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Dems risk the election if they bash cops

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Did you hear about that incident over the weekend where a Tempe, Arizona Starbucks barista asked five cops to leave the store because a customer said he or she “did not feel safe” in their presence?

A hashtag, #DumpStarbucks, immediately started trending on Twitter. I must admit to being stunned and offended by this story. By all accounts, the cops were doing nothing except peacefully enjoying their coffee. We know almost nothing about the customer who didn’t feel “safe,” but we can infer quite a lot about him or her.

My city, Oakland, is filled with similar people. They hate cops. Some call for completely defunding the Oakland Police Department. They put up flyers cursing cops and occasionally you see graffiti advocating violence against the police. In fact, in casual conversations, you hear anti-cop sentiment on a daily basis in Oakland.

I myself, when I see a cop on the beat, always thank them for their service. They seem startled, at first, but after a second they hear my sincerity—they realize I’m not being sarcastic—and they see my smile, and they thank me. It’s a small moment, but a precious one, for both of us. They know that not everyone in Oakland despises them, and I feel better for giving them a little gratitude.

I can’t put myself in the head of someone who would “not feel safe” in a coffee shop just because some cops are there. I’d feel safer! What is wrong with that person? I hope he or she is identified and asked by the media to explain such a bizarre attitude. Probably they’d say something about cops being oppressors, police brutality, Black Lives Matter, etc. Granted these can be issues: cops are only human, and all humans can be assholes, even—especially—the current President of the United States.

But let’s also remember that the majority of cops are fine, upstanding, decent and law-abiding Americans, who put their lives on the line every time they wear the uniform. And for what? To serve and protect US. The Starbucks customer who complained ought to be more fearful of getting assaulted by a criminal, not by a cop. And who’s the first person she would call if she were assaulted? The cops!

If Trump wins re-election, God forbid, it’s going to be because of accumulated instances like this, which turn into national memes that can supersede larger issues, like climate change or war. The vast, overwhelming majority of Americans on both sides of the political aisle respect the police. We do not want to see them vilified or ridiculed or hurt. I consider myself a lifelong liberal, but this growing barrage of resentment against cops is really turning me off to the extremists in my own Democratic Party who engage in this anti-cop rhetoric.

I loathe the rightwing radicals in the Republican Party who voted for Trump and continue to support him. I consider them clear and present dangers to our way of life. I think many, maybe most, of them are crazy. But if you’re a Democrat, you have to acknowledge that we have our crazies, too. They’re not quite as obnoxious or numerous as the rightwing crazies, but they’re pretty bad. And cop-bashing is one way to identify them.

Some police reformers would argue that there’s no room for a single bad cop, but the truth is, there are always going to be some. The Oakland Police Department is engaged in a long, serious struggle to weed out bad cops, and to engage in extensive training, including de-escalation techniques, community policing, sensitivity classes and the like. What more do the anti-cop types want? That Starbucks customer who “did not feel safe,” what does she want? She probably doesn’t know, herself, beyond some shopworn platitudes.

I’ll be voting Democratic next year, but every time I hear things like that Starbucks customer hating on cops, I understand a little more about why so many Obama voters switched their allegiance to Trump. And I’m not entirely unsympathetic to them.


Pelosi: Impeach Trump or step aside!

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I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that Nancy Pelosi’s constituents in San Francisco need to begin a petition drive to recall her from office.

Madame Speaker has shown that she’s utterly out of touch with the prevailing sentiment in the Democratic Party, of which she is the nation’s leading, most powerful representative.

A recent CNN poll showed that 76% of Democrats nationally support impeachment. I certainly do. The evidence of Trump’s unfitness for office has been overwhelming for years. “High crimes and misdemeanors” constitute whatever the Congress says they are; Trump has been committing these crimes even before he was elected, through Russian connivance, and he continues to commit horrible crimes to this day.

So towering is Pelosi’s reputation for political shrewdness that one of the big questions transfixing Washington these days is whether she is playing chess in a higher dimension. Maybe she feels that by withholding her sanction of impeachment, she’s giving Democrats (and some wavering Republicans) cover. No one will be able to say that the Democratic Party is on an obsessive, unreasonable race to dethrone Trump, because Pelosi can always say she’s against it. Rather than appear to be a runaway train, the drive for impeachment can mount up energy, until there comes a time when there is a reasonable expectation that the Senate will vote to convict.

