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Mendocino County Today: Sunday, August 17, 2014

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AS OF AUGUST 16 at 7pm the Lodge Wilderness Fire was still at approximately 12,346 acres and 75% containment [upgraded to 80% this morning] . No new injuries were reported. There are still 16 structures declared threatened, but the threat is down as full containment is approached. The firefighting effort is down to 42 engines and 52 crews along with 16 bulldozers, 3 helicopters, 12 water tenders and 1674 firefighters. On Saturday evening CalFire reported “Crews continue to focus on containing spot fires within the contingency lines; steep slopes and rugged terrain are making access difficult. Interior portions of the fire will continue to be consumed and smoke may be visible for an extended period of time in the Ukiah Valley, which may create possible health issues. Fire resources will continue suppression repair efforts throughout the fire area. Resources continue to be released from the fire to other incidents or back to their home units. CAL FIRE and Cooperating Agencies would like to thank the entire community and local businesses for their overwhelming support and hospitality.” An Evacuation Warning is still in place for Camp Seabow, Bowman Ranch, Hunt Ranch, Tan Oak Park, Elk Creek and Mad Creek, The Hermitage, Big Bend and Camp St. Michael. CalFire adds, “Please visit for information on how to prepare for an evacuation.”

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CALFIRE INCIDENT MANAGEMENT TEAM 4 in conjunction with the cooperating agencies on the Lodge Complex of fires will host two more community meetings in Leggett and Laytonville on Sunday — at noon in Leggett at the Leggett School on 1 School Way, and at 2pm in Laytonville at Harwood Hall, 44400 Willis Avenue. Representatives from the agencies managing the incident will provide an operational briefing and be available for questions. Please arrive early as the meetings will start promptly. If you have questions about the meetings or fire, please call the Fire Information Line at (626) 622-7927.

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CHIEF MAYBERRY SHOVED OUT? Purged and treated badly, too. The Fort Bragg Advocate’s Kelci Parks reported Thursday what Mrs. Mayberry said about the crummy treatment her husband got to the Fort Bragg City Council at the meeting where Chief Scott Mayberry announced his retirement last Monday night:

“When Roberta Mayberry walked to the podium, she addressed mainly the crowd, with the exception of references directed specifically to City Manager Linda Ruffing and Assistant City Manager Ginny Feth-Michel, who were both present. ‘The reason I'm here right now is because three and a half years of disrespect has been given to my husband,’ Mrs. Mayberry said. ‘After the shooting of Deputy Del Fiorentino … [Lt.] John [Naulty] had to take leave, for obvious reasons,’ she said. ‘And Scott has been left there since March 20 to man this department, 50% down because of illnesses, etc. He cannot get the city government to move quick enough to get people hired. It's been a constant problem. Scott finally decided he had to take some time off.… On the Monday after Scott had given his leave, he received an email from Feth-Michel saying that Mr. [Interim Police Chief] Willis was at Scott's desk and his emails would be shut off. Mind you, he's still the chief of police,’ Mrs. Mayberry continued. ‘We walked into the department and Scott's name was off his door and off his desk and it said Chief Steve Willis. If that isn't disrespect, I don't know what is. Scott just wanted 30 days off. He needed to heal and he needed a break,’ she said.”

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WHY DOES FORT BRAGG even need an assistant city manager? To do the stuff city manager Ruffing won't do?

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Community needs are the focus for funding

by K.C. Meadows

The tragedy and violence in Ferguson, Mo. has sprouted a new conversation about the "militarization" of police forces in the nation. After the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the Department of Homeland Security was created and while beefing up security against terrorism in the nation, it has also served to equip local law enforcement agencies with all kinds of hardware and other resources they would otherwise never be able to afford. The Defense Department has similar equipment giveaways after more than a decade of wars.

According to a chart in the New York Times Friday, Mendocino County has, through the free Defense Department program, gotten 11 night vision goggles, six assault rifles, and five pieces of body armor. Compare that to supplies received in neighboring counties, according to the chart: 89 assault rifles in Sonoma County and eight nightvision goggles and 86 assault rifles in Humboldt County and one anti-mine vehicle.

