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Webb of Suspicion: Did Gary Webb kill himself? And will the mainstream learn anything from his death?


Dark Alliance

Why is former San Jose Mercury News reporter GARY WEBB dead? Webb is the journalist who wrote a series of articles in the mid-'90s in the Merc that stunned the world and forced a long overdue investigation of a very sobering chapter of U.S. foreign policy when he revealed how a NorCal drug ring sold crack to street gangs in Los Angeles throughout the '80s and then shipped the profits to the Nicaraguan Contras--all with the endorsement of the CIA. He later explored the subject further in his book Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion.

Webb, 49, was found dead on Dec. 10 at his home in the Sacramento area of gunshot wounds to the head. Authorities say Webb appears to have shot himself, but Nüz guarantees you'll find plenty of people over the next few weeks who believe otherwise. If the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter did do himself in, the mainstream media should take a good hard look at what role it may have played. Especially the Merc, which refused to back his stories when other mainstream media outlets began attacking them, and then banished him to the Silicon Valley equivalent of Siberia. What a crock of shit, if you'll excuse our language, especially since the CIA later owned up to many of the very things Webb reported--and even worse things, mind you--in their inspector general's 1998 report. As you might guess, many newspapers which had demonized Webb refused to report the CIA's admission of guilt.

Whatever the reasons for Webb's death, his life's work prompted probes by the CIA and the U.S. Justice Department that confirmed that scores of Contra units and Contra-connected individuals were implicated in the drug trade--and that the Reagan-Bush administration had previously frustrated investigations into those crimes for geopolitical reasons.

Webb's work also unwittingly revealed another grave and ongoing problem--the callous and cowardly incompetence of the major U.S. news media. Indeed, the best we can hope to come of his death is that other journalists will (a) be inspired to investigate his "suicide" and (b) be inspired to live up to his standards of journalism.

Meanwhile, locals can take comfort in the fact that here in the Cruz, Webb was much admired. When he came to the CAPITOLA BOOK CAFÉ in August 1998 to promote Dark Alliance, 80 people showed up and bought 32 copies of his work. Says JENN RAMAGE, who was the bookstore's events coordinator at the time, about local reaction to Webb's work: "Our community responded with fists raised and a steadfast demand for justice. People, at least 15, taped his talk. Customers familiar with the particulars of the Contra/cocaine connection asked pointed, detailed questions. [Webb] was personable, professional and thoroughly accommodating. A great speaker and a genuine person."

A Safer Place

Ever since a string of sexual assaults occurred downtown, along with reports of increased sexual harassment, Nüz has anxiously awaited news of a community-based response to dealing with such attacks, one that would leave women--and men for that matter--who work, live, shop and hang out downtown--feeling safer.

Now it seems that our wish is about to be fulfilled, at least in part. According to UCSC'S RAPE PREVENTION CENTER director GILLIAN GREENSITE, the city's COMMISSION FOR THE PREVENTION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN is relaunching its SAFE PLACE network. This is a system whereby women, who feel threatened, in danger or uncomfortable can go to any business with a Safe Place logo in its window, and call a friend, the police or WOMEN'S CRISIS SUPPORT.

As Greensite explains, "We have to create safe places, so women don't have to endure the typical male harassment on the street, let alone anything more dangerous. We need to send a message as a community that such behavior will not be tolerated, whether we do so by telling a harasser to 'Cut it Out' or by calling the police."

As for suggestions following last fall's attacks, namely that women not go out alone at night, Greensite says that isn't Safe Place's attitude. "We've approached this from the perspective that it's the perpetrator's behavior that needs commenting on, not the women's."

Lest anyone doubts the need for such a system, Greensite notes that our city's rate of reported rapes is "off the map," seeing as it's almost the same as that of Salinas, which has triple our population.

"This is particularly disturbing given that, nationally, sexual assaults have dropped," Greensite says.

Not in Our Name

Meanwhile, the Women's Crisis Support Center reports having nothing to do with a flier posted across town last week that not only accused a local resident of being "a dangerous sexual predator" but also listed the center's phone number--a reportedly unauthorized step that found the center's staff flooded with calls and worried. As one staffer put it, "We'd never put up something like that, in part because of issues of liability. And because of this flier, we're like, 'great, so, now this guy is gonna turn up at our door?"

As for who did post the flier, SCPD's Sgt. BRAD GOODWIN reports that, as of presstime, "We don't know who put it up. We have no cases in which this fellow was a suspect, and he has no criminal history."

For information on the city's free self-defense classes, call 831.420.5250. For safety info, call UCSC'S Rape prevention Center (831.459.2721), The Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (831.420.6298) or Women's Crisis Support (831.685.3737).

Diary of a Blue Maquette

A maquette, in case you're wondering, is not something you play croquet with, but a small model of an intended work. And now you can see a maquette in the making, thanks to SANTA CRUZ INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS director KIRBY SCUDDER, who's spending the month of December living in the ? GALLERY where he's making a miniature replica of downtown Santa Cruz' SoWat (South of Water Street Arts district) in an effort to ask questions that currently face Santa Cruz (and the world), about community building.

Scudder recalls thinking, "There's no way I'll be able to do this," on day one of his project as he eyeballed the empty gallery space and a whole lot of Cobalt blue foam-core, which is what he's using as building blocks, with blue being for Vishuddha or the Fifth Chakrah. By day seven, he was thinking, "God built the universe in a week, so what's my problem?" and had already built models of each building.

"It's all about metaphor," says Scudder, who's been building an art community with monosyllabicl Chip all year and invites y'all to come on down and answer two questions: "What role can each of us play in the development of a proactive community for the future?" and "What measures would you suggest could best accomplish that?"

Responses will be posted on the SCICA website and hung in the gallery in December, then crumpled up to serve as foundation fill for the buildings. So come on down and give Scudder some input/infill, whydoncha?

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at nuz@metcruz.com, or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the December 15-22, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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