This, at any rate, is a theory; but not a convincing one. If impeachment is not undertaken quickly, there’s an equally reasonable chance that that public will grow bored, and that Trump’s argument that “it’s all over” will win the day. That America can’t afford another 1-1/2 years of a Trump presidency, much less a second term of it, is obvious to all Democrats.

Even if conviction in the Senate is impossible at this time, impeachment hearings in the House would at least keep the issue alive; testimony and other evidence will forcibly bring home to the voters Trump’s crimes; and hearings also would serve to remind voters that Trump is a pig. That may not be an impeachable offense, but impeachment is as political a process as it is a legal one, and it’s perfectly permissible to remind Americans—who are a kind of jury of public opinion—that they know Trump is a dreadful, disgusting human being. Republicans in the Senate know that, too; if impeachment hearings in the House can persuade enough constituents in the various districts to call their Senators and demand impeachment, there just might be enough votes to convict (67 are needed, meaning that 15 or 16 Republican Senators would have to side with Democrats).

But again, even if a Senate conviction is impossible, it’s still imperative to begin impeachment hearings now. Is that exactly what Trump wants? It may be that he thinks impeachment would redound to his benefit; the conventional wisdom is that impeachment badly hurt Republicans when they went after Bill Clinton, and that impeachment would badly hurt Democrats if they go after Trump.

This is a false argument. When Clinton was impeached, his approval rating stood exceptionally high among all Americans. After his impeachment proceedings in 1998 and 1999, Clinton’s rating reached its highest point at 73% approval.

This was because (a) the public had always liked and admired Clinton, (b) they felt that a sordid sex scandal was not enough reason to depose a sitting president, (c) Republicans were clearly and obviously proceeding along violently partisan lines, and (d) the reptilian independent counsel for the Republicans, Ken Starr, turned off vast numbers of people. Trump’s approval rating by contrast is underwater; it currently stands at 45%, with 55% of Americans disapproving of him.

There thus is no basis for comparison between the Clinton impeachment and a possible Trump impeachment. Trump has no residue of affection to protect him, except among the far-right fanatics who constitute his base. And even they admit he’s a pig; the evangelical preacher Franklin Graham in an interview conceded “He is not President Perfect” and added, “We certainly don’t hold him up as the pastor of this nation and he is not.”

Trump’s immorality is not enough, of course, to dissuade Graham from supporting him, because Graham—and most evangelicals—have decided to lay down with the Devil, in exchange for getting anti-abortion judges appointed to the courts. We can write off evangelicals, then; they’ll never change their hypocritical ways, nor do we want them in the Democratic Party. But we don’t need them; we need a small percentage of people who voted for Trump—say, 5%—to have those water cooler and kitchen table conversations and realize that, Hey, this guy is really an abysmal piece of shit; we were wrong to vote for him in 2016, and we can begin to make amends for that by voting for the Democrat in 2020.

Nobody has a crystal ball, of course. You don’t know, I don’t know how this thing will shake out. But sometimes, you have to act, and act now, in order to take a stand on a vital issue. (When your house is on fire, you don’t call a meeting to decide what to do.) And the stand Democrats must take now is to demand the immediate commencement of impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives. For this reason, I determine that Nancy Pelosi is dead wrong. Unless she reverses her position very quickly, she needs to be turned out of office.


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 27

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Rosey Zooms In On Devon Camber

The morning dawned rainy, windy and cold. Flambé, who had a physical aversion to bad weather, hated the thought of having to walk her clients’ dogs on such a day. But it had to be done.

Her biggest gripe about the rain and wind concerned her appearance. Flambé was a girl who put much store into the way she looked. Her hair was a particular joy; she had dozens of wigs and falls, in every color of the rainbow; no matter what her mood, she could find a hair piece that suited it: curly, flirty, elegant, severe. She loved dressing up; the old flamboyance was still there. A poofy blouse…a cheerleader’s skirt to show off her legs (always one of her best features)…sequined scarves—she had to cover this all up in wet weather with dreary raincoats or hoodies that made her look, she thought, like a trash bag.

