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The New Barbary Coast.

Oakland, California was a place of refuge for tens of thousands of badly frightened San Francisco residents, in the days just following the 1906 earthquake. Arriving in just about anything that would float in those pre-bridge days, they were welcomed as best the people of Oakland could manage. Many decided to stay and build homes there. For years, Oakland existed as a bucolic community in the shadow of her garishly dramatic neighbor across the bay.

The ‘Barbary Coast’ – Pacific Street in 1913.

The San Francisco of the 1850s was a wild and dangerous place for the unlucky or unwary. The influx of gold seekers had caused an explosion in the population of what had been a sleepy Spanish village. From 1847 to 1870, the population of San Francisco increased from 500 to around 150,000. “Follow the money”, and that’s exactly what hundreds of thieves, murderers, prostitutes, confidence men, purveyors of opium and just about any other vice you could imagine, or pay for, did. Sometimes you paid with your life. This ‘anything goes’ district on the waterfront, in what is now the downtown district, came to be known as the ‘Barbary Coast’.

It was an area no self-respecting citizen of San Francisco would frequent. Corrupt city officials ran interference for the well-heeled criminal king pins of the day. When the situation became intolerable, the ‘solid citizens’ of San Francisco rose up and formed ‘The Committee of Vigilance’ in 1851 (about the time of my own family’s arrival in San Francisco, overland). After a few hangings and forcing some corrupt officials to resign, in addition to arresting and deporting a few dozen undesirables and turning others over to city authorities, the Committee that had formed for a ‘term’ of three months disbanded, as agreed.

Vigilance Committee members.

Numbering some 700 men, they showed remarkable restraint. In addition to causing the city’s underworld population to step lightly and keep a very low profile, they walked street patrols, keeping watch for fires and other disorders. In time, the rats returned to their nests and the committee was revived again in 1856, this time with an approximate 6,000 members. The old Barbary Coast is a dim memory now and the subject of walking tours through downtown San Francisco.

Oakland had no Barbary Coast. Most people know Oakland as the home of the Raiders football team, and know little else about the city. The Oakland police force has to deal with a number of high crime areas. At full strength, it should be fielding between eight and nine hundred officers. Police numbers have suffered, as do most critical services under successive liberal administrations, going all the way back to former Governor Jerry ‘Moonbeam’ Brown, who became Oakland’s 44th Mayor. Now, with the impending firing of eighty police officers, things on the streets may reach critical mass.

I’ve spent my entire career in emergency service in the private sector. I can tell you for a fact that there are neighborhoods and entire areas in Oakland we would not go into. Certainly not after dark, in any case. I’m not advocating vigilance committees, but residents in some of these neighborhoods may have to band together as armed responsible citizens to protect themselves, their families, homes and property from the influx of crime which is sure to result from the OPD’s just-published list of crimes it will no longer be able to dispatch units to… which seems to cover just about everything except assault, rape, mayhem and murder.

There is an axiom which has proven true, despite all the statist spin to the contrary:
“An armed society is a polite society.”
Let’s hope that Oakland does not indeed become the ‘New Barbary Coast’.

Semper Vigilans, Semper Fidelis

© Skip MacLure 2010

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