In a conversations Friday morning with Ukiah Police Chief Chris Dewey and Sheriff Tom Allman, both men said they see no reason for large supplies of military style equipment.

Dewey explained that while Mendocino County as a whole has mostly spent its Homeland Security money on community needs, he acknowledges that police departments have had to beef up their equipment in large part because the bad guys already have.

"More people are armed with rifles today than ever before," he said. He recalled the 2011 shooting of Fort Bragg resident Jeri Melo and the monthlong standoff between police and suspect Aaron Bassler.

"Bassler had an AK47. We had to call in SWAT teams from elsewhere to come in and help," Dewey said. And he cited the recent shooting death of Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino "Who would have thought in our tiny county you would have that kind of officer death? And he was ambushed. It's not uncommon even in rural areas to be outgunned by these kind of freaks."

Right now, Dewey said, the county and its cities are working to consolidate their SWAT equipment into one combined SWAT team. "They do have specialized equipment," Dewey said. Helmets and camouflage uniforms, however, have been basic equipment since the 1990s.

"We did buy a Bearcat with Homeland Security money," he added, referring to the common SWAT team armored vehicle. "That was a countywide decision. We went into that cooperatively."

Allman agreed. "We have our Bearcat, but it was built as a civilian SWAT vehicle. It has all the insignias (from the county's law enforcement agencies). We all share it. That was important because our county has a need for one — but not two."

Allman said that with the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is more military equipment out there shifting to law enforcement.

Is he tempted by that?

"No, not at all," he said. "I get those emails, but we're very satisfied with what we have up here and we think we have some very modern equipment." He added that former military equipment also comes with bureaucratic headaches.

"There's no such thing as a free lunch. Maintenance is high and it's a paperwork nightmare," he said.

Dewey said he is aware of the temptation for some law enforcement departments to over-equip through Homeland Security, which provides money each year for police agencies to spend on an approved list of equipment and training. Homeland Security also has programs where it allows police agencies to take on equipment the military is no longer using. In those cases, police agencies have to send someone to a military base where the equipment resides which is why Dewey doesn't participate, it's too time consuming. He said he did it once many years back and got 100 sleeping bags for the homeless who were being housed at that time at St. Mary's Catholic Church, before the county had its shelter.

"A lot of police departments get in trouble because they go (to the military base) and come back with a tank. And then people ask, why do we need a tank?" Dewey said, adding that it adds to the argument that police agencies are getting too militarized.

"They have a point, it creates a gap between you and the people you're supposed to serve," Dewey said.

Dewey and Allman are part of what in Mendocino County is called the Gang of Five, a group representing the three city police departments, the sheriff's department and the county's fire departments. They get together regularly and decide what the needs are for the Homeland Security funding that comes through each year.

Equipment and training they have paid for in the past few years includes:

• Upgrading radio repeaters at fire departments. Allman notes this provides redundancy for radio communications so that during a massive internet outage like the one on the coast recently, they have a second radio system for emergency personnel.

• Medical trailers prepositioned throughout the county for disasters and other emergencies (which are being used in the current Lodge Complex fire).

• Training for large animal rescue — especially for fire emergencies to rescue horses and cows.

• Training to build Community Emergency Response Teams for small communities to have local residents who can train others in disaster preparedness and response. Allman noted that they just got another 250 CERT kits with Homeland Security funds.

• Live scan fingerprinting equipment to replace the old fingerprint card system, which Dewey said the Department of Justice no longer accepts.

• Training for officers on "active shooter" response, if someone goes to a campus armed and violent. Allman noted that it is no longer the practice to simply say "we've got you covered, come out with your hands up" is these situations. Even a lone officer first at the scene is expected to go in and take action.

• Training for teachers on how to recognize the signs of an impending classroom disturbance.

• Training for officers on dealing with suicidal people and other mental health crises.

• Installing more defibrillators in strategic areas around the county.

And, Dewey said, they hope to spend funds on getting video conferencing systems at the county command centers so that personnel don't have to drive back and forth from inland to the coast and from north to south to have meetings on things like gang enforcement and to also make communication during emergencies easier.

"Here in Mendocino County I'm really proud of how cooperative our community is," Dewey said.

Allman said much the same thing.

