Purple Air, Purple Air

For our anniversary Geoffrey was given a Purple Air sensor.

So, now we are on the Purple Air website and on the Government’s air quality map.

And, we can also embed our own information on this blog…

Geek Alert!

Loading PurpleAir Widget…
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A Happy Oddity of Pacheco Street

As I walk around San Francisco during the Time of the Plague I am often delighted/confronted by special sights that would never be allowed in any “well organized” city plan.

Previously I have discovered a street with two END signs blocks apart (St. Marys) and a street with no beginning but two ENDS (Hilton). Today I confirmed another city planning/street labeling impossibility: there is apparently a negative block of Pacheco.

On the maps, the less grand stairs to the southeast are clearly labeled Pacheco Street, even though the street to the northwest is clearly labeled the 000 block of Pacheco.

Google map of the 000 blocks of Pacheco

So, apparently there is a negative and positive 000 block of Pacheco.

Actually, I first became aware of the problem of identifying the start of Pacheco when I was following a trek in The Stairway Walks of San Francisco. The instructions had me going along Vasquez and then turning left on to Pacheco Street. But, there is no real Pacheco Street that runs into Vasquez. There’s an opening that reveals the stairs above in the picture on the right, but there’s no street sign. So, I kept walking and wound up having to check a map, walk around the neighborhood, and eventually rediscover Pacheco at Merced where today’s photos were taken.

But, I do wonder how you get help if you slip and fall on the stairs in the -000 block. Tell the paramedics you’re about -47 Pacheco Street between Merced and Vasquez?

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My Special Reason for Liking Kamela Harris

There is a lot to like about Senator Kamela Harris, and I celebrate her selection as Joe Biden’s running mate.

She’s an experienced office holder who has done well in contentious hearings in the Senate. Before going to Washington, Harris was a strong Attorney General for the State of California. And, before that she navigated the torturous San Francisco City political circus to become our first woman, first person-of-color District Attorney.

She’s bright, dedicated. And from my own personal experience she is focused on doing what’s right instead of just what’s politically beneficial.

Kamela Harris
Kamela Harris
photo by Mobilus In Mobili

My connection to Kamela is small and not personal. But, about 9 years ago I was impressed by her actions and judgement in her role as DA. I still am impressed by her.

Back in 2011, or maybe it was 2010, I served on the San Francisco Criminal Grand Juror for three months. We were presented cases by Deputy District Attorneys who wanted us to indict people instead of having them go through a preliminary hearing. Many of cases we heard involved suspects who were in mental hospitals, couldn’t help in their defense, and therefore had to be indicted instead of facing a preliminary hearing which they wouldn’t understand.

But, our biggest case, one that took weeks to learn about, was a case involving a gang that was preying on people in a low-income residential area of the city. For days we listened to testimony of police officers, lab techs, field techs, video techs, and others. We watched video and examined the cache of assault weapons used in crimes.

We saw a lot of different investigators from the DA’s office and from police task forces. Day after day we saw evidence of meticulous dedication to reigning in the terror that was controlling a part of the City. All of what we were shown and asked to review was professionally, painstakingly presented.

In the end we returned an indictment of over 100 counts for felonies ranging from drugs to weapons to murder.

I suppose there is nothing special about the behavior of the DA and the police. But, damn it, there was.

DA Harris spent tons of her office’s limited budget developing solid cases against criminals who were attacking poor people of color. There was no political benefit to Harris that would reward the use of her budget this way. The victims, if they voted, were certain to vote for Harris regardless of any work she did on their behalf. After all, she was an historic change in an office that had been a stronghold of white city politicians for forever.

But, Kamela not only devoted a lot of resources to this prosecution, she gave the case quality staff people. Details were investigated and clearly explained in court.

So, 9 or 10 years later, I am still saluting DA Kamela Harris for putting the right priority on her work. I was happy that the Grand Jury voted indictments years ago and I am happy to vote for Harris for Vice President in 2020.

Go Biden-Harris!

Posted in Politics, San Francisco | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

How to Save Black Lives

Black Lives Matter. Period.

The deaths of black men at the hands of police are tragedies that we as a society must work to stop.  Demands for change are appropriate and necessary. But, I worry that anti-police and anti-government protests don’t help us move forward. To me there is a difference between insisting on systemic changes and insisting that authorities are evil.

