Avoiding Psycho Machete Hackers, Sneakers-Uppers, and Other Berkeley Crimes

by Ted Friedman
Tuesday August 09, 2011 - 01:38:00 PM
How safe are these students at Telegraph Avenue Monday? See any robbery opportunities?
Ted Friedman
How safe are these students at Telegraph Avenue Monday? See any robbery opportunities?

In 1971, Berkeley was abuzz over a psycho machete hacker who sliced-and-diced Berkeleyans with his machete, and one night I barely beat him back to my car before he came after me on lower Hearst. I never forgot that avoided crime. I might have really hurt that guy. 

After at least one death and several woundings, the machete attacks stopped and the Berkeley hacker was never apprehended. He's probably hacking computers with a machete. 

Some years ago, in the Elmwood, I spotted a guy with a sword, thought of the Berkeley machete-killer, and hailed a cop. "Oh that's just old Tom; the sword's plastic," the cop said. Looked real to me. This was in gentler times when cop cars didn't converge on suspects reportedly armed. 

So when I read in the Daily Californian, July 27, that our streets have been safer in the past two summers , I nearly fell on my sword. 

The summer streets were not safe from a team of strong-arm robbers, who snatch I-phones and computers from distracted students as on July 24 (Planet: Aug. 3, 2011)--a case that police might have cracked if the suspects were not juveniles. (Planet: Aug. 3, 2011). 

It is no secret that Berkeley, like such campus areas as Chicago's south side (University of Chicago), Manhattan's Columbia University neighborhood, or the University of Southern California area attract crimes like purse snatching, pick-pocketing, voyeurism, and sexual assault. 

While students make attractive targets (perhaps less so in the summer when there are fewer of them, according to police spokesmen quoted in the Daily Cal), there are other factors such as proximity to convenient get-away freeways accessed all over town, according to my own research. 

Safer or not, students have been advised to watch their backs ("be aware of your surroundings"); but isn't that like the sound of one hand clapping? From what vantage point do you do your back-watching? 

A Southside pedestrian told me the other day I had snuck up on her back because I had a light step; and someone "snuck up" on me the other day, although I was too embarrassed to comment to the sneaker. 

Ever since the machete scare and an ill-advised trip to Manhattan in which I was nearly murdered, I have tried to watch my own back. I always carry pepper spray, and whipped it out and showed it to a belligerent interviewee in the historic Panoramic Hill neighborhood (Planet: May 17, 2011), proclaiming, "I'm armed with pepper spray." 

Kids, don't try this at home unless you run a brisk 100 yard dash; better yet, 200 yards, according to a policeman I told about my less-than-excellent Panoramic Hill pepper spray adventure. Even police make mistakes with their spray, according to my source, even though they are trained in its use. 

I took a course in personal defense in college which started with a quarter mile track-run. Getting away from dangerous situations is the number one most effective self-defense strategy, according to my instructor. Kicks in the privates is next, but not as good as a quick-burst sprint. 

If you like to get lost in your inner muse on the street, muse on this. What's the use of thinking--if your thoughts get you killed? Your first thought should be that when you take to the streets of Berkeley, you are at risk of victimization. 

The Southside is one big crime scene, not always under the watchful eyes of ever- busier police; but neighborhoods elsewhere can be even more dangerous because the sidewalks are unpopulated (no witnesses). As anyone reading my crime pieces knows, flashing a gun, or, for that matter, just seeming to be armed on the Southside will bring on a squad of cops looking for trouble. 

As I was discussing strong-arm (violent-snatching) robberies with a policeman the other day, I had an exposed I-Pad under my arm. The officer was saying such devices 

are targets for strong-arm robberies. "Like the exposed I-pad I'm carrying?" I asked. 

Now I deploy a disguise when toting my I-Pad. If I left a computer on a coffee-house table, I would buy a cable lock for it, as some of my medhead (Caffe Mediterraneum) friends have done. 

I recently watched a grade school principal drawing an imaginary circle around a student to teach him the boundaries each student can expect other students to observe. Now I draw that circle around myself when alone on the streets in my neighborhood. You get into my orb and I'm outta there, and fast. 

As my two sneaking-up experiences show, eyes in the back of the head are unreliable and sound alone is unreliable. According to Buffalo Springfield, "everybody look what's goin down." That's right. "Stop now. Look what's goin down." This is a three-part move: stop and look around--front, back, and sideways. Do this a lot. 

Self-protection on Telegraph Avenue near the university, or on campus, or downtown is not so different from being alone on a secluded street. Try to keep your distance from others, even if this means crossing the street (safely) or zig-zagging. Think of yourself as a football running-back, or running through a mine-field. When in a group, give everyone a heads-up on police crime alerts. Consult these alerts on-line. Know what's "goin down," front, rear, and sides. 

Don't want to live like this? Then how do you want to die? 

Fear is your friend and if you are so foolish as to have none, make some up. For those needing further advice, I recommend being alert to clusters of high school toughs looking for a stomp, or absolutely anyone else who arouses concern. Don't worry about being politically correct, or jay-walking when safe, when crossing the street to avoid trouble. 

Unfortunately, con-men, or street-scammers adopt various disguises to put you off-guard. You'll need to be a McGruff, the crime dog, to take a bite out of crime, but when it comes to crime-stopping it's better to be the one doing the biting. 



Ted Friedman, a Southsider, has never run track, but he's now running for his life.