|Richmond Stays Alert To Terror
February 20, 2003
After Tom Ridge pushed the Orange Alert button and sent us all to Home Depot for duct tape and Visqueen, I huddled, frozen with fear along with other Richmond residents, wondering when local authorities would provide critical detailed instructions on what to do next.
Imagine my relief when the following message sizzled into my electronic mailbox last night: “RICHMOND HOLDS PUBLIC MEETINGS TO PREPARE FOR RESPONDING TO HEIGHTENED TERROR ALERTS - Presentations will focus on business and residential.” This will be provided by "a special taskforce directed by Richmond Police Chief Joseph Samuels." For those who crave such advice, the full text appears at the end of this E-FORUM.
This appears to be part of a continuing effort by the City of Richmond and the Richmond Police Department to protect Richmonders from Osama and Saddam - an effort so important that the Bush Administration has not provided Richmond or any other city a nickel to reimburse the costs of being the “first responders to terrorism.” So far, the Richmond Police Department has racked up over a million dollars in overtime, much of it related to Homeland Security.
What bothers me most is that the War on Terrorism and Homeland Security has become a vast diversion from real priorities, both local and national. See the following E-FORUM postings: Richmond Police Mobilize to Fight Terrorism on Land and Sea <http://www.tombutt.com/forum/021004b.htm>, October 4, 2002; Tom Butt on Terrorism at MSNBC <http://www.tombutt.com/forum/021206.htm>, December 6, 2002 and Time to Take the Gloves Off <http://www.tombutt.com/forum/020519.htm>, May 19, 2002.
As a City Councilman, I get a lot of phone calls, letters, emails and people stopping me on the street to lodge complaints, make requests, ask questions, voice concerns make suggestions and sometimes thank me or the City government for a service well-rendered. I can’t recall once that such conversations included concerns about Homeland Security.
What I do get contacted about are people who want the City Council to oppose the Patriot Act or oppose the War on Iraq. In my opinion, these too are diversions. We can’t figure out how to sweep or repair our streets, keep our parks and recreation facilities open, house our homeless, employ our youth or educate our children (all local issues), but we should find time to debate national and international policy in the City Council Chamber? As a Los Angeles Councilman said, “We ought to focus on sidewalks, not Saddam.”
Cities are falling over themselves nationwide to oppose the Patriot Act. I, too, believe it was an outrageous act of Congress, another Bush diversion to cover up the failure of his FBI and CIA to communicate and act on knowledge (obtained legally prior to the Patriot Act) that could have prevented 9/11. But is this something the Richmond City Council should debate? I think not - especially in Richmond. Our city did not support Bush for president and our congressman did not support the Patriot act. Richmonders have already spoken where it counts - at the ballot box. Any action our City Council may take on this issue will have zero impact in Washington. This is not to say that individuals should not continue to write, call, march, or whatever else they believe will be effective to change national policy.
And it’s not that we don’t have terror in Richmond - but it’s a different kind of terror.
·Terror is when 23-year-old Mario Easter was shot to death January 29 beside a playground packed with children, many of them young boys fresh from the center's basketball courts, who watched the man struggle for life beside a cyclone fence at Fifth Street and Nevin Avenue.
·Terror is when 22-year-old Booker T. Hall was shot to death February 2, 2003 on Sixth Street and Maine Avenue.
·Terror is when 23-year-old Leroy Wright Jr. died outside his family home in the 400 block of S. 21st St in a hail of bullets fired by unknown assailants on February 7, 2003.
·Terror is the look on the face of 28-year-old Parmbaldeep Rai just before she was struck by a car and killed when crossing the Richmond Parkway at the intersection of the entrance road to the Hilltop Bayview apartments on February 5, 2003.
All those folks in Central Richmond erecting illegal 5 and 6 foot high steel fences around their homes aren't doing it to keep out Saddam and Osama.