"When I talk to other sheriffs, they often talk about disputes over Homeland Security money. I've never experienced that at all," he said.

(Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)

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Dear Treasurer Schapmire,

I arrived a bit late and didn't hear the beginning of your Annual Investment Report. I have several questions.

1) Did I overhear the Chandler adviser mention something about "credit enhancements" that might boost your return...? The derivatives market is always coming up with creative new names for their high risk, unregulated investments. I surely hope that you are not investing the County's money in any fancy designer notes.

2) The Economic Update on p3 gives a surprising and rosy report. Were those statistics for Mendocino County, California, or the USA?

3) Since farming is the largest income producer in our county, what do nonfarm payrolls mean to us?

4) Although the unemployment rate fell, how many of those jobs pay a living wage? How many of them also require public assistance to make ends meet?

5) Why is it a good thing that consumer debt rose? That just means that there will be more fodder to foreclose on when the Homeowner's Bill of Rights expires in 2018.

6) What is an "asset backed security"? What is a "mortgage pass through"?

They both sound like the mortgage backed securities that the big wall street banks are paying settlements for defrauding people and the rating agencies declined to take responsibility for their ratings of these toxic assets. Although the big Wall Street banks have been paying settlements, the laws have not changed and the banks are still carrying on the same frauds. The settlements are only a small fraction of the amount of profits gained from the fraud.

Please remember that Orange County went bankrupt from the Treasurer investing public money in derivatives.

I noticed that there were no ABS in June 2013. Now there is 3.6%. BEWARE! I suggest to stay miles away from ABS or MPT for investing public monies! Don't be tempted by that smooth Chandler guy.

7) General Electric is one of the biggest defense contractors in the nation, and they control a large part of the mainstream media. They are war profiteers and promote nuclear weapons. They are an unethical company and I suggest you divest our public monies from them.

8) Wells Fargo Corporation is one of the banks that have settled over their fraudulent foreclosure practices. They are an unethical company and our public monies should not help fund their unethical business practices.

9) Both Coca Cola and Pepsico contributed to defeat the GMO labeling law Prop 37. They bought fraudulent advertizing with misleading and specious accusations shortly before the election. Considering that Measure H was passed in 2004 banning GMO agriculture in our county, one could assume that your constituents are in favor of GMO labeling. You must not invest our public funds in companies that actively fund opposition to the will of Mendocino County voters.

10) The Wal-Mart business model depends upon paying such low wages that their employees need public assistance to make ends meet making Wal-Mart one of the most profitable companies in the world. Wal-Mart corporation is an unethical welfare queen robbing the public coffers to get richer and richer. Please divest our county's public money from supporting a welfare queen like Wal-Mart.

11) Why are we investing all the county's money in companies that have NOTHING to do with Mendocino County? Why aren't we investing our county's dollars into our own county's economic development?

12) Carmel Angelo said our county loses about $53,000 per year from MERS bypassing recording fees. If we started recording assignments, and stopped paying BOA $45,000/yr, we would be $8000 ahead. (a joke)

12) Please watch this 12 minute video about the looming risk of depositing in the big banks.

In Peace, Robin Sunbeam, Ukiah

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The California Department of Transportation and local transportation agencies are conducting a study of the likely impacts of climate change on state transportation facilities in northwestern California.

Mendocino, Del Norte, Humboldt and Lake counties are among the areas being studied, according to a news release by GHD, a consulting firm helping to perform the study.

The research looks at potential impacts of sea level rise, increased coastal flooding and erosion, increased landslides and increased wildfire as projected by current climate change modeling.

This transportation study is one of 16 pilot studies across the U.S. being funded, in part, by the Federal Highway Administration, the news release stated.

"Some sections of road are more likely to be compromised due to climate change impacts," said Rob Holmlund, a planner with GHD. "If steps aren't taken to protect the system, some communities may be at risk of an increase in travel delays, or worse, being cut off from the rest of the road network."

A public meeting regarding the study is scheduled for Aug. 28 in Fort Bragg at the Mendocino County Library on East Laurel Street from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

For more information, contact Jessica Hall from GHD at 443-8326.

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I never saw a wild thing

sorry for itself.

A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough

without ever having felt sorry for itself.