She had five dogs today, and not much time to walk them, for she had a rare appointment. A detective Brown had phoned her, asking to see her for some questions, part of an investigation he was conducting. Actually, Rosey had tracked Flambé down easily. Camber’s neighbors verified that the councilmember frequently had a late-night visitor, an attractive woman of color. It wasn’t at all difficult to locate street surveillance videos to identify her. Facial recognition artificial intelligence, owned by OPD, positively identified her as one Frank Wilkerson, which greatly piqued Rosey’s interest. Wasn’t Frank a man’s name? Wasn’t Camber’s friend a woman? But Rosey was used to anomalies, as are all police officers who have been active for any length of time.

Wilkerson’s phone number also was easy enough to obtain. He called, asked if he were speaking with Mr. Frank Wilkerson. Flambé replied that this was she, Ms. Wilkerson. Rosey, momentarily taken aback, adapted. Would, uh, Ms. Wilkerson prefer to visit him in his office at police headquarters? Because he would be glad to come to her, at a location of her choosing. Flambé thought it might be interesting to visit the big station she’d seen so often, on Seventh off Broadway. She said so; the detective even offered to buy her coffee.

What each found in the other surprised them both. Flambé discovered a police detective who might have stepped right out of a movie, a bulky, large man in a rumpled brown suit, with a blue dress shirt that had seen better days and cheap, scuffed laced shoes. With his little mustache, he looked like Stanley Hudson, from “The Office.” Rosey for his part—well, he hadn’t known what to expect after the Frank/Flambé misunderstanding. As an experienced officer he’d long learned to keep his personal reactions well-controlled; he’d seen it all on the streets; nothing threw him. Now, here was a tall “woman” who, after taking off her raincoat, proceeded to brush out her hair and examine her face in a little compact mirror she pulled from her purse. They sized each other up quickly. Flambé did not dislike or fear the burly detective; Rosey was curious, receptive and respectful of this man-woman; this would not be a difficult conversation, he decided.

But when Flambé realized he was asking about her relationship with Devon, she clammed up. At first, she denied even knowing him. Big mistake. “Ms. Wilkerson, this isn’t a good way to earn my trust,” Rosey said. When he showed her surveillance photos of her and the Councilmember, Flambé uttered a simple “Oops.” “You have to understand,” she told him, “that my relationship with Councilmember Camber is very private. He’s asked me to keep it confidential, and I have done so, out of respect for him.”

“I understand,” Rosey replied. “You have my word that anything you tell me will be completely private and between us.”

And so Flambé revealed the story—not, she contemplated, that there was that much to reveal. They were simply two adults seeing each other in a private, consensual relationship, that was all. They were doing nothing wrong, breaking no law. Devon wasn’t married or anything; he wasn’t cheating on anyone. And he wouldn’t be the first public figure to wish to keep his private life out of the public’s view.

The detective seemed uninterested in the details of their relationship. He asked nothing about whether it was sexual. Instead, he wanted to know about other aspects of the councilmember’s life. Did he have friends, besides her? Hobbies? Was he a member of a gym? Any extremist views? Had she ever heard him express anger towards homeless people? Where did he hang out when he wasn’t working? “He’s always working,” Flambé smiled. “That’s part of the problem.” But about his life beyond her, Flambé was afraid she knew very little.

Rosey’s long experience in law enforcement had trained him to be a snoop. It was his conclusion, after decades of cop work, that while most people were not criminals (beyond speeding in their cars, or littering, or other minor infractions), at the same time most had secret lives that were, at the very least, embarrassing. They cheated on their spouses. They violated the canons of their churches. These were not indictable offenses. Rosey realized it was a bad habit that as he went about his life he would notice certain individuals and wonder if they had robbed or murdered. It was the cop’s plague: it was a bad way of thinking, but inevitable. He had no reason at all to suspect Councilmember Camber of anything; he had no reason to suspect anyone. At the same time, he suspected everyone, and that included Devon Camber.


