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Lisa Eckstein
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I attended Rep. Ro Khanna's town hall this afternoon, along with hundreds of other enthusiastic constituents. Khanna spoke about the thrill of preserving the ACA yesterday and gave all the credit to the active citizens who raised so much opposition to the Republican plan.

He discussed what else he's been working on, including traveling to Kentucky to get involved in a program bringing tech training and jobs to Appalachia, the "Silicon Holler":

As always, it was great to hear Khanna speak and give thoughtful responses to questions on a range of topics.

To find out about town halls in your area, check the Town Hall Project:

This morning I attended the Santa Clara Police Department's "Coffee with a Cop" event. This is a national initiative to give community members an opportunity to meet officers in an informal setting. Santa Clara started participating in the program last fall and is scheduling events every couple of months. Today several officers and administrators were there, and perhaps one to two dozen members of the public either came in specifically for the event or stopped to chat (it was at a busy Starbucks near the train station and university).

I was motivated to attend because earlier this month, a Santa Clara officer responding to a call fatally shot Jesús Alberto Geney Montes, who was in the middle of a mental health crisis. (Read more about the case in the Mercury News article linked below.) I wanted to find out if the SCPD was making any changes to policy or training as a result of this tragic incident.

I spoke for quite a while with Captain Wahid Kazem, who appeared on the local news the night of the shooting. He was open and receptive to discussing the case and my concerns. He said there aren't any changes planned. Officers already receive training in handling mental health cases -- it's now part of the academy training, and anyone who didn't receive it in school goes through a separate course. The department also frequently has presentations from mental health organizations to develop familiarity with cases police might encounter.

Kazem's take on the case was that the officer responded the way he was supposed to. He hopes the body camera footage will be released so that the public can see the officer did everything he could. I still have questions and doubts, and I didn't bring up as many of these as I could have -- though I was nervous about making the conversation antagonistic, I think the captain probably would have remained perfectly civil.

There are serious systemic problems at work in this case, and all the others where police respond to mental illness with violence. The United States has too may guns and not enough mental health care. So while I would prefer that officers weren't all carrying guns and therefore had fewer opportunities to shoot people, I recognize that's not a change that's going to come from an individual police department, and cops are operating within a society where they're constantly worried about being shot themselves.

I asked Kazem whether mental health disturbances are always directed to the police, or if 911 does or should send paramedics. He said in a situation like this, where the victim was barricaded in a room and possibly armed, the police are the only ones trained to assess and respond to danger, so EMS/fire would always hang back and wait for police. I'm thinking a solution to this might be some sort of specially trained mental health SWAT team, and in fact a search on that term shows that San Francisco has created such a team (see link below).

Speaking of limited mental health resources, Kazem said that when the police take people to the county mental health facilities, they are often released after 5 or 6 hours because there isn't enough space to hold everyone for the 72 hours they might need to get through a crisis. This can lead to a lot of repeated police/911 calls and a further drain on resources.

SCPD started using body cameras in 2015. I talked to a different officer about his camera, which he was wearing (it wasn't active). He said he likes it because it makes him feel protected from accusations of handling situations improperly. He thinks that with the exception of some older officers who were more resistant, most of the force feels the same way as him. He also thinks cameras have had a positive effect by improving the way officers behave and respond.

I learned about another interesting community program the department runs, the Citizens' Police Academy. This is a 12-week course to teach members of the public about the workings of local law enforcement. One woman was there who recently went through the class, and she was enthusiastic about her experience.

In addition to "Coffee with a Cop", the SCPD holds a "Chat with the Chief" every couple of months. Your own local police department probably has events for the public as well. Forming more connections between police officers and their communities seems like a step in the right direction, and I found this morning's meeting worthwhile.

Mercury News on Jesús Alberto Geney Montes's death and accusations of police mishandling:

Mental-Health SWAT Team:

Citizens' Police Academy:

Look, I'm having coffee with a cop!:

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I had another fun and exhausting time this year at FOGcon!

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Reviews this month for a wide variety of books: THE YOUNG WIDOWER'S HANDBOOK by Tom McAllister, THE LIMINAL PEOPLE by Ayize Jama-Everett, MISTER MONKEY by Francine Prose, and HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD by Jack Thorne.

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Progress report: Still revising.

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Last month's reading:

- DIFFICULT WOMEN, short stories by Roxane Gay
- WHAT WE DO NOW: STANDING UP FOR YOUR VALUES IN TRUMP'S AMERICA, an anthology of essays edited by Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians of Melville House
- IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS by Erik Larson, nonfiction about an American family in 1933 Berlin

I wrote up notes for the calls I'm going to make to representatives on Monday morning (pending further developments -- a lot can happen in DC before I wake up in California). Though they're customized for my particular district, I figured I'd share them here as an example, and folks can draw on whatever portions are useful.

Sen. Harris
1. Thank you for speaking at the Women's March. I heard the speech online, and it was inspiring.
2. Thank you for being vocal about opposition to Jeff Sessions, please continue trying to convince Republican senators to vote against his confirmation.

Sen. Feinstein
Thank you for working against the confirmation of Jeff Sessions, please continue trying to convince Republican senators to vote against his confirmation.

Rep. Khanna
calling about H.R. 193, the American Sovereignty Restoration Act
While I know this bill gets introduced every year and doesn't go anywhere, I'd like to encourage Rep. Khanna to remind his fellow congresspeople that one of Hitler's early acts as chancellor was removing Germany from the League of Nations, and that's really not a move any American politician wants to be echoing.

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Five books I'm excited to see published this winter!

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In which I look at my reading trends for 2016 and pick my favorite books of the year:

I got up early and went out in the rain this morning to participate in the political process by voting for my local California Democratic Party delegates, which I posted about on Friday.

It took more work than staying comfortable at home. The system clearly had a lot of flaws, on both practical and philosophical levels, and was full of noise, in both the data and acoustic senses. I'll never really know if my effort made a difference, and any positive change I did contribute to will be slow in coming.

I did it anyway, because it was something I was able to do. There are certainly far more actions I could take than I actually get around to, but I'm trying harder than before to follow through on acts within my power.
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