— D.H. Lawrence

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CATCH OF THE DAY. August 16, 2014

August, Barnes, Blue, Collins, Hartway
August, Barnes, Blue, Collins, Hartway

CHRISTOPHER AUGUST, unknown. Vehicle theft, possession of meth, dirk or dagger.

MICHAEL BARNES, Ukiah. False ID to police officer. (Will be released on account of great hair.)

ANDRE BLUE, San Diego. Unspecified misdemeanor charge.

PETER COLLINS, Ukiah. Misdemeanor domestic violence, resisting or obstructing an officer.

RICKY HARTWAY, Sacramento. Unspecified misdemeanor charge.

E.Johnson, R.Johnson, Knight, Maldonado-Mata, Ocobock, Peterson
E.Johnson, R.Johnson, Knight, Maldonado-Mata, Ocobock, Peterson

ELIAS JOHNSON, Santa Rosa. Violation of court order, probation revoked.

RICHARD JOHNSON, Hopland. Misdemeanor domestic violence, court order violation, probation revoked.

DELIILAH KNIGHT, Ukiah. Possession of meth.

RAFAEL MALDONADO-MATA, Ukiah. Public intoxication of drugs and alcohol, possession of a device for smoking or injecting.

OCOBOCK, CHERRAL, Hopland. Vehicle Theft, possession of meth, receiving stolen property, driving with a suspended license, possession of a stun gun, possession of a device for smoking or injecting.

EUGENE PETERSON, Redwood Valley. Probation revoked.

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by Alexander Cockburn (AVA, August 17, 2011)

What’s a riot without looting? We want it, they’ve got it! You’d think from the press that looting was alien to British tradition, imported by immigrants more recent than the Normans. Not so. Gavin Mortimer, author of The Blitz, had an amusing piece in the First Post [a British on-line magazine]about the conduct of Britons at the time of their Finest Hour:

“It didn't take long for a hardcore of opportunists to realize there were rich pickings available in the immediate aftermath of a raid — and the looting wasn't limited to civilians.

“In October 1940 Winston Churchill ordered the arrest and conviction of six London firemen caught looting from a burned-out shop to be hushed up by Herbert Morrison, his Home Secretary. The Prime Minister feared that if the story was made public it would further dishearten Londoners struggling to cope with the daily bombardments…

“The looting was often carried out by gangs of children organized by a Fagin figure; he would send them into bombed-out houses the morning after a raid with orders to target coins from gas meters and display cases containing First World War medals. In April 1941 Lambeth juvenile court dealt with 42 children in one day, from teenage girls caught stripping clothes from dead bodies to a seven-year-old boy who had stolen five shil­lings from the gas meter of a damaged house. In total, juvenile crime accounted for 48% of all arrests in the nine months between September 1940 and May 1941 and there were 4,584 cases of looting.

“Joan Veazey, whose husband was a vicar in Kennington, south London, wrote in her diary after one raid in 1940: “The most sickening thing was to see people like vultures, picking up things and taking them away. I didn't like to feel that English people would do this, but they did.”

“Perhaps the most shameful episode of the whole Blitz occurred on the evening of March 8, 1941 when the Cafe de Paris in Piccadilly was hit by a German bomb. The cafe was one of the most glamorous nightspots in London, the venue for off-duty officers to bring their wives and girlfriends, and within minutes of its destruction the looters moved in.

“Some of the looters in the Cafe de Paris cut off the people's fingers to get the rings,” recalled Ballard Berkeley, a policeman during the Blitz who later found fame as the 'Major' in Fawlty Towers. Even the wounded in the Cafe de Paris were robbed of their jewelry amid the confusion and carnage.”

A revolution is not a tea party, sniffed Lenin, but he should have added that it often starts off with a big party. Perhaps he was acknowledging that when he said a revolution was “a festival of the oppressed.” After the storming of the Winter Palace in October 1917 everyone was drunk for three days, conduct of which the prissy Vladimir Illich no doubt heartily disapproved.