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 26

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Rosey’s Investigation Expands

Mrs. Wu was furious at her daughter, at her husband, at Danny, at everyone. She exploded at the bridge game she played every Wednesday with her lady friends; a minor bidding mistake by her partner sent her into a towering rage. She remained in poor health, with frequent headaches; Dr. Wu gave her Xanax. The big house they had lived in for more than twenty years was silent and gloomy during the daytime when the doctor was at work. At night, when he came home, things were tense.

Dr. Wu told her about his interview with the police detective, Brown.

“What did he want?” Mrs. Wu asked her husband.

“He’s investigating those homeless killings.” Mrs. Wu had heard about them on local T.V. news broadcasts.

“What do you have to do with any of that?” she demanded.

“I don’t know,” her husband replied. “I guess he’s checking every lead he can. I got the impression they don’t have a clue.”

“Well, what did you tell him?”

“I told him what I know: nothing.”

“I don’t understand. Why did he want to talk to you? You’re just a Kaiser doctor.”

“I treated the first victim.”

Mrs. Wu’s eyebrows shot up like a rocket soaring into space. “Really, Edwin? You didn’t tell me that.”

“There was no reason to. And I didn’t want to upset you, what with—well, all the stuff with our daughter.”

Mrs. Wu reached for a cigarette from a small box she kept on the mantle.

“Gladys, you’re smoking again,” her husband told her.

“And why not? It steadies my serves. God only knows they need steadying. You’re no help.”

Back at police headquarters, Rosey also was thinking about Dr. Wu. An interesting character, he thought. Slippery. What more did Rosey know about him? An investigation showed that he had had a prior run-in with the law: in 2008, the Wu’s neighbors had called police about a domestic incident, when one night loud screams and crashing sounds came from their house. When officers arrived, they found Dr. Wu with a black eye, a very drunk Mrs. Wu with lacerations on her face, and a terrified Cindy—then only a teenager—hiding in an upstairs closet. It proved impossible to determine who had started the fight, or why; neither Dr. Wu nor Mrs. Wu was arrested. But the case remained on-the-record.

Rosey was curious. Police departments have ways of finding things out that the public does not. Rosey dug, prompted others to dig, and found: Dr. Wu had been in psychotherapy for anger-related issues. This had occurred in 2009-2010—within a year or so of the domestic violence incident. Rosey took due note.

The discovery of the newest homeless victim, one Homer Coolidge, while not entirely surprising nonetheless shocked Oakland. It was downtown, not on the furtive edges of the city but in its heart. Moreover, this murder was particularly violent: the victim had been, not only shot in the head as were the others, but mutilated in the face. Rosey knew enough of the academic side of serial killers to understand that, at some point if left unchecked, the killers gradually escalate their level of violence. They grow bored with their initial technique and seek newer, more creative  and dramatic ways of expressing their towering rage. In his study of the literature, Rosey knew that such a development foreshadows, not a diminution of criminal activity, but an escalation of it.

That day Rosey started on his workspace, as he thought of it. He cleared a large section of a wall, hitherto jammed with memos and shelves, and decorated it with small yellow index cards, each with the name of the 15 known victims. Beside them he posted, on white index cards, the names of persons of interest. These included everyone he had already interviewed: Devon Camber and Dr. Wu among them. They were not “suspects.” They were not even potential suspects; but they were all Rosey had. That was how investigative work happened: you started with what you knew, no matter how trivial or insignificant it seemed. From there, you took baby steps laterally. Sometimes, leads evaporated into the nothingness they really were. But sometimes, you stumbled across something shiny and meaningful.

Thus Rosey determined to add two more persons to his interview list: Mrs. Wu, obviously, who probably knew more about her husband than anyone, and could implicate or exculpate him accordingly. But whom should he talk to about Camber? There was no wife, no family members in the Bay Area. The councilmember knew everyone, and was known by everyone, but seemed to have few personal friends. There was a rumor—but that’s all it was, scuttlebutt—that Camber had a girlfriend; a cop on the beat reported this. But no one knew her name, or where to find her. Rosey decided to find out.


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 22

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To Abort, or Not to Abort

Danny wanted Cindy to get an abortion.

