PHOTO/Shane Bond ILLUSTRATION/Steven TavaresTHE SUNDAY COLUMN | Oakland Civil Rights Attorney Michael Siegel stood before the Alameda County Board of Supervisors' Public Protection Committee last Valentine’s Day and told them what he thought about a proposal by the Sheriff’s Department to purchase a drone (now, apparently, two, says Sheriff Gregory Ahern). The gray-haired sheriff in a civilian's suit and tie listened, leaning slightly forward, his head positioned angrily with eyes peering at Siegel as the lawyer said, “The sheriff is saying trust us and we’re saying we don’t trust you.”
Just one sentence summed up the real controversy in Alameda County and drones and while very real concerns of public privacy are very worrisome, they stem from one clear channel of belief. After Occupy Oakland, the Oscar Grant protests and decades-long distrust of the Oakland Police Department, it is clear, no matter the substance of the argument—well-reasoned or poorly thought out---we don’t trust law enforcement. And why should we?
Even though, Ahern went out of his way last Thursday to assure the public his drone(s) would only be used for search and rescue emergencies. It is not difficult to understand for those of you that have been kettled in the streets of Oakland and injured by sheriff’s deputies to envision all those protocols for ensuring our privacy will be thrown out the window the moment law enforcement deems the expression of political speech too intense for the status quo to accept and begin violently cracking down. At that moment you can imagine the drone hovering nearby and their use only to be later denied.
Remember when Iraq War vet Scott Olson was blasted with a exploding can of tear gas? It didn’t happen, according to law enforcement, until it was proven to be true, ironically, with the citizens’ own use of personal drones with an eye on the action (i.e. smart phones).
When near-historic crowds of Oakland residents flooded City Hall last month in protest of the city hiring famed crime stopper William Bratton for a consulting contract, the same cries of “we don’t trust you” cascaded from the chambers’ galleries. In the same vein as Sheriff Ahern saying he won’t infringe on your privacy, the city denied Bratton’s infamous use of “stop-and-frisk” would ever be part of the equation for fixing Oakland’s crime problem. Passionate screams of “bullshit!” could be heard from West to East Oakland.
Yet, they move forward without listening to the voice of so many people, largely discounted because they seem to sound and look like the protesters once ensconced in tents at Frank Ogawa Plaza, and, as the local media so masterfully achieved in making them appear less desirable than rabies and gonorrhea, their legitimate concerns and anger don’t mean much to those elected by the people.
This lack of trust in government in Alameda County is not just a police thing, but pervasive at the intersection of Corporate America and the mayor's office. Since covering government in the East Bay in 2009, I have noticed quite a correlation between corporate interests, particularly rich land developers, and a lack of trustworthiness. Whether it be home builders looking for a quick buck by saturating the Tri Valley with housing or 49ers great Joe Montana fucking over the people of Hayward by slowly shifting a once-gleaming transit-friendly development surrounding the South Hayward BART station into a no-frills run-of-the-mill project meant to pad his bottom line, but leaving one of the least desirable parts of Hayward left holding the bag, too good to be true is always the case.
When Sutter Health, the worst offender of corporate greed in this region makes a deal with a local entity, watch out. Sutter, however, plays no act of remorse, however, when it gobbles up a competing hospital and shutters its doors while leaving the county to pay for the welfare of the least fortunate looking for health care. In the past six months, a deal to keep San Leandro Hospital open for three more years by way of a Sutter ally, the Alameda County Medical Center (ACMC) operating the facility fell through. Sutter has been trying to close San Leandro since 2009 so it can attract patients to its new building in nearby Castro Valley. When the San Leandro City Council asked the CEO Wright Lassiter of ACMC what assurances would they have the hospital would remain open in 2015, he said he could give none. In reality, following past history, the deal would have meant the hospital would be closed far sooner than later and for that answer, give Lassiter credit, his half-truth is a rare occasion when an Alameda County public official kind of told the truth.
“The court finds that under the circumstances presented, there was no moral blame attendant to the conduct of responding officers and firefighters.”
– Alameda County Superior Court Judge George C. Hernandez in a five-page opinion Feb. 11 finding Alameda police and fire were not in the wrong for doing nothing while a man ultimately drowned himself at Crown Beach in May 2011.
The Week That Was
The issue of the tragic drowning of Alameda resident Raymond Zack in 2011 is finally put to rest. The Memorial Day death of Zack who waded into the bay water at Crown Beach hoping for someone to save him in the waist-deep surf as police and fire stood by seemingly paralyzed by the island’s bureaucracy brought unwanted national attention to Alameda and bruised its sense of itself. This week, an Alameda County Superior Court judge found public safety has no moral or legal obligation to help someone like Zack. It’s hardly the ending Alamedans were looking for.
Asm. Rob Bonta
The slow burn toward San Leandro becoming a safe harbor for medical cannabis dispensaries moved forward last week when a full-house of residents attending a special city council meeting to discuss the proposed ordinance allowing up to two permits within city limits. On the whole, those in favor and those against were fairly even. However, the naysayers all seemed to belong to the congregation of a predominantly Asian American Baptist church in San Leandro.
Another packed public meeting occurred at the Alameda County Board of Supervisors’ chambers Thursday for what became an informational hearing on drones in the county. Sheriff Ahern made news by stating he would like not one, but two drones, depending on the vendor the department chooses. But Alameda County counsel Donna Ziegler said the Board really has no legal authority to tell Ahern how to do his job as sheriff. As the coordinator handling mutual aid in the region, Ahern said, his drones could be used from Monterey to the Oregon border. Watch out, Humboldt County!
Tweet of the Week
“Would everybody stop tipping off the Sheriff about how they're gonna hack his #drones? Jeez. Security culture, people! #alcomtg.” – Oakland resident @GonzoOakland responds, Feb. 14, to questioning of the Sheriff Ahern’s comments that the drones he plans to purchase cannot be hacked.