Letters to the editor: Oct. 12

Officer causes unnecessary scene in Downtown Berkeley during event

A small, quiet crowd gathered near Center Street and Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley on Sunday, Oct. 7, watching a group of artists sketch and fill in a large chalk representation of “The Last Supper,” a painting by Leonardo da Vinci of Jesus eating at a table with his disciples. Across the top was the statement, “Let Us Sit Together and Break Bread.”

It was a colorful, visual protest against the proposed anti-sitting law, Measure S, which is on Berkeley’s ballot in the coming election. But nobody had to know much about politics to appreciate the work of the patient, talented artists slowly bringing a work of art to life. The fact that this detailed work of chalk would be washed away in a matter of days either by maintenance workers or the elements added to its beauty.

A young woman stood nearby watching in quiet awe. The artists were swift and sure in their movements. They had marked the brick plaza into segments to help keep the perspective true as they turned a small photograph of the painting into the large, color-filled, 35-by- 25-foot mural.

The young woman angled herself discretely behind the working artists, who moved constantly from a standing position to their knees, working sometimes with their fingers to blend the colors to create flesh tones and folds of fabric. She wasn’t drinking. She wasn’t smoking. She wasn’t speaking. She was standing, watching, smiling in admiration like the rest of us.
A Berkeley Police Department officer singled her out of the crowd and instructed her to relocate closer to him. She did. He began scribbling detail on a form, and she stood quietly near him, distressed but compliant. A couple of us moved closer to make sure she was okay.

The officer instructed her to take off her jacket, although the day was cold and her blouse was sleeveless. She did. He told her to move her belongings two more feet closer to him. She did. He raised his voice as he ordered her around and inspected her things. Her thin arms were shaking, but she complied with all of his brusque, officious, overly loud, somewhat angry instructions.

He then told the whole crowd, loudly, that she was on probation, and continued to describe her legal situation in a gratuitously loud fashion. I finally spoke up, asking why he was making an announcement to the whole crowd about her private business.  He just kept talking loudly, telling me he wasn’t talking to me but making sure everyone there could hear what he said to her.

The website of Berkeley Police Department states that “BPD cannot release probation or parole status.” But this officer did exactly that in a loud voice in arguably the most public, well-traveled plaza in Berkeley. There appeared to be no reason on Earth to interrupt this beautiful, peaceful moment of shared pleasure in the artwork unfolding before us.
When the officer finally left, we hugged each other. The young woman cried a little, but she was okay. I told her how strong and clear-headed she seemed, even in the middle of such a trying moment, which seemed to me to be a pointless effort to publicly humiliate her.

Others in the crowd said the officer was just that way. There is no operative complaint system anymore in Berkeley, so there is little anyone can do but stand by and watch in amazed outrage.

The young woman was just glad it was over. When I complimented her on being so strong, all she said was, “Yes. You have to be.”

— Carol Denney,
Berkeley resident


Nextbus website should be more accurate with AC Transit schedule

Ever have the experience of seeing on “next bus” — which is supposed to predict the arrival of the next bus — stating “45 minutes” (for lines that run frequently such as the 51B) or something ridiculous like that? While the next bus predictor is by no means perfect, it points to another serious issue: the lack of punctuality in the AC Transit bus system. Sure, it’s very convenient to have a Class Pass the allows you to travel wherever AC Transit goes, but AC Transit has consistently disappointed me with its on time performance.

Similar to a call number system in libraries, the bus schedule is in place for a reason. If you don’t follow it, you might as well not have it in the first place. With AC Transit, being late is the rule rather than the exception. I can’t tell you how many times I waited for the bus and the bus came either too early or too late or not at all. Furthermore, it’s probably not a novel sight for you to see three or even four 1, 1R or 51B buses one after another. Just as I think I have the perfect itinerary — arriving at BART with five minutes to spare — AC Transit ruins my plans. This has created considerable stress, especially when I plan to travel to the airport with AC Transit as one of the intermediaries. If AC Transit can’t keep to a schedule, what’s the point of having it?

Of course, it is understandable that sometimes there is unpredictable traffic or that handicapped passengers may need more time. However, it seems to me the majority of the bus drivers do not take on time performance seriously. Even when a bus is running 10 to 15 minutes late, the driver is, more often than not, still nonchalantly chatting with a passenger or a fellow bus driver at a stop — this seems unacceptable to me. Most airlines now have on time performance record so you can check how likely you will land on time — not likely. There are even rankings for the best on-time performance records. If such a system were in place, how would AC Transit fare?

To end with an anecdote, in Germany — where punctuality is a virtue — I have seen on multiple occasions where passengers complain to the bus driver for being a few minutes late. They argue that people rely on the schedule to plan their journey, and a late bus puts passengers in a stressful situation since they may miss the train, be late to a meeting, etc. Can you imagine confronting an AC Transit bus driver about why it’s late?

Neither can I.

— Tony H. Lin,
Doctoral candidate, UC Berkeley department of Slavic languages and

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