The riots in London last week started in Tottenham in an area with the highest unemployment in London, in response to the police shooting a young black man, in a country where black people are 26 times more likely to stopped and searched by the cops than whites. Stop-and-searches are allowed under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, introduced to deal with football hooligans. It allows police to search anyone in a designated area without specific grounds for suspicion. Use of Section 60 has risen more than 300% between 2005 and last year. In 1997/98 there were 7,970 stop-and-searches, increasing to 53,250 in 2007/08 and 149,955 in 2008/09. Between 2005/06 and 2008/09 the number of Section 60 searches of black people rose by more than 650%.

The day after the heaviest night of rioting I saw Darcus Howe, originally from Trinidad and former editor of Race and Class, now a broadcaster and columnist, being questioned by a snotty BBC interviewer, Fiona Armstrong. We ran it last week as website of the day. Howe linked the riots to upsurges by the oppressed across the Middle East and then remarked that when he’d recently asked his son how many times he’d been stopped and searched by the police, his boy answered that it had happened too often for him to count. To which point Ms. Armstrong, plainly irked by the trend in the conversation in which Howe was conspicuously failing in his assigned task — namely to denounce the rioters — said nastily, “You are not a stranger to riots yourself I understand, are you? You have taken part in them yourself?”

“I have never taken part in a single riot. I've been on demonstrations that ended up in a conflict,” the 67-year old Howe answered indignantly. “Have some respect for an old West Indian negro and stop accusing me of being a rioter because you wanted for me to get abusive. You just sound idiotic — have some respect.” The BBC later apologized to those offended by what it agreed was “a poorly phrased question.”

Back in 1981, I interviewed Howe in his Race and Class office after the Brixton and Toxteth riots. Overweening police power and state racism were fuelling unofficial racism, with innumerable murderous attacks on blacks in a Britain ravaged by Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies. At the start of April, 1981, the police launched Operation Swamp 81 to combat street crime. More than 1,000 people were stopped and questioned in the first four days. The uprising in Brixton began on April 9 and lasted through April 11. There were 4,000 police in the area and 286 people arrested. By the weekend of July 10-12 riots were taking place in 30 towns and cities — black and white youths together and in some case white youths alone. They were scenes, as Lord Scarman said of Brixton, “of violence and disorder… the like of which had not previously been seen in this century in Britain.

“The riots opened up an entirely new political ethos,” Howe said to me back then. “To understand the organizational stages that we are moving to, it is essential to know that in the late 1960s there were black-power organizations in almost every city in this country. A combination of repression — not as sharp as in the United States — but repression British style and Harold Wilson’s political cynicism undermined that movement. What he did was offer a lot of money to the black community, which set up all kinds of advice centers and projects for this and projects for that. So, in some black communities, if you have a headache somebody is onto you saying, ‘Well, look, I have a project with blacks with headaches.’ That paralyzed the political initiative of blacks. It was done for you by the state and, as you know, Britain is saturated with the concept of welfare. The riots have broken through that completely, smashed it to smithereens, indicating that it has no palliative, no cure for the cancer.”

AC: “You’re looking toward a black/white mass organization?”

“Black/white mass movement. But one must always point to what we are heading for. What are we aiming for? Are we aiming for the vulgarity of a better standard of living. I think a passion has arisen in the breasts of millions of people in the world for a kind of democratic form and shape which would equal parliamentary democracy in its creativity and innovation.”

AC: “Let’s look at a likely future for Britain: enormous structural unemployment, the creation of a permanent underclass.”

“Permanent unemployed, that is what is on the agenda, with the revolutionizing of production, with the microchip. Now what the British working class has to do is break out of this demand for jobs, which characterized the 1930s, the Jarrow marches, and so on. They will have to lift themselves to the new reality, which will of course call for the merciless shortening of the working day, the working week, and the working life, and a concentration on leisure and the quality of work… They say, ‘March for jobs.’ What jobs?”

AC: It’s stimulating to hear you say this, because the left seems to have a lot of illusions about this. The slogan should really be, ‘Less work,’ not ‘More work.’

“’Less work, more money.’ And that’s a vulgarity too. ‘Less work, more leisure.’ We have built up over the centuries the technological capacity to release people from that kind of servitude.”

AC: So then you have to talk about redistribution of wealth.

