Monday, December 8th, 2008 at 7:57 pm in Night Owl.
The Chronicle’s “Insight” insert in Sunday’s paper is badly named. At least after this Sunday’s edition, I am calling it the “Misguided” section. Or maybe the “Thinly Reported” section. Okay, those are probably fighting words in the journalism world so I will revise my statement and just ask what the hell their editors were thinking when they slapped the headline on the cover page (“Crime and Exodus: When a Love of Oakland Can’t Take it Anymore”) and allowed an opinion piece about how horrible it is to live in Oakland to stand with nothing about how the population has increased and restaurants and cafes are opening at an unprecedented pace, including several SF ones that have opened Oakland branches?
Instead, Chip Johnson added a flimsy column: “Violence — Oakland’s Most Dubious Honor,” in which he claimed that many people are surrendering and leaving Oakland because of the rampant violence that is terrorizing them. He cites two people and doesn’t bother to back up anything.
I’ve heard more than my share of laments and oaths to leave the city at East and West Oakland murder scenes. So I am very aware of the crime and violence in Oakland, as well as the entertainment — “positive stuff,” as people like to say. But I’ve never seen Chip Johnson anywhere near a crime scene or anywhere else in Oakland, for that matter. And I do get around, from the nicest to the worst parts of this city during all hours. You’d think I’d run into him sometime.
Gluss had some harrowing experiences with crime and stray shooting of Chris Rodriguez in a piano school on Piedmont Avenue near her home drove her out. I understand…I was burglarized four times in two years in Berkeley, not immune by any means to terrifying gangs and violence. In fact, that’s why I moved to Oakland, where in all my years in just about every corner of the city including East Oakland and Lake Merritt nothing has ever happened to me. No such experiences seem to qualify as valid for the Chron’s coverage. That’s what they did after the takeover robbery in te Rockridge in the spring. Their reporter wrote an ominous piece about how the district was under seige and people were afraid to go out. It just happened that I was driving down College Avenue the evening (oooh scary!!!) the story ran and restaurants, bars and cafes were jammed with people, who were spilling out onto the streets. How was that under seige? Maybe the reporter didn’t spend quite enough time to report the facts.
I get it that Gluss and Johnson are pointing fingers are Dellums and not Oakland. But both are building some mightly big mountains on top of sand. I think the paper was irresponsible in the way it presented the story: sensationalized.
For one thing, Oakland residents are not fleeing in droves, as Johnson infers. Moving vans bring new tenants into my building by the week. Oakland’s 1980 population was 339,337. On Jan. 1, it was 420,183, according to the California Department of Finance. If they are leaving at all might not the housing bust have something to do with that?
Burglary is not the kind of violence that the Morgan-Quinto Report ranking includes and that Johnson cites as roof of the city’s lawlessness. It is an oft-used but controversial measure. Every reporter knows that. But should we also dismiss as Chip did the ranking Oakland at No. 5 — down from No. 4 last year? What if it was No. 6 then No. 7 and so forth in subsequent years? I definitely wouldn’t berate it as is done in Johnson’s column.
Secondly, why does the Chron trot out these Oakland articles and not focus the same energy on diving into problems of crime in its own backyard? Is Hunters Point better now than when an old girlfriend of mine lived there and was afraid to let her three children out of the apartment to play in the open? She, who was no stranger to some bad neighborhoods, left four years ago as soon as she could get out. SF’s murder rate is not far behind Oakland’s. (Why is it, my boyfriend asked, that people talk about Oakland as a problem city whereas crimes in SF are defined as happening in Hunters Point, etc?)
I left SF in 1993 because I wanted something new and the city was too homogenous. But a lot of people find comfort in being around people who look and act like them. That is why I think Oakland gets singled out as a set for “Mad Max: The Remake” although its problems are not so different from other cities. (Except it is way saner and safer than others I’ve spent time in, such as DC or Baltimore.) In other words, Oakland is not confined to a white middle- to upper-class. It’s not all Rockridge and Montclair.