Getting Away With Murder Covering a Murder in Berkeley
by Steed Dropout
March 9, 2010
EIGHT HOURS AND ONE MORE ANTI-ANXIETY PILL
It took me eight hours or more, and one anti-anxiety pill.
But by God I submitted my murder in the Berkeley Hills story at 6:15 p.m. Friday — it feels like Saturday — March 9, 2012.
There’s not much murder in the story, except between the lines.
I awoke at an hour when I’d usually be able to sit right down at the keyboard, and pound one out. But it wasn’t happening. I thought I’d gone dry, and here I had all this material.
Maybe that was the problem. Too many notes. I’m experimenting with from-their-mouths-to-your-notes note taking. I almost injured my wrist writing so fast, and I still lost key phrases. My mom always said to take shorthand.
Moreover I was having a mild transient panic attack because I knew just what information I was lacking to do the piece. My lacks were jacking me around. I frantically called friends, who had attended the same meeting I wanted to write about.
I called the police.
I went on-line to see if any of the major media had filed anything I could filch. They hadn’t. No-one had written my story, nor was there anything in theirs I could use. All the difficult aspects of the story I dreaded to assemble — they avoided.
I consulted my notes. They were unreadable — worse they were too copious except where they trailed off at crucial points.
That’s when I reached for the pill.
By noon, I was sluggishly working out my first angle, that Berkeley police had quelled an unruly mob at a community forum questioning the police response to a murder in the exclusive Tilden Park Hills Neighborhood. That angle bordered on hyperbole, but I dig hyperbole, because I’m often hyper, when I’m not being bummed.
I could always tone it down in my fifth edit.
THE POLICE HELPED ME GET THE NAMES RIGHT
The police helped me get the right names, duties, and ranks of the police personnel who spoke at the community forum.
My notes puzzled me because they were linear. Usually I jot down quotes — or note my own observations. Most of the time I remember what I need to support my structure and thesis.
Two hours in, I abandoned my notes. I could refer to them later.
My headline called the meeting a raucous mob, for the way they had mouthed off as the meeting convened. But that was before the chief played them. Played is when a charming cop goes over on you.
We have cops so charming in Berkeley, they could talk you out of your girlfriend or wife.
Our chief is the charmer-in-chief.
That was my second angle. The majors are lucky to get one decent angle.
Then there was the angle on whether Occupy had killed the man in the hills, by marching into town, distracting cops from the murder.
That’s not what really happened. But it was reported — angle three.
Hold on, Steed, you’re saying you’ve been writing for the Planet for four years, and you were a cub reporter for the Illinois State Journal-Register in 1958-59. You studied journalism at the University of Illinois (B.S.), worked on the Daily Illini, and Champagne-Urbana Courier (fired).
I wouldn’t go so far as to agree with Dr. Tim Vicious, a wanna be shrink, who thinks I’m deluding myself that I’m a reporter, but I will say that I’m learning on the job.
That’s because I talked my way out of a college reporting course. The reporting I did as a kid didn’t prepare me for the Berkeley Daily Planet, and competition with the majors.
At my hometown paper, I was a re-write man. That’s where I learned to write, but didn’t learn how to report. Rather than go back to school, I decided to learn on the job, with the help of my Berkeley Daily Planet editor, who makes me edit myself, but advises me on reporting.
HILLS MURDER WAS SO COMPLEX
In the Hills Murder forum, there were complex timelines, and complex situations.
There were three squads of police. One squad was held over after it was scheduled to go off duty. No wonder they drove by protesters at 11:30 a.m. giving them twelve stink eyes.
Three squads, three cars, twenty cars at San Pablo and University. One squad car staking out the protesters, as police were briefed back at the station.
Who says I’m not Superman at the Berkeley Daily Planet. Apparently I’ve got X-Ray vision. I can undress Lois Lane. But you knew that.
The timeline: At 9:01 Cukor’s wife reported her husband was being attacked by the prowler. “A sizable number of officers was dispatched,” according to the chief — at 9:02, and arrived at 9:12. “It can take ten minutes for cars to get up there,” he said.
I hope I got that right.
Should the victim have stayed inside the house? “Possibly,” the dispatcher said, but “we don’t advise on that. It’s your choice. There are situations where barricading yourself in a back room might be effective,” but in other situations going to a neighbor’s might be a better idea.
The dispatcher said Berkeley gets 1,000 “suspicious persons reports each year. If we didn’t prioritized those, we would have to divert police service from possibly more dangerous situations.”
BR HOLDS YOUR LIFE IN OUR HANDS
My last angle was my obligation to advise my readers how to save their lives. Which police number to call, what to say. What intonation. How to be sure the police would come. What if you hesitate to call your situation an emergency.
We tried to get it right. That, too, turns out to be complicated. Should you leave your house if a psycho is trespassing, and poised to murder you, or should you barricade (trap) yourself in your home, waiting to be slaughtered.
What would Superman say, and how would Clark Kent report it at the [Berkeley] Daily Planet?
Berkeley police post instructions for dealing with most potentially dangerous situations on their website.
Good luck, Berkeleyans. You can reside in three million dollar homes bordering a 2,700 acre nature reserve, but what if a psycho knocks on your door?
Should you sound frantic when you call the police. The murder victim had not.
Should the victim have sounded frantic to get attention?
Dispatchers are less interested in emotion than they are in getting the details of the complaint, according to a dispatcher, who spoke at the public meeting.
Should the victim have stayed inside the house? “Possibly,” police said, but “we don’t advise on that. It’s your choice. There are situations where barricading yourself in a back room might be effective,” but in other situations going to a neighbor’s might be a better idea, the dispatcher said.
Steed Dropout went all out for his latest Berkeley Daily Planet piece on the Murder in the Hills story.