“Free distribution. A completely new ethos. And we are on the verge of it. “

AC: Don’t you think that pathological symptoms, including racism, will increase as people fight on the scrap heap, as the economy goes down?”

“I agree. Something else increases too. Side by side, living in the same atom as pathology, is the possibility to lift. You can’t reach the lifting stage without the pathological stage. Crabs in a barrel. Or you leap. The leap depends on what dominant political ideology is presented to the population.”

AC: You view the current decline of the Labour Party with considerable optimism?”

“Considerable optimism.”

It was six in the evening and outside the Race Today offices people were sloshing through the puddles on the way home from work, or standing about in doorways. Howe got up and stretched, then picked up a document. 
“Listen to this,” he said. “After the uprising in Moss Side last July they appointed a local Manchester barrister called Hytner to enquire into what happened. Here’s what he writes:

“At about 10.20 pm a responsible and in our view reliable mature black citizen was in Moss Side East and observed a large number of black youths whom he recognized as having come from a club a mile away. At the same time a horde of white youths came up the road from the direction of Moss Side. He spoke to them and ascertained they were from Wythenshawe. The two groups met and joined. There was nothing in the manner of their meeting which in any way reflected a prearranged plan. There was a sudden shout and the mob stormed off in the direction of Moss Side police station. We are given an account by another witness who saw the mob approach the station, led, so it was claimed, by a nine-year-old boy with those with Liverpool accents in the van.’”

Howe smiled. “Whites from Wytheshawe, blacks from Moss Side, no prearranged plan. They gather. There was a shout. ‘On to Moss side police station.’ That gives you some indication. You must have a convergence of interests in order for that to happen.”

That was an interchange at the start of the 80s. Here we are 30 years later, structural unemployment etched ever more deeply into the economy of Britain, now in a melding of Thatcherism and New Labor’s follow-on from Thatcherism, abysmal poverty and hopelessness in Tottenham and similar districts coexisting at close quarters with profligacy and corruption saturating the higher social tiers and the political sector in one of the most unequal, class-divided cities in Europe.

As the Daily Mash puts it: “Many of these kids are less then two miles away from people who get multi-million pound bonuses for catastrophic failure and live in a culture where the material excess of people who are famous for nothing is rammed relentlessly into their faces by middle-brow tabloid newspapers. And of course later today the looters will be condemned in Parliament by a bunch of people who stole money by accident.”

Bands of youths make for stores in Central London in part to exact revenge on places that contemptuously rejected their applications for a job. One group methodically worked its way through a tony restaurant in Notting Hill Gate, relieving the clientele of their wallets.

I’ve no idea what levels of political organization there are in the ghettoes, nor the possibility of unity, amid the stories of murderous racial clashes between blacks and Asians, with Turks and Sikhs arrayed in defense of their modest stores and temples.

On the state agenda of every advanced industrial nation, in the ebb from the great post World War 2 economic boom, is the simple question: amid vast structural unemployment and diminished social expectations how best to assuage the alarm expressed by James Anderton in 1980, when he was Chief Constable of Greater Manchester. Anderton gave it as his considered opinion that “from the police point of view … theft, burglary, even violent crime will not be the predominant police feature. What will be the matter of greatest concern will be the covert and ultimately overt attempts to overthrow democracy, to subvert the authority of the state.”

Britain had its Notting Hill Gate riots in 1958, and Justice Salmon sent nine white Teddy Boys to long terms in prison, saying, “We must establish the rights of everyone, irrespective of the color of their skin … to walk through our streets with their heads erect and free from fear.”

Twenty years later, in 1978 Judge McKinnon ruled that Kingsley Read, head of the fascist National Party, was not guilty of incitement to racial hatred when he said publicly of 18-year-old Gurdip Singh Chaggar, set upon by white youths and stabbed to death, “One down, one million to go.”

In the interval British governments, both Conservative and Labour, falteringly, with occasional remissions and bouts of bad conscience, proceeded down the path to racism. Pace David Cameron’s recent pronouncement of its death, between the late 1940s and the late 1960s the chance of establishing a multiracial society was squandered.

