Cable Joins Ranks of Oakland Shooting Victims

Friday January 02, 2004

At exactly midnight on Christmas Eve, somebody took out the main cable box on our street with small arms fire, I think, perhaps as an East Oakland-type of commentary on the continually descending quality of Comcast’s programming. We tend to be blunt and plain-spoken out this way. 

Anyway, I’m sure the cable went out at exactly midnight, whatever the cause. They sent three repair trucks out 10 hours later, searching the utility poles for evidence of damage, and while two of them were up there on the booms, the third one dropped by the house and asked if we might want to upgrade our service to digital. I declined. I’ll wait ‘til they include the radar attachment that detects incoming fire. 

I am also sure that the cable blackout was immediately preceded by five rounds, fired in rapid succession. 9 millimeter, maybe? I forgot to ask the neighborhood children, who are becoming expert in detecting caliber and model. Gunshots are not as common in our part of the world as they are in, say, the Sunni Triangle, but we get our share. Mostly, by way of response, we apply the footstep principle. If you hear gunshots, you must stand very still and quiet and listen for footsteps running on the pavement outside. If you hear no rapid footsteps, you can let out your breath and go about your business, and surmise that this was only someone shooting at the cable box, or Mars retreating, or one of the raccoons rummaging through a stray bin of garbage. If you hear footsteps, running, then you must quickly apply the Doppler Effect (remember when you told your high school science teacher that you’d only learn this stuff if it could someday save your life; well, wise-ass, now’s your chance). Are the footsteps coming toward your house, or retreating? If they are retreating, continue to stand still and listen for further developments. If they are coming towards your house, find cover. Chances are, more excitement will soon follow. 

It is interesting, sometimes, to hear those of my friends who live in other parts of the world express wonderment at why we in these beleaguered blocks do not cooperate with the police when we hear such things as gunshots in the street outside. The truth is, we have a high regard for our police forces, and know that they are busy elsewhere, with more important things. Right now, law enforcement officers—in the persons of our state Highway Patrol—are whizzing up and down International Boulevard, chasing down suspected DUI’s. Do not get me wrong. Driving under the influence is a serious and deadly problem throughout our neighborhoods, all of them, and one wonders why there is no great clamor to bring this sort of impacted, rolling convoy-type of enforcement to a street near you. Or perhaps to 66th Avenue just after a Raider game where, one would guess, they could wrack up citations en masse. But that’s another story for another day. 

Meanwhile, I have it on good authority (neighborhood talk up at the parking lot of the Quarter Pound) that those who are driving under the influence of liquor and other intoxicating substances have taken to traveling on parallel streets a block off of International to avoid the police blockades, on, say, Holly, where the open air drug dealers do their trade. From what they tell me, police are only sporadically encountered there. 

The Highway Patrol street patrols were supposed to have ended at midnight on New Year’s Eve, rendered into pumpkin-and-mice like Cinderella’s coach-and-four, the state grant to fund them having flickered, wavered, and gone out. We were told—remember that one?—that the Highway Patrol was supposed to free up the Oakland police so the police could do something—the actual something was never actually enumerated in detail—to reduce our rate of murder. How did they do? Three days before the turn of the year, we were holding at 111, only two less than last year’s 113. That may seem a minor drop to you, but numbers, as Einstein once told us, are all relative, and it’s most certainly a major accomplishment for the two guys this year who missed the cut. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times reports that a shakeup by L.A.’s new police chief has led to a 23 percent reduction in that city’s murder rate. Didn’t Oakland get a new police chief, too, one time? 

Meredith May of the San Francisco Chronicle gives a more revealing number. She reports that Oakland has only 10 homicide investigators to handle more than 100 murders. Last year, on the other hand, the figure was 25 investigators for 48 homicides in San Diego, 16 investigators for 68 murders in San Francisco, 10 investigators for 49 homicides in Sacramento, and 14 investigators for 68 murders in San Jose. “My guys handle two to three times more cases than any homicide team in California,” May quoted Oakland homicide chief Lt. Jim Emery. It was not clear whether it was a boast or a complaint. 

In response to the embarrassment over last year’s murders, Mayor Jerry Brown floated a double bond vote to hire 100 more police. The financing part of the bond lost, partly because Brown never articulated what, exactly, those police might be assigned to do. Instead of 100 police, we might have profited more by hiring say, 10 more homicide guys. 

Oh, and maybe a couple of patrolmen to guard the utility pole that holds our cable box. I’d rather not miss another segment of The Daily Show, if I can help it.