Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What really happened in Oakland in '89?

I was having lunch today with a guy from California when the subject of San Francisco came up.

I mentioned the last time I was in the Bay Area was to cover the San Francisco earthquake as a newspaper reporter. That was in 1989.

The paper had sent two reporters to the scene. The reporter that was traveling with me ended up covering the San Francisco angle; I wanted to go to Oakland, where several miles of a double-decker freeway had collapsed, killing many people in their vehicles.

My lunch companion was living in Northern California back then, near the epicenter of the quake, and he asked me if I knew a particular person.

I didn't recognize the name and said no. He said the guy was a police chief in a fairly large city south of San Francisco and that he knew him quite well.

He said this police chief, as well as other law enforcement officers he knew that were living outside the Bay Area, ended up going into Oakland and San Francisco to provide support after the earthquake.

Then he goes on to ask if, when I was covering the story, anyone said anything about Oakland's inner-city residents hoisting children up to the collapsed double-decker freeway so they could loot the bodies and vehicles of the deceased, which sat entombed for quite a long time due before they ever were recovered.

Nope, I never heard that, I told him. Did that ever get in the media, I asked?

He said he never saw it reported and that his law enforcement friends told him they purposely kept it from the media for fear it would spark a "race riot."

He said several police officers confirmed this to him, then, curiously, he added that he had "mixed feelings" about the matter, saying most people don't understand how desperately poor much of inner city Oakland is.

I didn't repond to that, but thought to myself, "Well, I don't care how poor you are, robbing the dead is just plain wrong."

I'm simple-minded like that, I guess.

Of course, I have no idea if there really was any such looting during that tragedy, which killed a lot of people and destroyed untold millions worth of property. Maybe it's an urban legend. Maybe not.

Maybe that'd make a good story for some enterprising journalist to look back on. Let's see, the 20-year anniversary of the '89 quake is only three years away. That should be enough time to put together something on that.

I'm not volunteering for that assignment, mind you.

I'm just a simple blogkeeper now.

But it just occurred to me who might want to take it on.

The newspaper reporter who accompanied me on that trip was none other than Major Garrett, now a star Fox News Channel reporter in our nation's capital.

Calling Major Garrett, calling Major Garrett.

Major, have we got a story for you ...

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