In the 1960’s governors stood in the doors of schoolhouses to keep black people out, politicians publicly advocated segregation, and law enforcement openly planned how to violently attack marchers.  There is no 2015 — or 2020 — equivalent to George Wallace, Sheriff Clark, or even the “moderate” States’ Right advocates who protected segregation in the 1960’s.  I haven’t heard governors say black kids deserve to be profiled and shot. I haven’t heard law enforcement departments say that they are content with their alienation from the communities they police.

There is no entrenched, intentional Evil in this discussion.

In 2015 when this post was first drafted NPR interviewed Constance Rice, a civil rights attorney who sued the LAPD in the 1990’s.   Here’s what NPR reported (read more at NPR):

Rice’s time battling the LAPD, and specifically captain Charlie Beck, who is now LA’s police chief, eventually led to a place where there could be trust. They worked together to reform the department.

Some of that change included LAPD officers going into projects to set up youth sports programs and health screenings, things that made people’s lives better and brought police and predominantly black communities closer together.

Here are some interview highlights:
On use of police force on minorities:

“Cops can get into a state of mind where they’re scared to death. When they’re in that really, really frightened place they panic and they act out on that panic. I have known cops who haven’t had a racist bone in their bodies and in fact had adopted black children, they went to black churches on the weekend; and these are white cops. They really weren’t overtly racist. They weren’t consciously racist. But you know what they had in their minds that made them act out and beat a black suspect unwarrantedly? They had fear. They were afraid of black men. I know a lot of white cops who have told me. And I interviewed over 900 police officers in 18 months and they started talking to me, it was almost like a therapy session for them I didn’t realize that they needed an outlet to talk.

“They would say things like, “Ms. Rice I’m scared of black men. Black men terrify me. I’m really scared of them. Ms. Rice, you know black men who come out of prison, they’ve got great hulk strength and I’m afraid they’re going to kill me. Ms. Rice, can you teach me how not to be afraid of black men.” I mean this is cops who are 6’4″. You know, the cop in Ferguson was 6’4″ talking about he was terrified. But when cops are scared, they kill and they do things that don’t make sense to you and me.”

I see police departments – especially the field level officers – struggling to figure out what to do to improve relations, to keep from being afraid of black men.

Rage and grief at the loss of black lives is appropriate. But, questioning the intention of all police officers and entire police departments feels like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. 

Ultimately, I believe we can best find solutions when we all are open to the belief that all parts of the community are acting with good intentions. (No, not everyone in all sections of the community. But, I do feel that mayors and police chiefs are trying to end the build-in prejudice.)

Long Beach Police Department Communications Supervisors circa 1980 Long Beach Police Department Communications Supervisors, circa 1980. Bryan Hawkins, Ethel Gelman, Galen Workman, Linda Trujillo, and Paul Stein.

My conviction of the human goodness of most police officers comes from my first-hand experience during my work in Long Beach.

As citizens we need to argue for the budgets for training and community building. We need to focus on programs like those Rice and LAPD developed and make sure that office holders understand that our interest is not another passing fad. Money and responsibilities should be transferred from police departments to other agencies. But, it’s critical that we as a community/country and work together.

Let’s not needlessly create enemies.  Let’s refrain from demonizing people who are trying to find ways to do better, or to simply survive their work shift.

We also need to acknowledge that situations leading to the death of unarmed people don’t always involve one-sided police action.  The stark “good, unarmed angelic kids vs. jack-booted cops” story line is not always accurate. Some of the people who have been killed by police have done something illegal or contributed in some way to looking dangerous (like by pointing a “toy” gun at a police officer).  They did not “deserve” to die, and we as a community need to figure out how to train officers to be less afraid and feel less like civilization will fall if they don’t push the trigger and shoot someone the cop thinks is dangerous. But, at the same time, it feels unfair to not understand the human impulse to protect yourself when you think there is a gun pointed at you.

The deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, so many others are tragic, and the list of heartbreak seems unstoppable with George Floyd, Sean Monterrosa, Rayshard Brooks, recent victims. Even if they died in interactions with police after they were involved in some non-violent crime, deadly force was not warranted. And, many people of color who are virtuous pillars of society are stopped, treated badly, and often hurt without any justification.

Still, I don’t see that the solution is to scream at police that they are bigoted storm troopers. We need training and programs to integrate police into the communities they serve. We need to show them how to feel less frightened and more skilled in ways of controlling situations involving black men they don’t know. We need to clarify exactly what the police are supposed to do and maybe get the police out of non core law enforcement duties.

