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May 2-8, 2007

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Cinco de Mayo: Party With Your Pants On

"It's like you have 400,000 people all over the place, all drunk," says a security guard at Legacy on Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose. That's what it's been like working Cinco de Mayo in past years. "It's tough," he says. "I just wanna lock myself up inside on nights like that." Not, it should be noted, the best tactic for fighting crime. But maybe understandable, considering San Jose is known for doing up Cinco de Mayo—which, in case you someday end up on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?, commemorates the victory of Mexican forces over French occupation in the Battle of Puebla in 1862—like possibly nowhere else in the country. But the giant citywide party has also become known for drunken revelry, violence and an overwhelming police presence. In 2003, Vicente Yuen, 18, was killed during a clash following a San Jose Cinco de Mayo celebration, and last year was marked not only by 62 arrests, but also charges of police brutality at King and Story roads. UC-Berkeley senior Jake Gelender was arrested last year at King and Story, and this year, as a member of Berkeley Copwatch, he's part of a plan to keep roving groups with video cameras, camera phones and other recording devices to monitor police action. They're not just assuming there's going to be naughty cop action to document; the group thinks its presence can actually have a calming effect, perhaps encouraging civilian crowds as well as law enforcement to be on their best behavior. "We just want the community to keep watch of what police are doing in an organized, nonaggressive kind of way," he says. The police, for their part, have also clearly had it with irresponsible revelers who give the Cinco de Mayo celebration a bad name, and they're letting everyone know in advance that "safe and sane" is not just a good idea—it's the law. "The bottom line is we're not going to cut people breaks," says the SJPD's Sgt. Nick Muyo. "If you're downtown breaking the law, you're gonna get a citation or you're gonna get arrested."

Good News for People Who Read Bad News

It's not just the impending Fifth of May—there's definitely been an edgy vibe around town as of late. At Trial's Pub on North Second Street in San Jose last Saturday night, it was nearing midnight when an SJSU student named Lola rather calmly told Fly she was scared to go outside, scared to speak with people, scared to go to class in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre. "If this is a culture of fear," she said, "it's definitely part of who I am, and I can't seem to shake it." The very next day, top headlines on Yahoo! News included 'Fiery crash collapses Bay Area freeway,' "Four dead after violence in Kansas City" and "Iraqi leader warns Iran of terror threat." But just when you think absolutely everything that can go wrong will, you remember the guy who drove his truck off a 200-foot cliff in the Santa Cruz Mountains and lived. That's right, on April 4, 41-year-old Scotts Valley resident Gary Valdez drove his Jeep Cherokee off a mountain, fell 200 feet through the air, was taken to the hospital and then released on his freaking own recognizance. When it starts seeming like the End Times, it's nice to know any of us can occasionally still get a cosmic 'Get out of Jail Free' card. Thanks, Gary!

Senior Moment

Metro's stories about Sen. Dianne Feinstein's past conflicts of interest on the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee, and her resignation from it, have blown up in a big way in the last few weeks, as the national media finally catches up. In the process, it's turned Metro into a flashpoint for national opinion on the senator, as letters, emails and phone calls have poured into the newsroom from all over the country. Many call about their own troubles with Feinstein, like Jodi Reed, from California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA). She told Fly about a Valentine's Day rally gone very wrong at Feinstein's office, held to protest her co-sponsoring of U.S. Congress bill S. 355 with Republican Pete Domenici of New Mexico. The bill, Reed says, provides fertile avenues for Dubya to privatize Social Security, and generally throws cash willy-nilly to companies who shouldn't be funded by the federal government. Reid and her co-conspirators encouraged CARA members to write letters (Valentine's Day cards that said "Have a heart!") and to show up at Feinstein's Bay Area office to raise as much nonviolent, peaceful hell as retired workers can muster at 11 in the morning on a Wednesday. So they did. And apparently they were met by hoards of police officers, Homeland Security officers, SWAT teams and lots of other law enforcement types. "What's going on?" Reed says she asked an officer on duty. He responded: "We're here to keep things in order for a major protest." When Reed told the officer that she expected, oh, about 10 old people to show up with Valentine's Day cards, the officer expressed some serious annoyance at being called there in the first place, and pulled out the troops. Reed says Feinstein's office was responsible for the heavy-handed response, but Feinstein rep Scott Gerber says he has no idea what she's talking about. "Our office," he said, "did not contact the San Francisco Police Department or any federal agency regarding this demonstration." Feinstein enthusiasts, keep those cards and letters coming!

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