darrell Steinberg, who “wields kingpin power and pushes ambitious reform proposals,” I’ve a different view.

Steinberg and other legislators have demonstrated again and again that they have no real power to deal with the overwhelming problems facing California. Instead of structural reform, they offer Band-Aid solutions to California’s complex problems—many due to their inability to critically and independently act with an eye toward the future.

For example, Steinberg’s Assembly Bill 1221 aims to get cities less dependent on sales tax. Sounds good. Smart growth and all. Cities are in that predicament because of shortsighted spending policies. Do we need another shortsighted law as a corrective measure? Particularly one that is likely to be ignored, repealed or modified in the future?

Water meters in Sacramento are another example. Any legislator with real power would focus on developing a comprehensive and equitable water policy for California. Households don’t use most of the water in California; agriculture does. Yet the burden for conserving falls on the consumer while the biggest user, agriculture, is allowed to sell water it doesn’t use and for which it doesn’t own the rights—the people of California do.

That market approach has allowed agriculture to reap millions of dollars while, at the same time, encouraging growth in areas with not enough water to consistently support that growth. So much for “smart growth.”

Kevin Phillips, in Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich, says, “We can begin with a simple premise: Democracy and market economics are not the same thing. Worse, the attempts to confuse and conflate them in pretended equivalence stood out at the millennium as a destructive aspect of U.S. politics. … The rollbacks of democracy have accompanied the elevation of markets.” The same is true of California politics.

As portrayed in your article, Steinberg represents an out-of-touch Legislature. As Bob Dylan said, “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”

Marie McLean

Got to get back to the garden

Re “The velvet gavel” by Jeff Kearns (SN&R Cover, June 19):

I have no doubt that Assemblyman Steinberg is a strong advocate for certain liberal causes. This is admirable in the wake of the ever-increasing corporate influence in our government institutions.

It must be said, however, that Mr. Steinberg does not have a spotless record as far as his support for local community issues. As a member of the city council, he strongly supported the Ron Mandella Community Garden, but unfortunately, when asked by garden members to take a strong leadership role to save the garden, he remained silent. In all fairness, the same can be said for state Senator Deborah Ortiz.

Mr. Steinberg and Ms. Ortiz also seem to be unwilling to put any pressure on the Capitol Area Development Authority (CADA) to develop truly affordable housing downtown. CADA thus continues to tear down what it calls “substandard” housing and builds heavily subsidized, expensive apartment buildings.

As Mr. Steinberg moves steadily up the political ladder, I would hope that he pays a little closer attention to the needs and aspirations of his constituency.

Marc Brandes

Caught on the Net

Re “Weapons of mass distortion” (SN&R Editorial, June 19):

Either the author of this editorial was using it as scarcely veiled bait to elicit letters to the editor or has recently returned from Space Station Oblivion.

The attack on Iraq was planned before Bush took office. The Project for a New American Century clearly spells this out (see this Web site for details: http://informationclearinghouse.literati.org/article1221.htm).

Bush also signed Executive Order No. 13303, which claims Iraqi oil for himself (as reported at www.underreported.com).

Most of the information on this and other damning evidence against the Bush cabal is on the Net. All you and your readers have to do is look. And no, you won’t find this in the mainstream press.

name withheld by request