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KPFA’s Nadra Foster

September 21, 2008

‘Some simply prefer not to see Blacks at KPFA or Berkeley at all’

Gabrielle Wilson - Photo: San Francisco Chronicle
by Gabrielle Wilson, producer and co-host of The Gospel Experience

It is a sad commentary when the management of a nonprofit dedicated to social justice in my hometown of Berkeley, Calif., calls the police on a staff member who volunteers her time, donating talent and skill to bring the mission of that organization to bear. On Aug. 20 a staff member ordered a colleague of mine whom I had never met, Ms. Nadra Foster, to leave radio station KPFA.

Instead of any meaningful communication beforehand between colleagues and staff, Ms. Foster found herself the victim of a brutal attack by Berkeley police. She was taken to the hospital and then jail. Some have estimated the number of police officers as eight.

Blacks have never been welcome in Berkeley. I do not know why my father moved here when he left Louisiana looking for a desegregated school to run but he did and I am now here for the long haul for good or bad.

Defying a racial covenant that said no Blacks were allowed to purchase property east of Sacramento Street, my father bought a home with the help of a Jewish real estate agent. I was bussed to the “gourmet ghetto” neighborhood that tolerated me, but a teacher was quite hostile to me and I will never forget that.

However, there were many courageous persons who wanted integration to work then and still do today. I was invited to sleepovers by privileged white kids who traveled the world and wanted to take me with them. But there is a definite class struggle as people try to make their marks here in Berkeley. Some simply prefer not to see Blacks at KPFA or Berkeley at all. This element is alive and well just cloaked in progressive deceptive wear.

As a child I remember hearing about my “home birth” during a time when Berkeley was racist and segregated. My mother protested going to Herrick (Alta Bates) Hospital, which would not service people of color in their maternity ward back then.

Today the covert segregation has more to do with economic conditions, affluent whites live in the hills and working poor whites live in the very neighborhoods of South and West Berkeley that Blacks were restricted to a couple decades ago. Gentrification is changing things.

While I know from experience that it is not always easy to live in this town, apparently it is not easy to work in this town either. Things have a way of turning around if you wait on time. Foreclosures abound and things are pretty shaky for all concerned. Blaming victims, being hostile to immigrants and being short tempered is simply counter-productive.

I have hope yet. KPFA management has encouraged the DA to drop the charges against Nadra, which is a good start because it tells me that they may have not condoned the behavior of the staff who ordered Ms. Foster out under such extreme measures. That said, I remember not long ago this same staff member yelled at my children to get out of the building but did not go so far as to summon police. I am so glad he did not, but what about Nadra, a producer at KPFA for over 10 years who came in with a key and with the assistance of the engineering manager?

The DA has decided to pursue the charges notwithstanding KPFA management’s request that they be dropped. That is their domain and if management learns something, it is that police should be called for life-threatening or exigent circumstances; this was not one.

The incident at KPFA with the police is nothing more than racial profiling and a lowly reaction to the inconvenience of sharing resources with a person of color, although the person who initiated the call is a person of color himself, some people believe, another sad irony.

If facts come out clearing the Berkeley Police Department, I will be the first to retract, but this fits a pattern of behavior. Does anyone really believe BPD reacted in such a manner in order to conduct the removal of an “authorized trespasser” from a building? Come on, people. I’ve seen public drunkards coming off medication and wielding knives treated better in this town. Note: It is a crime to file a false police report. It would really be ironic if KPFA is prosecuted if management filed a fraudulent one.

That said, I believe Berkeley police have not been as bad as other municipalities but, hey, what if Foster had died as a result of being attacked by this group of eight? No, this elephant in the room, racism, will not go away any time soon but Ms. Foster’s brutal beating is the straw that broke the camel’s back and it is time for change.

Things get really messy when unqualified cronies are in power; they just do not get it. Or is it wrong to expect more from my hometown or KPFA or the Bush administration’s homeland security, the agency charged with overseeing the Katrina fiasco? Remember Bush’s crony, the unqualified Brownie, who did a “helluva job”? I guess if you start at the bottom, you cannot go any lower.

I expect so much more out of KPFA management and the Pacifica airwaves, like dialogue at the least and inspiration for the listening community at most. While I understand management is more vested in the success of the station than is a volunteer, since their mortgages likely depend upon their paycheck, under California labor law, there is little difference between a volunteer programmer like Foster and a paid staff member like the ones who called the police.

Ms. Foster in our state is more akin to an independent contractor, bestowing her skills and talent upon the station. KPFA cannot accept the benefits of Ms. Foster’s work without affording any protection. Now that would not be proper, would it?

Gabrielle Wilson, a recent law school graduate, can be reached at msgabrielle.wilson@gmail.com. The Gospel Experience is broadcast on KPFA 94.1 FM at 6-9 a.m. Saturdays and archived at http://kpfa.org/archives/index.php?show=65.

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