"What's Driving Oakland's Robbery Epidemic?" Feature, 10/30
Rendering Robberies Unnecessary
We can put in all the kill switches, we can scratch up on all the phones, we can drench Oakland in a sea of cops, we can electrify all the fences. But Oakland will always be the city where my car gets broken into once a year, where people get mugged for their phones, where broken glass on the pavement fazes no one. At least it will be until people, at least most people, have a shot at the kind of employment that renders breaking into cars to survive unnecessary.
Anne-Marie Ross, Oakland
Eliminate Incentive to Steal
We've all seen the headlines about an uptick in burglaries and robberies in Oakland. How about going straight to the heart of the matter, where it all begins, with the young people snatching smartphones? Why would they do this when there are so many other opportunities? Or are there?
If we don't create some opportunities, or provide other avenues, it will only get worse. You will never be able to walk down the street with a smartphone, or step out of a nice car on the street. That is what you get in an atmosphere where the divide between the haves and the have-nots is as extreme as ours. These folks have been bumping up against each other in Oakland for decades now. It's just become more apparent lately, since some of us have gotten back to work quickly following the recent financial meltdown. Others languish in poverty, chasing after food stamps and other ways to simply survive. This huge disparity causes fear, envy, greed and resentment, along with a host of other ugly feelings, on both ends of the equation.
Creating jobs may be an answer, but how practical a goal is that? It's a very complicated proposition, to say the least. The biggest job creators are small businesses, but honestly, who goes into business with the goal of creating jobs?
My husband and I ran into financial trouble after layoffs a number of years ago. And, we found that if you are over forty it gets much tougher to replace that job, or start a new career (at least one that pays a living wage). So we got creative with our smartphones and started using Airbnb, TaskRabbit, and a number of other apps to bring in cash. It's the one thing that's allowed us to generate enough income to stay here in this city (Oakland) we love so much. And, as artists, musicians, grandparents, community activists, and more, I like to think we make an important contribution to our social fabric.
At any rate, the suggestion/plan is simple: hand out free smartphones and wi-fi to residents in low-income areas of Oakland, so they can do the same. As an added bonus, when we flood the market, the incentive to steal smartphones will no longer exist. Honestly, I bet many of your readers have old smartphones (read: last year's model) sitting in a drawer, following their upgrades to newer models. Why not pass it on to someone who could use it?
The wi-fi could come from any number of places, including folks like me, who are willing to share their unlimited data plans (mine comes through Sonic.net of Santa Rosa). Oh, there are also a few tech giants around, one of which is getting ready to put free wi-fi in San Francisco parks. Why not here?
We can do this, Oakland! We are a creative, resilient lot at both ends of the economic spectrum. So, rather than cluck on your mailing lists or sound the alarms, let's get creative and solve this problem. Americans like us are good at that, remember? (Note: If readers/others are interested in pursuing an initiative like this, feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or @justinetz on Twitter. Or, for the love of Oakland, please just take the idea and run with it!)
Justine tenZeldam, Oakland
"Scientists Criticize UC Berkeley's Ban on E-Cigs," News, 10/30
An Effective Smoking Substitute
I was a five-pack-a-day smoker for more than forty years. I can now say I am an ex-smoker and could not have done it without e-cigarettes.
I tried every other safe alternative on the market, and also those prescribed by my doctor, and failed. E-cigarettes have done what those didn't — they stopped my smoking habit.
Are they safer? From the true, unbiased research I have read I believe them to be 99 percent safer. All I truly know is I can breathe again, smell and taste things in a way I never could before, and no one tells me I smell like a ashtray anymore. Research has consistently shown that virtually all e-cigarette users are using them as a substitute for smoking. There are thousands of e-cigarette users who have benefited from the availability of e-cigarettes.
I also urge you to not give in to the pharmaceutical industry and various health groups and foundations that have a large financial stake in smoking prevention. Electronic cigarettes interfere with their financial bottom line.
Ben Brown, Baltimore, Maryland
An Alternative to Smoking
E-cigs are not smoking cessation devices. They are a great-tasting, healthier, safer, and better-smelling alternative to smoking. Let's get this straight — if we all start calling e-cigs "smoking cessation devices" then we will inevitably be fueling an unintentional fire that could result in the FDA regulating the sale of e-cigs as prescription drugs only sold in pharmacies. This is bad! This will kill the small e-cig retailer, and allow Big Pharma companies to take over.