Monday, June 29, 2009

BART Strike & Oscar Grant: strike hampered by police racism

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YouTube, and Sclipo

For weeks now, BART management and labor have been arguing over who should give up what on the eve of the expiration of contracts with the five unions that represent BART workers. But there's a problem: the matter of the murder of Oscar Grant and the revelation that another BART officer used a racial slur, and this was captured in a new video, raise questions regarding labor's moral standing to strike.

While BART's police can't strike, as one officer told me, the unions essentially represent the labor issues for the police. Thus, the use of the racial slur by a BART officer with BART Officer Johannes Mehserle, coupled with the murder by Mehserle, opens the accusation that it was a hate crime. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, it was officer Tony Pirone who yelled "Bitch-ass N__, right?" As he was hitting Grant while Grant was on the ground.

While Pirone claims he was responding to something Grant said, there's no record or video backing his claim. What I think happened was Pirone may have overheard someone else say this but as Pirone is white, it's not likely someone would use that terms against him, especially since he's a police officer. But Pirone leaves himself open to another interpretation: that he was saying to Grant he's a "Bitch-ass N__, and then used the term "right?" as a way of affirming his own comment about Grant.

If so, and I think it is, that's a clear hate crime. Period. End of discussion.

I don't think BART workers want to be associated with this kind of behavior, but that's a looming possibility. BART workers are already seen to be richer than their riders, many who are like Oscar Grant, poor. So here we are with BART workers unwilling to take payroll cuts to maintain service, asking for a three-percent raise when everyone in the public sector's trying to save their jobs, and now we have two BART police officers expressing the ultimate dislike for a passenger due to his skin color. It also opens this question: to what degree do BART police conduct racial profiling?

A good friend of mine in law enforcement told me that many of the people recruited to become officers are white, suburban in their upbringing, not experienced in working with or befriending people of color. That must change.

The Strike Threat and The Race Problem

It's already clear many riders I talked to are concerned about the possible loss of service, but just wait until they get wind of these racial problems!

If BART's unions are going to achieve any degree of credibility in this matter, they've got to have the police address their problems with racism and issue an apology to the black community. The unions have no right to threaten a strike that disproportionally harms the poor and minority after one of their own working partners, represented by two BART police workers, apparently expressed dislike for and then shot a man who was poor and African American, because was poor and African American.

If you want to keep up with the BART labor issue as it unfolds, I recommend you visit, a good and comprehensive website explaining just what's going on with the BART Strike and providing news updates.

San Francisco Happy Hour: Aventine is raging! (video)

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The evening of Friday June 26th started in a rather routine way for me: meeting friends after work at the outdoor patio setting that the restaurant Cafe Americano provides on the corner of Howard Street and The Embarcadero in San Francisco (now, yes, I live in Oakland but as any dweller knows, Oakland, San Francisco and all cities as far north as San Rafael and as far south as South San Francisco make up what I call "The Inner Bay Area": a place of with a population of 2 million people, one college town, Berkeley, and two downtowns in Oakland and San Francisco, both served by BART.  It's common to see the same people anywhere within the Inner Bay Area, from a Cal football game to Friday nights in San Francisco, or a concert at Oakland's Fox Theater.)

Paul, one of my associates who's always on the hunt for the ultimate party. knew of one and said "Let's head over to Aventine. It's going to be raging tonight." (For you older types, "raging" is a term used to decribe a well-attended event with a lot of dancing and socializing.) So he rounded up the group of us gents and we grabbed a cab over to 529 Washington Street, next to the TransAmerica Pyramid.

I'd never officially visited Aventine, so this was a treat. When we arrived I asked one of the owners Adam Snyder, if I could use my video camera to record the festivities there and he not only gave permission he opened the video with an introduction.


Aventine itself is a restaurant and bar I've not yet eaten at that shares series of blocks occupied by a number of good eateries and nightclubs which make up Jackson Square where San Francisco's Financial District ends and North Beach begins. With places like Bix, Kell's, and The Bubble Lounge near by, it's important to have an "angle" - something that draws people.

A Happy Hour in an alley

Aventine's revelers on Friday evening

The owners of Aventine took over an alley that connects Washington and Jackson streets, closed it off to traffic with the help of the San Francisco Police department, installed a set of turn tables operated by a disk jockey, added two bars and a pizza vendor, and encouraged non-profit neighborhood groups to set up places where party-goers could sign up to donate to their organizations. The result is a cross between a convention for do-gooders and a nightclub in the day, a street fair; and around 7 PM on a hot summer day like Friday was, the combination's electric, drawing a 1,000 people according to Snyder.

Michael Jackson, the amazing force of music talent, tragically passed the day before, so the record-spinner played a number of Jackson's best known hits: Billy Jean, Thriller, Pretty Young Thing, etc. At first, one or two people danced, most notably "D" who holds court with her rhythmically frenetic dancing, but eventually two turned to twenty, and twenty turned to 40, then 40 turned to 80. Now, I've attended a lot of street fairs, parties, and other events in San Francisco, and this one is one of the best I've seen. It's a perfect after work place to go to have good clean dancing fun.

Now some people don't like to dance, but my observation is once they have a few cocktails they start movin' and grovin' like there's no tomorrow, and badly. That was certainly the case for some at Aventine, but others like me just like to dance and need little excuse (or drink) to do so, especially since I just recovered from the worst flu of my life.  I was celebrating!

And for those who just like to socialize and not move their hips, there's the occasional only-in-San Francisco character to talk to. In Aventine's case, that person is the colorful "Emperor Norton" a uniformed chap who claims to own Mexico and California. Give him your attention and he'll write a bond for you he claims you can trade for money!

Aventine's Friday Happy Hour's a cool place for singles; the guy / gal ratio gets better - that is, even - as the night approaches, everyone's nice, and the folks are attractive (and the women who comes to Aventine look like models). But that written, it's San Francisco, so the event draws both Gay and straight and no one cares. We can thank the the energy of the event for that; there's just something, well, joyful about seeing people have fun. It's the best attraction element in the world.