I wish/hope/believe that with training and mutual outreach we all can get along.

Note: this post was originally drafted in 2015 after a black man was killed by police. I did not publish it then because I thought I didn’t need to add my voice or perspective. I need to publish this updated commentary now, five years and too many deaths later.


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Meditations on The Thin Blue Line

It’s been 40 years since my dispatching days at Long Beach Police. Have things changed?

I remember working the day shift and wondering why whenever a certain officer radioed that he was going to investigate a suspicious subject on his own initiative, a unit or two would immediately go to his assistance. He didn’t ask for back-up, but units who were supposedly busy magically cleared and showed up at his side.

The Thin Blue Line in California

Unit 7 — or was it Unit 21? some details fade — was rarely alone with someone he stopped. Other units investigated people and wrote tickets without other cops joining them. And, the officer wasn’t small, old, or otherwise weak. But, he always had another unit volunteer to be with him.

When I asked why Unit 7 always got a back up, I didn’t get an answer. Finally, when I was no longer the distrusted rookie, I was taken aside and given an explanation. Other officers knew that Unit 7 was a “black glove specialist” who would beat the African Americans he stopped. These other officers would check out with him to make sure that he didn’t go too far.

At the time I didn’t believe the explanation. I was an idealistic 21 year old from a liberal family. It didn’t make sense to me that this guy’s fellow officers, sergeants, and commanders would let him get away with chronic excessive force and devise work-arounds to keep him somewhat in check instead of telling him to stop or disciplining him. I wasn’t sure what the real answer on his backups was, but before I got too insistent on the truth I was transferred to the swing shift when the only time I heard him was when he was turning off the radio at the end of his watch.

The night we dispatched a lieutenant and some select units to his house to negotiate his safe armed, drunken exit from his home after a violent domestic dispute rekindled my unease at the special handling the department gave him.

By then, I had a couple years experience dispatching and I understood that police officers felt compelled to stand beside other officers, no matter what the other officer was doing. The social code was that it was cops against the world.

Only the cops, sticking together, were going to keep civilization safe. Even if you beat “suspicious” black people or beat your wife, you were one of the Saviors.

That meant you never ticketed another cop, reported something they did wrong, or saw anything different from what the official report said. If you broke the code, the bad guys would win and civilization would fall. Better to look the other way occasionally than to risk societal collapse.

The officers I knew in Long Beach ran the gamut in intelligence and sensitivity, and I was surprised by the diversity of political and social opinion. Most were honest, fun loving, dedicated, and hard working.

Home of the free because of the brave

But, all of them treated the Thin Blue Line as inviolate. Even us civilian dispatchers were a lower class of animal (although they wouldn’t give us a traffic ticket… probably because they knew if they crossed dispatch they’d be assigned nothing but junk calls for the rest of their lives).

One of my friends recently went on a tear, asking how so many aggressive racist people could be working in police departments nationwide. Didn’t they give pre-hiring psychological tests to weed out the racists?

Yes, of course we do.

But, one of the systemic problems we have not addressed is the mission and training we give the police.

We let police departments hire only non-crazy, non-racist recruits. But then we send these young, eager people to the Police Academy where we train them for months on battlefield survival techniques. We build up their pride in being officers, in being together, in upholding The Law. Basically, we indoctrinate them in the importance of the Thin Blue Line.

We make police officers raring-to-go protectors of society. Then we give them social service assignments like dealing with confused crazy people, moving messy homeless encamped on upper-class streets, and herding somewhat rowdy protesters.

We teach the officers that they are standing up for civilization against evil. But, most of their job is dealing with human weakness.

police at a riot

Of course, they cannot rely that their next call will be best handled by deescalation and understanding. There are real bad guys out there. Robbers, murderers, rapists,… cop killers. Being Officer Friendly has its limits outside of the elementary school classroom.

Right now I believe the United States is getting the police officers and departments we are asking for. What we are telling the chiefs and trainers we want.

Punishing “a bad apple” caught on video isn’t going to fix the problem. Yes, some officers are guilty of crimes and should be charged. But jailing individuals is not enough.

We need to work together to determine exactly what we want from our police departments. Do we want them to be Public Safety departments? Do we want to charge other, maybe new city agencies, with the responsibility for many non-criminal problems? What do we want the officers to do?

Let’s honor the officers who we have trained to hold The Thin Blue Line. But, for our souls’ sake, let’s find a different model for the police in 2020 and train our officers to that new standard.

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