Big Brother

| | No Comments »

When I was a child, born in San Francisco, then moving with my parents and little sister to Oakland, California when I was six years-old, life was much different than it is today.  I can only recall one “Supermarket,” that being QFI, located in Stonestown in the City.  I would guess Stonestown was the first grouping of retail stores which was the forefront to the shopping malls we now frequent.

In Oakland, my parents rented a home my grandparents purchased for $17,000.00.  Our home was located in the Redwood Heights neighborhood on Monterey Boulevard, near 35th Avenue.  At the time, 35th Avenue was like many other major streets in Oakland, serving their neighborhoods.  Before Supermarkets anchored Shopping Centers, neighborhoods had small, independently owned markets and other small businesses which provided to the needs of those who lived nearby.

At the corner of Monterey Boulevard and 35th Avenue we had a gas station.  Directly across the street was the Town and Country Market.  Crossing Monterey Boulevard, there was Parr’s Drug store, Redwood Heights Market, a shoe repair shop and a barber shop.

Both Markets had independent butcher shops, a limited produce section, and a few rows of can goods, cereals, and sundries.  The last corner had a liquor store/home combo, which later turned into a Real Estate Office.  Although two crossing streets separated the markets, those who lived on the Town and Country Market side seemed to buy their groceries there, the other side of the street went to the Redwood Heights Market.

Parr’s Drug Store had an ice cream fountain, which sat six people.  A magazine/comic book section, greeting cards, grooming products, and over-the-counter medications.  At the back of the store, was the pharmacy.  Every night, when Mr. Parr closed his store, he would drive throughout the neighborhood delivering prescribed medication(s) to the front doors of his customers.

Everybody knew everybody, it was a great time to be a kid.  Days during the summer were filled riding bicycles, playing kick ball, dodge ball, and baseball.  Duncan Yo Yo’s, Hulahoops, roller rinks, and bowling alleys also became favorites for children of all ages.  As this 64 year-old writer vividly recalls his childhood, the memories bring back a time of innocence.

Doors were rarely locked during the day.  Warm days found front doors open, with screen doors in their place.  A far cry from the Oakland of today.  Although there are nice areas, primarily in the Oakland hills, Oakland is basically a war zone.

Once a place where children played in the streets and parks, the criminal element has taken control, rendering the streets and parks unsafe, turning them into virtual combat zones.  Wrought Iron fences, Cyclone fences topped with Concertina Wire, roll-up steel doors not only protect businesses, but individual residences throughout the city.  Gang graffiti is seemingly everywhere.

Violence and/or the threat of violence has paralyzed many neighborhoods, so much so people fear for their lives when leaving their well entrenched homes or businesses.  Confrontations often intensify into violent acts, some ending in death.  Recently, in the Fruitvale District, a mother pushing her daughter in stroller was confronted by two adult males.

They held the mother and toddler at gun point, robbing the little girl of her gold pierced earrings and gold necklace.  The robbery took place on Fruitvale Avenue, a highly traveled street, mid-morning, witnessed by many.  The description was vague at best, the fear of retaliation, very evident.

As a teenager, the Fruitvale District provided many different forms of recreation.  There was Diamond Park with tennis courts and a swimming pool, a bowling alley was near the park, we even found a bar called the Diamond Club that would serve beer to us underage kids.  My first real love, Sandy Nelson, lived on Capp Street, a few blocks east of Fruitvale Avenue.

There was a Café called Ann’s that was frequented throughout the day by Oakland police officers.  The restaurant was really tiny, and people would literally stand in line outside because the food was great, the portions huge, and Ann was a real character.     She knew everyone and talked to everyone as she worked, an amazing place, but very typical of the various neighborhoods throughout Oakland in the fifties and early sixties.

At age 14, I was in the ninth grade at Bret Harte Junior High School, located at the corner of Coolidge Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard.  I was not the best student, but I excelled at sports, playing football and baseball for the school.  Again, it was a good time to be a kid, but something happened which would change the way of life for all of us.

Drugs began making their way into the lives of children and young adults.  Two students from Bret Harte, aged 13 and 14, were involved in a marijuana drug deal.  Apparently, the 14 year-old was “Fronted” a five dollars baggy of weed.

