The Week




Distance Learning: Berkeley Must Make the Best of It

Becky O'Malley
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 02:14:00 PM

Parents of school age children in Berkeley and elsewhere got the bad news this week: the kids will be at home for a while longer. There’s no question that this will be hard at times for all concerned: parents, students and teachers. But there’s also no question, for anyone who can understand the scientific reports, that this is the right decision.

I’m just glad that all my daughters and now even my granddaughters are grown, so it’s not my decision. I have one granddaughter, two grand-nieces and two more young family friends who are scheduled to start college in the fall, and they all must decide whether the offering at their chosen schools (probably some version of online, plus perhaps a modicum of in-person teaching) will be worth what it costs.

My guess is that most will take a year off instead. That’s disappointing, but it’s reality-based. -more-

Public Comment

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Changing the Role of Police in Mental Health Scenarios

Jack Bragen
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 04:38:00 PM

Police are probably having it a bit rough of late--there are a lot of people with whom police are unpopular. And this is because a few bad officers have committed horrendous, racist crimes, sparking public outrage. There is something intrinsically wrong with the concept of society needing to punish people through arresting people, especially when this leads to police beating citizens, harming them, and sometimes murdering people. This is not strictly happening to black people. Yet African American people are often assumed by police and others to be guilty of something merely through their skin color.

Much of the time, police perform essential roles in society. Most are very brave men and women and many of them are good people. We shouldn't hate all of law enforcement based on the behaviors of a few.

As a mentally ill white man with a history of some encounters with police, my feelings are mixed. I believe many police and sheriffs are callous and cruel toward people who do not deserve that treatment. I would like to see major changes in how police are hired, trained, and supervised.

Defunding police and eliminating them entirely would be a mistake. There are individuals in U.S. society, irrespective of race, who can and will take advantage of such a situation and will commit crimes because they feel they can get away with it, if there is no consequence of being punished. I hate to say it, but the repercussion of being jailed is the only thing that will work to restrain some criminals who would otherwise victimize vulnerable people.

On the other hand, in the circumstance of helping mentally ill people get help, the role of police needs to be given a major overhaul.

Let's not forget that a great number of persons with mental illness are inappropriately jailed. To put a vulnerable, ill person in that environment is an indescribably cruel action. You wouldn't incarcerate someone for having cancer or arthritis. Mental illnesses are biological conditions that happen to impact behavior. Any government entity, whether police or other, needs to be able to recognize whether the person they believe is guilty of something is actually symptomatic of a biologically produced mental illness.

Far too often, police, because they feel it is their job, ship mentally ill people into jail. And this is done in a heinous and cruel manner. It leaves the mentally ill person, at that point, a victim of the criminal justice system, and emotionally scarred for life.

Aside from that, many police seem to think their job is about punishment. And that seems to include punishing black people for being black. It also includes punishing mentally ill people for minor offenses that took place because the mentally ill person was confused, delusional, and/or disoriented.

Since police are at least partly about punishment, and are certainly equipped for that, with firearms, tasers, and batons, maybe giving them a role in mental health is a misappropriation. This problem may stem from those in the general public being afraid of mentally ill people.

Some mentally ill people become violent. Yet, one hopes this doesn't end in an officer shooting a mentally ill person to death. The overall predicament we face is not simple, and it should not be perceived in an oversimplified way.

In Children's Protective Services in California, a social worker has the power to protect children and he or she often has police backup. Maybe this is the best way to handle 5150's and other enforcement where mentally ill people are involved. You could have mental health workers present in all dealings between police and mentally ill, and the worker could supervise police.

When medicated and receiving treatment, mentally ill people like myself are responsible for how we behave, and we are accountable. However, if I foolishly went off medication, at some point I would become unable to properly assess reality. At such a point, while I might be ethically responsible for anything done while off medication, I would not be fully competent, and should not be dealt with as such. Again, things should not be oversimplified.

Unfortunately, many people and many things in today's world are seen in an oversimplified manner. Yet, the method by which we decide how and where to use police in dealing with mental illness should be reasoned in the complex and nuanced manner it needs. -more-

ECLECTIC RANT:On School Reopening's During a Pandemic

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 03:51:00 PM

Many states seem schizophrenic about school openings, especially states that have done too little too late about curbing the pandemic. Trump is pressuring schools to reopen without regard to whether it is safe to do so. And many red state governors are feeling the White House pressure to reopen in spite of the rising levels of new cases in their states, giving little or no consideration to the risk of infections to teachers, school staff, students and the families of these students. -more-

Berkeley City Officials Should Follow the Law Re People's Park

Harvey Smith,People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 03:30:00 PM

The message below was sent nearly three weeks ago. We have not received a written reply from any councilmember or city department. We did email the city auditor before sending this letter. Her response was that she would "add this to the list of possible audits along with other topics to consider for future audits." I also spoke with Councilmember Davila who suggested presenting this to the city council during the public comment portion of the meeting. Otherwise the silence from the city is deafening. -more-

Trump's Tripping

Tejinder Uberoi
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 04:10:00 PM

Move over Shapiro (the ace test tacker hired by Trump to take his SAT test). DJT is ready to retake the SAT test he avoided many years ago before he achieved a “stable genius” status. But much like his other claims he remains coy about the results of the cognitive test. Unlike a SAT test, a cognition test is a simple test to measure your mental decline and not a test on how smart you are. -more-

Berkeley Homeowners Fight for Fair Taxation

Lilana Spindler
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 04:07:00 PM

Historically, Berkeley voters like equity, so they approved taxes with built-in equity. The City of Berkeley charges homeowners for city services through taxes calculated according to the size of their dwelling. Hence, a large home would pay more tax than a small home, theoretically ensuring that city services are paid according to dwelling size. But, recently, some homeowners have discovered that they pay more than their equitable share since they are taxed also for undeveloped understories, even those with a sloped dirt base where one cannot walk upright due to insufficient ceiling height. The tax code defines dwelling as “designed for human occupancy”, so the non-conforming spaces should not be subject to the tax. Many of the basements in the city are, in fact, not taxed. A group of 11 Harmed Homeowners, most of them elderly and a third of them black, wrote a letter to the city on July 1 asking for relief from the unfair tax overages. -more-

SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 03:57:00 PM

The Bombs Bursting in Error

So nice to finally have a rest from those nightly fireworks bombardments that rattled the Bay Area for hours every night from mid-June to July 4. -more-

Would Witchcraft Ward Off COVID?

Dennis Fitzgerald
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 03:28:00 PM

The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany has suggested that "The science should not stand in the way of…" in reference to schools reopening. Oh Dear, maybe it's time to get out our rabbits' feet and luck charms and hope that witchcraft can ward off the spread of COVID-19. -more-

Arts & Events

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar, July 19-26

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 04:01:00 PM

Worth Noting: -more-