He’d been thinking it over for days, ever since she’d told him she was pregnant. The issue of abortion had never been of particular interest to Danny. Sure, he’d followed the national debate all his adult life, but at a distance, and with split thinking. Part of him was bothered by the thought of nullifying a developing life in a woman’s uterus. But a larger part of him decided that (a) whether to have an abortion was really the business of the woman and her doctor, not of politicians, and (b) the people who were so ardently anti-abortion seemed to be a horror show of evangelical Christians and rightwing Tea Party types, neither of which Danny trusted, or wished to see further empowered. So, on balance, he was pro-abortion.

He raised the topic with Cindy as gingerly as he possibly could. It was a Sunday morning. They were having brunch at a waterfront restaurant in San Leandro. Afterwards, they strolled along the Bay Trail that skirted the marinas and lagoons. It was a sunny, windy day. The waters of San Francisco Bay gleamed and glistened; foamy whitecaps flecked the wavy crests. Far to the northwest loomed the skyscrapers of the City, with Salesforce Tower soaring above the rest.

They sat on a park bench. “I have something on my mind,” Danny began.

“I know. I can hear you thinking.”

“This baby. Are you sure you’re ready for it? I mean, a baby changes everything. You’re only 24. I’m only 28. A baby would really tie us down. We can always have one in a few years.”

Cindy looked at him in earnest. “What are you trying to say?”

“Just that we can terminate this pregnancy. We don’t have to go through with it unless we’re absolutely sure.”

“’Terminate this pregnancy’”? Cindy repeated. “You mean, kill the baby?”

“Well, that’s not the way I’d put it.”

“How would you put it, Daniel?” Whenever Cindy was pissed, she called him “Daniel.”

“Look, I admit I’m not entirely comfortable with abortion. But it is legal and safe. You’d be in and out of the clinic in a couple of hours. I looked it up on Planned Parenthood’s website. The procedure itself only takes about ten minutes. You stay in the recovery room for an hour. Then you’re discharged.”

“You make it sound like an oil change.”

“I don’t mean to make light of it, Cin. But it’s not the worst thing in the world.”

Cindy looked over the Bay, at the distant city. She heard the gulls cawing, the revving of the motor of a speedboat, the wind rippling through the trees. Then she said, quietly and firmly, “I am not having an abortion. I want this baby.”

That seemed to be the end of it. The next day, after work, Danny met up with Nick at Playa. They hadn’t seen each other in a while and were looking forward to catching up. Danny told Nick about the Castro Valley cottage. Nick told Danny about the situation with Flambé. She was still living with him, technically, but she was seeing the new councilmember, Devon Camber, and it was increasingly clear that she was in love with him.

“That sucks,” Danny observed. “How do you feel about it?”

“I don’t know. I like Flambé. She’s been good for me. But I never expected it to be like a marriage, a ‘for better or for worse’ kind of thing. If she wants to move on, I’m cool. How’s Cindy?”

Danny explained.

“Wow. She’s pregnant?”

“Yeah. We should have had protection, but that’s water under the bridge. The point is, she wants the baby, and I don’t. I can’t force her to get an abortion. So we’re kind of at an impasse.”

“That sucks.”

“Indeed.” The two friends lapsed into silence. Then Nick suggested that maybe Danny would like being a father. “I mean, kids can be great.”

Danny looked at Nick and grinned ironically. “What would you know about having kids?”

 “Don’t forget I had three younger siblings.”

“Which makes you an expert at parenting, I’m sure.”

“Hey, don’t take it out on me. I’m just trying to help.”

“Well,” Danny asked, “what would you do?”

Nick considered. “I don’t know. Like you said, you can’t force her to get an abortion. So I guess you’re stuck.”

“Which is exactly what I said.”

“Do you really want to stay with her?”

“I’m not going to walk away from the baby, if that’s what you’re driving at. If she has it, then I’m going to be a good father.”

“Daddy!” Nick laughed, and then made baby-crying noises. “Wah! Wah!”

Danny socked his friend on the bicep. “Hey, let’s go over to Bay Grape and see what they’re tasting.”

“That,” announced Nick, “is the best idea I’ve heard all day!”


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