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Berkeley officials should tout city

Marc Sapir, MD, Berkeley
Wednesday December 05, 2001


The media always likes to highlight Berkeley as an unusual place, even to the point of ridicule. Alas, the world would be a dull place without satire, caricature and humor. Unfortunately, in a climate of constriction of basic civil liberties our mayor’s fixation on caricaturing her enemies presents a danger to our city. Berkeley could become a place where neighbors turn in neighbors to the thought police – the new FBI role. I doubt that many people would like to see that happen. 

Innuendo? Not. The mayor is a big part of the reason the nation thinks our fire chief ordered flags off fire trucks when he only asked that they be scaled down in size. Shirley Dean went on to suggest that Berkeley was likely to undergo an economic boycott resulting from the council vote urging the government to try to end the bombing quickly to avoid civilian casualties. Various investigative reports have found no evidence of a boycott yet as late as Nov. 2, Mayor Shirley Dean was quoted by the BBC as saying that the (apparently non existent) boycott had hurt Berkeley businesses.  

Then Dean repeatedly misquoted Councilmember Dona Spring as saying that the United States is a terrorist nation, even after being corrected. These quotes wound up all over the national press. Whether or not such a statement has any factual validity Spring never said it so it’s terrible to put Berkeley on the hot seat like that. Dean’s behavior turned Dona Spring and the city into a target. While the council majority tries to find the fine line of responsible criticism and debate, Dean has acted like an agent provocateur making their dissent appear wild and inappropriate. 

I am concerned that Shirley Dean is not representing Berkeley well in the media or on the national level. We need to join others in opposition to the Bush-Ashcroft attacks on Constitutional rights. While some cities like Portland and Corvalis, Ore. have said they will not cooperate with the roundup of legal Arab and Muslim men not specifically suspected of crimes, Berkeley has not spoken. Dean should urge Willie and Jerry Brown and Ron Gonzales to join us and follow suit. If our mayor’s politics do not include the defense of civil liberties then we are in for serious problems. If they do, the mayor should speak out against unlawful detention, military tribunals and the death penalty. We need council/mayoral unity on these basic issues, not phony “wedge issue” politics.  


Marc Sapir, MD, Berkeley