In the 1960s, America saw fearsome ghetto riots from Newark, to Detroit, to the city of Watts in Los Angeles. The state’s response was a threefold strategy: first, buy your way out. Money sluiced into “urban renewal schemes” basically aimed as various forms of ethnic cleansing and wholesale destruction of black neighborhoods. Gentrification and deindustrialization assisted in this process. Across the next 20 years, for example, the manufacturing base of Los Angeles simply disappeared.

Since these shifts involved the creation of new ghettoes, the second strategy was ever more stringent policing, with federal money pouring into city law enforcement across the country, the creation of heavily armed SWAT teams, even in tiny communities. The third strategy was the conversion of a political threat — political activism by the Black Panthers and other national organizations (many of whose leaders were straightforwardly murdered by the police) — into a crime problem, aka the “war on drugs,” launched in 1969 by Richard Nixon who emphasized to his chief aide, H.R. Haldeman, that “the whole problem [drugs] was really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

There is plenty of evidence that the strategists of the state’s response to black political insurgency were far from unhappy to see poor neighborhoods demobilized by drugs, black-on-black violence, as gangs fought bloody turf wars for street corner concessions.

Across the next 35 years the US prison population rose relentlessly, the cells disproportionately filled with blacks and Hispanics. The “system” had devised a useful differential in sentencing that saw blacks and other poor people serving vastly longer terms for possession of crack, rather than powder cocaine — a middle-class preference.

The last major race riot in America was in 1992, following the release of a video of a black man, Rodney King, being savagely beaten by Los Angeles cops. By the 1990s, the “buy-out” strategy had evolved into vast programs of prison construction, paralleling the rise of gated residential communities replete with walls and armed guards keeping the bad guys out.

America this year has been waking up to two increasingly self-evident truths: violent crime rates — for murder, robbery, aggravated assault and rape — have been falling, and are now at their lowest level for nearly 40 years. Fears that the 2008 crash and indisputably harsh economic times for poor people would produce a new crime wave have proved to be baseless. In 2010, New York saw 536 murders — 65 more than in 2009, which was the lowest since 1963.

All crime rates in Los Angeles have been dropping for two decades. Homicides plunged 18% last year. Violent crime is roughly the same in LA as in Portland, Oregon, the whitest major city in America, the same as it was in the lily-white LA of the early 1960s. The 1960s, when crime rates rose, had roughly the same unemployment rate as the late 1990s and early 2000s, when crime fell.

Twenty years ago, conservative criminologists were drawing up graphic scenarios of cities held hostage by gangs of feral black youth. City police forces compiled vast computer data banks of “gangs,” and suspects linked to a gang drew heavier sentences, shoved into a penal system where remedial counseling, post release job training had vanished.

Did crime fall because all the bad guys were locked up? No one claims this beyond 25% of the reduction — itself a very high estimate. Another theory is that by the mid 1990s the crack wars were over, and the victors enjoying their hard-won monopolies under the overall supervision of the police. Other theories were recently explored by professor James Q. Wilson, an influential conservative sociologist:

“There may also be a medical reason for the decline in crime. For decades, doctors have known that children with lots of lead in their blood are much more likely to be aggressive, violent and delinquent. In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency required oil compa­nies to stop putting lead in gasoline. At the same time, lead in paint was banned for any new home (though old buildings still have lead paint, which children can absorb). Tests have shown that the amount of lead in Americans' blood fell by four-fifths between 1975 and 1991. A 2007 study by the economist Jessica Wolpaw Reyes contended that the reduction in gasoline lead produced more than half of the decline in violent crime during the 1990s in the US and might bring about greater declines in the future.”

Cocaine use has been declining. Wilson cites a study of 13,000 people arrested in Manhattan between 1987 and 1997, a disproportionate number of whom were black: “Those born between 1948 and 1969 were heavily involved with crack cocaine, but those born after 1969 used very little crack and instead smoked marijuana. The reason was simple: the younger African Americans had known many people who used crack and other hard drugs and wound up in prisons, hospitals and morgues. The risks of using marijuana were far less serious. This shift in drug use, if the New York City experience is borne out in other locations, can help to explain the fall in black inner-city crime rates after the early 1990s.”