The 14 year-old smoked the dope, but did not have the five bucks to pay the 13

year-old drug dealer.  When confronted, with no money or drugs, the 13 year-old shot and killed the 14 year-old.  To me, that was the day that change my life, the innocense was ripped away, replaced by a violence I thought was only in the movies.

The harsh reality was further reinforced when a neighborhood kid, 16 years-old, shot and killed his father.  It was said that the father simply asked his son to “Take-out the garbage.”  Decades ago, such a shooting would seem unfathomable, but in today’s climate, many murders are committed with no rational reasoning.

Seemingly, people from all walks of life, even children, are at the mercy of drug crazed individuals, or worse yet, people who just do not give a damn about human life.  Tourists from lands far away have been shot and killed because they got caught in the middle of two rival gangs where shots were fired.  How do you explain a nine-year-old girl shot dead, by a stray bullet, fired from a gang-banger, during a drive-by shooting that missed the their intended target, but found the young girl as she slept in her bed.

When the unthinkable became a daily reality, when homes and businesses became fortresses, when it became very evident the authorities could not protect their citizens, we began, as a society, to lose are individual rights.  Big Brother, post 9-11, began to “Protect” us in ways that virtually follows everyone’s movements.  Beginning at our airports, security levels began to flow into all aspects of our normal, daily lives.

As a retired deputy sheriff, I know first-hand that all weapons cannot be found with metal detectors.  Hence, I suppose the x-ray machines at airports were deemed the answer.  However, been seen naked, patting-down toddlers, searching senior citizens in wheelchairs, basically dehumanizing each of us, has become the norm.

Although, certain measures of security must be taken, the effects now in place seem to humiliate rather than protect.  Those who fly are required to give up their Constitutional Rights that many fought and died to instill a freedom for all who call this nation home.  While each passenger is regarded a terrorist until proved not, I am told that 80% of the cargo, in the belly of the aircraft, is not x-rayed.

Is it the governments position to subject travelers to encounter such scrutiny, while no identification for delivery drivers/vehicles and/or cargo is forced to endure the same type of searches.  It is as though the powers to be, feel if they make our lives miserable enough, we will feel safe.

Going back to my childhood-stomping ground, the Fruitvale District has become so violent, that state-of-the-art cameras monitor, capture, and record all movements throughout the area.  Criminal activities, with a penchant for violence, has forced this area into a deeply channeled and chronicled neighborhood.  Have the cameras curtailed the violence?  No, but it has rendered all citizens the same close watching that predators deserve.

An Appellate Court, in California, is reviewing an appeal that cameras, in fact, proved to be the convicting link for three men tried and convicted of murder.  Usually, witnesses, physical evidence, search-warrants, are part of the criminal process.  The challenge being, can the police view everything, record everyone’s movements, without a warrant?

Although, there is no doubt in my mind these three young men did conspire and/or commit the crimes they were convicted of, but were their Constitutional Rights violated during the criminal investigative process?  Cameras are placed in high crime areas, but whom do they serve?  Drive-bys, murders, rapes, a multitude of vicious crimes still continue, but the cameras have encapsulated all of us.

Being treated as a terrorist or criminal has become the fashion of today’s investigation/prevention of terrorists and criminal activity.  Being virtually

stripped-search, patted-down with your genitals/breasts being groped has eclipsed what I was instructed as proper searching techniques as a young deputy sheriff.  If I suspected an arrested or jailed individual was concealing something within their body cavities, I needed a search warrant to have them x-rayed.

Today it is a common practice.  Has safety precautions gone to far?  Do I feel safer, more protected?  Yes.  No.  I do not know what the answer is, but I wish my grandchildren would have been able to know the type of childhood I was able to experience, and experience the same carefree aura.

FYI:  I am not an attorney, but I wish to pass this tip onto you.  With the advances of cellular telephones, many which mimic our home computers, authorities can search your phone, synching with your computer to see what you have been up to.  To search your home/office computer, police need a warrant.  Take care . . .

Leave a Reply