At neighborhood council meetings I attend, nobody asks about Homeland Security. They want to now why the police can’t stop their cars from disappearing off the street in front of their homes or can’t stop an epidemic of break-ins of their cars or their homes. They want to know why we can’t catch and punish those who place graffiti a thousand places around town, who make “donuts” in their intersections or speed through their neighborhoods threatening peace and safety. They want to know why drugs are dealt routinely in areas known to the police with apparent impunity.
As today's Contra Costa Times relates: "In a plea to Americans to be prepared for potential terrorism, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Wednesday called on families to assemble emergency kits and brace for the worst. Keep a three-day supply of food, water and medicine. Buy duct tape and plastic sheets -- but don't use them. Sketch out a detailed communication plan. Just in case. The advice kicked off an aggressive public-education campaign about how to prepare for an attack. But as word spread of the latest safety alert, East Bay residents mostly reacted with indifference. Some say they have grown tired of the on-again, off-again anxiety over a catastrophic attack that may or may not occur."
This isn’t to say that we should not be prepared for disaster. Earthquakes are inevitable, including the “big one,” they tell us. And experience has taught that Chevron or General Chemical, or some other similar industry will blow up periodically.
But is Homeland Defense really a priority for the City of Richmond and the Richmond Police Department? Is this where we should be targeting our City’s scarce resources?
What are our real priorities? Richmond has a homicide rate at least as high as infamous Oakland. Like the rest of the Bay Area, unemployment is up, business vacancy rates are up, foreclosures are up and homelessness is up. The cost of resolving our Civic Center dilemma is now up to about $100 million, as is the cost of repairing our streets. Where will we find that kind of money? Scandal in the Police Department, at the highest levels, is also up - as are citizen complaints. Oh, and garbage rates are also up.
What is down? Well, the City’s income, for one thing. Even without whatever Gray Davis takes away, we are looking at a $5 million plus deficit for 2003-2004. The number of City employees will go down. This will ultimately translate into diminished services and diminished quality of life. The Plunge is still shut down, as is Point Molate Beach Park. Don't forget the stock market and our 401(k) plans, which remain way down. That may be nothing, however, compared to the hits children in the West Contra Costa Unified School District will take when Gray Davis gets through with them.
So, go on down to City Hall on February 21, 2003, to find out "how to respond to the high threat levels issued by the U.S. Office of Homeland Security on Friday," and everything will be okay -- but maybe not until after the City Council votes to oppose the Patriot Act and the War on Iraq.
February 18, 2003
Angela Jones, Public Information Officer
City of Richmond / City Manager’s Office
RICHMOND HOLDS PUBLIC MEETINGS TO PREPARE FOR RESPONDING TO HEIGHTENED TERROR ALERTS
Presentations will focus on business and residential community
A special taskforce directed by Richmond Police Chief Joseph Samuels will present information to business owners and residents on how to respond to the high threat levels issued by the U.S. Office of Homeland Security on Friday, February 21, 2003, in the City Council Chambers, Third Floor, 2600 Barrett Avenue. The business community presentation will take place from 10 - 11:30 a.m. A second presentation to the residential community will take place from 3:30 - 5:00 p.m.
The City’s Task Force on Emergency Readiness and Response will provide information regarding concerns expressed by the U.S. Office of Homeland Security about the potential focus on “soft” targets for terrorism such as hotels, public transportation, shopping centers, etc. Task force members have begun making contact with security officials at various Richmond businesses to assist in assessing security procedures and precautions. The presentations are intended to ensure that businesses and residents have the necessary information to help emergency responders protect their safety. The Richmond Police Department communicates daily with all branches of state, local and federal government responsible for counter-terrorism planning.
The Task Force on Emergency Readiness and Response was organized in October 2001 at the direction of City Manager Isiah Turner following the terror attacks in September 2001. Chief Samuels heads the task force which consists of key staff who will act as first line responders in case of emergency or crisis.
For more information, please contact Angela Jones, Public Information Officer, at (510) 621-1230.