Coast Notes (June 17, 2020)

FORT… ???

America has once again discovered the "other" Fort Bragg  — the one in California that was somehow named for a Confederate general before the Civil War even started. Braxton Bragg was in fact the losingest general of the Civil War. He was also a hero of the Mexican American War, who rode, missing an arm he lost on the way, at the head of a victorious American army as it entered and conquered Mexico City.

But it is not the conqueror of Mexico  — who Fort Bragg, California was actually named after  — who is being objected to. The town's many residents of Mexican descent are apparently indifferent. It is the loser Confederate general and slave owner who is getting people's goat, as it did in 2018 when a hue and cry rose and quickly fell in the State Capitol to change Fort Bragg's name and presumably absolve people in towns with names like Belvedere and Sacramento of their racial sins.

The fact that Fort Bragg was the core of the Mendocino Indian Reservation and, if one wants to talk about human rights, that it might make sense to start at the beginning, with those massacres, human cattle drives and pre-modern concentration camps without which there would have been no Civil War to fight, nor Old Glory to wave, nor Union or Confederate heroes to jeer or mourn, has not yet been brought into the wider debate.

The Fort Bragg City Council will take up the name change issue at its June 22 meeting. They were going to discuss the city's devastated and critical budget for the coming year, but that will have to wait. Fort Bragg City Manager Tabatha Miller said Monday the entire meeting will be devoted to the name-change question, so that the anticipated large number of people there will get a chance to speak and listen. Miller said that, by Monday, City Clerk June Lemos had received 60 official comments on changing Fort Bragg's name, with numerous other emails and phone calls expressing strongly held opinions. Vice Mayor Bernie Norvell said he has been deluged with comments and was called a few choice names over the weekend by various online crusaders for justice. Mayor Will Lee  — whose last name has landed him the unfortunate moniker “General” Lee for the duration of this debate at least  — decided to put the item on the June 22 agenda after seeing growing concern  — most of it, he acknowledged, from out of town  — over Fort Bragg's name commemorating a Civil War general. Dueling petitions popped up, with the anti-name-change contingent far in the lead on Monday afternoon.

City officials are compiling information on the costs that would be associated with a name change  — everything from police badges to insurance policies. Norvell suggested Monday that the issue be left to the people of the town, to see if enough signatures can be gathered for a future ballot initiative. "It shouldn't be the city council's call," he said.

The June 22 meeting will be the first in-person council session since the COVID-19 lockdown started. Only 10-15 people will be allowed into Town Hall at a time to comply with distancing and public health guidelines. Miller said attendees will be “cycled through” periodically and a loudspeaker will be set up in the plaza next to Town Hall so that people outside can hear the proceedings.

Mayor  — not General  — Lee was reportedly scheduled to speak with San Francisco's Channel 7 News on Monday night. The Sacramento Bee and S.F. Chronicle, both with real police and racial violence issues to address in their own communities, have shown a rekindled interest in their small, retro neighbor to the north, normally relegated to their Travel sections. Braxton Bragg is ready for his close-up.

DEMONSTRATIONS CONTINUE

A late afternoon demonstration honoring George Floyd and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and police accountability nationwide Juneteenth, the day commemorating then end of legal slavery in the United States, materialized along Main Street near Fort Bragg's Town Hall June 14.

Like the pair of demonstrations earlier in the week, the event was lively, musical and peaceful, with participants mainly young. The event, in fact, was organized by an impromptu local youth group working at keeping a local focus on racial justice and police accountability in all kinds of communities.

Demonstrators garnered mostly honks and cheers, but braved rude comments, a revving, Confederate-flag draped truck, and various physical gestures including choking motions, from a few aggrieved passersby. That, along with online threats and insults, according to at least one organizer of earlier events, is all that whatever local opposition that exists to the ongoing protest movement can muster.

TRAFFIC NIGHTMARE

Few events on the Mendocino Coast warrant the label "traffic nightmare," but the war zone that unfolded along Highway 1 north of Fort Bragg Monday morning certainly qualified.

Waits of up to 45 minutes, traffic backed up through five Main Street intersections, columns of stopped cars nearly a mile long between Fort Bragg and Cleone  — these were but a few of the delights that accompanied a normally very quiet Monday morning commute. By evening, the scene was worse: a CHP officer was out of his car directing traffic at the north end of town, while a Fort Bragg police car sat in the middle of Main Street downtown keeping an eye on merging, fuming drivers.

A Caltrans representative couldn’t be reached Monday. The project, which appears to span miles of Highway 1 nearly to Cleone, was notified thus in Caltrans weekly road report:

“Route 1 (62.2/79.8) – Grinding and paving roadwork from Pudding Creek to De Haven Creek beginning Monday, June 15. One-way traffic control will be in effect from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Motorists should anticipate 15-minute delays. LC#C1KA”

MILA PROBE

Mila

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office investigation into the stabbing death of Harry Mila on North Harbor Drive just outside Fort Bragg city limits May 17 is progressing, Sheriff Matt Kendall said Monday. Mila was a known gang member who returned to Fort Bragg after a stint in prison and was suspected by local law enforcement of instigating several shooting incidents over the past couple of years in which local youth fired into houses and cars, in a couple of cases narrowly missing residents. Mila was arrested on a parole violation in spring 2019 shortly after one of the incidents and was on the radar of local law enforcement when he was killed in an alleged knife attack in which three other men were seriously wounded as well. A couple more minor violent incidents that ended without serious injury happened in the days after Mila's death, but since then no other connected violence has occurred, said Fort Bragg Police Chief John Naulty.

GRADUATIONS

Final car count on Fort Bragg High School's Movable Graduation 2020: 140 vehicles, filled with grads and supporters. Signs, songs and cheers along Main and Oak Streets ended up with a final three-vehicle-across procession down Dana Street, where diplomas were successfully delivered. The California Highway Patrol, Fort Bragg Fire Department, California State Parks, Fish and Wildlife, Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and Calfire sent festive vehicles (and traffic herding).

SURE AS ****!

The relatively new editor of the Fort Bragg Advocate-News and Mendocino Beacon, Robin Epley, sent out a couple of tweets last week that are making the rounds of local law enforcement.

On June 8, Epley recounted how she was assaulted in Sacramento by a person who reached in through the sunroof of her car and hit her on the head. She reported it to the Sac PD, she wrote, and their "response was to take my call about it and never did anything else."

"Sac PD is a fuxking joke," Epley concluded.

On June 2, responding to a comment that local media "gives automatic deference" to police officers, Epley replied, "Hi, editor of TWO local newspapers here, and I sure as fuck don't do this."

Fort Bragg Police Chief John Naulty  — not the source for this item; Epley's tweets were emailed to various people in Mendocino County by a relative of a Sacramento area law enforcement officer  — said he had seen the tweets and shrugged them off. He declined to comment further.

Epley, asked whether such an aggressive attitude was reflected in the Advocate and Beacon's actual coverage of police, or whether blanket statements about a whole agency being "a fuxking joke" might affect her relationship with the law enforcement agencies it is her job to cover, declined comment by deadline Monday.

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