Chronicle Columnist Thinks City Hall Belongs To Politicians, Not The People

Oakland City Council meeting Nov. 19.

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | ANALYSIS | There are times when even the most veteran of journalists drop their editorial guard and reveal exactly how they think. Most people in Oakland know San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson bends over backward for the police. But, why, does he consistently fill his columns with such a blatant pro-law and enforcement slant? One reason, most figure, is this is what the conservative editorial page of the Chronicle desires. The fact of the matter is getting your stories in the morning paper sometimes involves mirroring the boss’s ethos. That could be part of it. However, Johnson instead opened his ideological soul in Tuesday’s edition.

In a column meant to mock protesters of Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center during last week’s City Council meeting, Johnson backed the utility of blanketing the city in a surveillance state, of course, all in the name of public safety. The protesters who cry the center will eventually erode public privacy could theoretically be right, he opined, maybe somewhere down the line, but not likely. As he described the shouting and commotion brought on by opponents of the DAC following the council’s vote in favor and subsequent clearing of the council’s chambers, Johnson wrote:

Like a broken record, the scenario has played out again in Oakland City Hall. Oakland residents are pretty sick of it. I’m sick of it.

After nearly two years of being bullied in their own house, maybe City Council members finally got sick of it, too.

It’s no wonder Johnson thinks law and order deserves every implement in the tool shed to fight crime even though the Oakland Police Department has repeatedly shown in the past it defaults to trimming the bushes with a chainsaw rather than pruning shears. Chip Johnson thinks city government belongs to the politicians and not the people. Repeat that in your head. You simply cannot cover government with this frame of mind. This is the mindset of the affluent and the business community, which openly flaunts their perceived control of the political process.

Johnson’s column, in fact, should be about Council President Pat Kernighan stifling dissent last week that was really rather tame, if not merely annoying, when she ordered police to clear the chambers. This act is not something to be lauded by anyone. Kernighan should be embarrassed for her actions.

In addition, what firsthand information does Johnson possess when it comes to Oakland City Council meetings? I’ve been covering City Hall since last January and I’ve never seen him in council chambers. So, what is making him so sick about the whole scene? In fact, the real problem with his column Tuesday is, as a reader, I now believe his assertions about Oakland city government and its crime problem are merely anecdotal collections of extreme stories he has heard about living in Oakland, but nothing he has experienced or even jarringly felt in his reporter’s bones.

In this regard, the protesters of the DAC should be worried of someone like Johnson having such a bully pulpit. The best way to impose a police state is get the media involved. If Johnson and the rest of the local media repeatedly urge the public to be fearful, then they will. Eventually, the incessant barrage of crime stories will affect reality. Before you know it, having every movement you make become subject to review by police won’t seem like such a horrible bargain. It might even save you from yourself.

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