Simultaneous to the drop in violent crime rates has come the discovery that America can’t afford to lock up 2.3 million people for years on end. It’s too expensive. When he’s not praying to a Christian God to save America, Gov. Perry of Texas is trying to save the state’s budget in part by getting convicts out of prisons and into various diversion programs.

So, by after a nearly 40-year detour into a gulag Republic, with 25% of the world’s prisoners, America is retrenching toward softer solutions. The War on Drugs and the War and Crime carry a heavy price tag. A generation's worth of “wars on crime” and of glorification of the men and women in blue have engendered a culture of law enforcement that is all too often viciously violent, contemptuous of the law, morally corrupt, and confident of the credulity of the courts. In Chicago, police ignored witnesses, discounted testimony, as they bustled the innocent onto Death Row. In New York, a plainclothes posse of heavily armed cops roamed the streets, justifiably confidant that their lethal onslaught would receive official protection, which it did until an unprecedented popular uproar brought the perpetrators to book.

These aren't isolated cases. There isn't a state in the union where cops aren't perjuring themselves, using excessive force, targeting minorities.

Those endless wars on crime and drugs — a staple of 90% of America's politicians these last 30 years — have engendered not merely 2.3 million prisoners but a vindictive hysteria that pulses on the threshold of homicide in the bosoms of many of our uniformed law enforcers. Time and again, one hears stories attesting to the fact that they are ready, at a moment's notice or a slender pretext, to blow someone away, beat him to a pulp, throw him in the slammer, sew him up with police perjuries and snitch-driven charges, and try to toss him in a dungeon for a quarter-century or more.

The price for decades of this mythmaking and cop boosterism? It was summed up in the absurdity of the declaration of the US Supreme Court, in 2000, that flight from a police officer constitutes sound reason for arrest. Actually, it constitutes plain common sense.

Emergency laws, rushed through by panicked politicians, are always bad. It will take America many decades, if ever, to restore civil liberties, approach crime rationally — and this will only come with courageous and inventive political leadership in the poor communities. Britons should study carefully the lessons of Americans’ 40-year swerve.

Back in 1981 Howe put the right questions on the agenda. We’ve got further away from answering them, and in fact the left rarely asks them at all, bobbing along in the neoliberal backwash that began in the early 1970s.


  1. C.Swan August 17, 2014

    Please remember the lessons learned
    ~ 20 years ago,
    during Tuso’s term as Sheriff.

    County Code prohibits MCSO from accepting
    “gifts” of any sort ($$, equipment, or labor/time)
    from any source (Public or Private)
    without prior approval from the
    Board of Supervisors.

    Supes Charles Peterson(5th district) and John Pinches(3rd district)
    effectively used this little-known rule
    to block Tuso from keeping/deploying
    a Military Armed Personnel Carrier
    on the streets of Covelo
    during the search for Bear Lincoln.

    It was a wise move, made by two wise men . . .
    and their fellow Supes joined in the vote
    to return the combat gear
    to the USArmy, from whence it came.

    “Combat Gear does not solve problems.
    It only puts innocent people in harm’s way”,
    was the statement made at the time.

    Sincere thanks to both Pinches and Peterson
    for the leadership shown,
    and their swift action to prevent escalation of
    a prolonged armed struggle
    in an already conflicted community.

  2. Harvey Reading August 17, 2014

    All the police apologetics above rings hollow with me, especially given the police murder of a kid a few months ago, just 60 miles or so south of Ukiah, or the murderous Oakland PD, about 50 miles further south, or the BART police thugs a few years back. That, compounded with my time as a student in Berkeley (People’s Park, Vietnam invasion), hearing the so-called progressive Berkeley PD calling black people niggers, and spewing hatred for anyone with long hair, as they stopped for a “potty” break between clubbings and gassings around and on campus, at the gas station where I worked. At that time they were all excited about being authorized to carry (if they purchased them and could qualify with them) 9mm semiautomatic pistols (pieces of crap if you ask me) with big magazines. The truth is, the bad guys starting arming themselves with military weaponry IN RESPONSE TO the militarization of cops. Maybe the author oughta spend an evening is east LA, with helicopters flying constantly, searchlights aglow, something that doesn’t happen in Beverly Hills … and think about “free-speech” cages, too, before you lay the propaganda on. We know better.

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