THE FERGUSON EFFECT: You at least have to give the Coast Guard an “A” for effort. Too bad it didn’t work. I’m referring to the team of badass special ops the Coast Guard dispatched from Long Beach on April 8 to throw down against members of the Santa Barbara Yacht Club as they partook of their traditional Wet Wednesday race. We are led to believe that the Coast Guard was merely intent on enforcing a 500-yard buffer around the latest of 27 behemoth cruise ships that will anchor offshore this year. Some Wet Wednesday racers have charged they had mounted machine guns pointed at them by Coast Guard crew. For the record, the Coast Guard insists all mounted machine guns were pointed skyward at all times.
The event was unusual for a lot of reasons: No one remembers the Coast Guard providing this protection to a cruise ship before; no one ever heard of a 500-yard buffer before; and no one working the waterfront was notified by the Coast Guard that the 500-yard buffer had become law of the land. We are to believe that escalated concern over possible terrorist attacks precipitated this incident. There are more people in a given cruise ship, reporters were told sotto voce, than all the people killed during 9/11. The term “soft target,” likewise, has been much bandied about. I get it; three weeks ago, the ersatz city of Solvang, with its picturesque windmills — no, it’s not a town of miniature golf courses — was put on Red Alert in response to an alleged threat by the terrorist group ISIS. It turns out one of 100 U.S. armed service members ISIS put on its death list had family in Solvang. The idea of evildoers from ISIS going to the land of aebleskivers — apple-cinnamon balls dipped in pancake batter, deep-fried, and drizzled with liquid cheesecake — would be hilarious unless, of course, it was your name on the list. Solvang hadn’t seen so much law ’n’ order heat since last fall when four Bakersfield bunco artists sought to put counterfeit $100 bills into general circulation by placing multiple orders for aebleskivers.
It should be obvious to all that the Coast Guard was really attempting to subvert the escalating national dialogue now erupting over excessive use of force by police agencies. It’s become the story. You can’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the news without seeing yet another victim — pulverized, shot, or both — of what’s clinically referred to as “contagious violence” by law enforcement officers. That’s what happens to people — like 25-year-old Baltimore resident Freddie Gray — who make the mistake of running from cops. Initial accounts indicate that Gray’s spinal cord was 80 percent severed and his larynx crushed because the cops he encountered don’t like it when suspects try to flee. Gray, who had been popped twice recently for minor drug crimes, became the latest fatality incurred for “running while black.” If you’re white, it all started with Ferguson. If you’re not, all this qualifies as old news. Either way, thanks to smartphones, no cop can give out a parking ticket now without the occasion being memorialized.
By directing this unseemly display of military tumescence against the upper one percent — just say “Santa Barbara Yacht Club,” and you feel rich — the Coast Guard was hoping to demonstrate that all races and classes are at risk of random and capricious police action, not just the poor and nonwhites. The strategy, of course, failed. No one got shot, beaten, or keelhauled. Even though there were 61 boats in the water — ranging in size from 20-70 feet with crews of 2-20 — not one smartphone video of the outrage has yet to surface. As a result, the Ferguson Effect continues unabated. And for Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown, the Ferguson Effect could seriously undermine his efforts to build a new north county jail, long the Holy Grail of the Sheriff’s Department. Two years ago, only crackpots, crooks, and people who stared too long at the sun doubted the bleeding urgency of building a new jail. Now, such ambivalence has become downright respectable. For the last 40 years, America has been locking people up and throwing away the key. With Ferguson, the pendulum is starting to swing the other way. For some, it’s a matter of justice; for others, it’s a matter of cost.
Either way, the old way is no longer tenable. Ironically, Brown got further with the new jail than any of his predecessors because he could preach the touchy-feely gospel of anti-recidivism better than they could. But with jail booking rates for drug-related offenses plummeting by 50 percent in response to Prop. 47, which misdemeanor-ized many crimes previously charged as felonies, even God-fearing right-wingers from North County have adopted a sternly skeptical “verify but trust” attitude with Brown, rather than the other way around. If the Fergusson wind is blowing hard in Brown’s face, he’s also done a poor job ingratiating himself with the Board of Supervisors. They’ve grown weary of what they describe as the “mushroom treatment,” in which Brown reportedly keeps them in the dark and smothers them with BS. Two weeks ago, the supes held a public spank-a-thon as they unceremoniously took Brown to the woodshed. Now, they want to hold a special board meeting devoted exclusively to the jail. The supes expressed exasperation that two weeks ago Brown estimated it would cost $58 million a year to operate the two jails but this week said it would be more than $60 million. And how many jail beds do we actually need? It used to be 1,200. Now it’s 900. Given the new jail will take at least $17 million away from other county departments per year, the supervisors want solid numbers. And we have yet to hear what provisions will be made for the mentally ill, a crucial component to any new hoosegow.
In the meantime, steer clear of machine-gun-mounted Coast Guard dinghies. And remember, when the going gets tough, the tough eat aebleskivers.