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Lately crime has taken a toll in my neighborhood. Within the last two weeks, my friend got held up at gunpoint on 13th Avenue, and a couple guys walked up my driveway and broke into my car. I’m not sure what I’d have done if I ran into the thieves before they stole my stereo. When I was in high school and a guy pulled a knife on me, all I could do was run.

Next time I feel threatened though, I want to kick criminal ass—just like the femininjas I used to watch on TV in the ’70s. To do this, I’ll need a mentor to teach me street fighting in real life.

Enter Helen Grieco. She’s the daughter of a marine and a 25-year of veteran N.O.W. She believes in “the sovereign right of women to defend themselves by any means necessary.” And her self-defense training course begins next week, in Oakland.

Grieco certainly has a lot of fight in her. Her story of survival spans from New York to California, and over decades of domestic abuse, drug addiction, eating disorders and dysfunctional relationships. But one day on a San Francisco doorstep, she saw a glimmer of hope.

“I was in the midst of an abusive relationship,” she said, “and only had a few dollars to my name. Suddenly I saw this shiny penny on the ground and thought, ‘See a penny pick it up; then someday you’ll have good luck.’ I took it as a token of better things to come.” Grieco held onto her good luck charm through the next several years of therapy and worked through her issues. She also got a masters in clinical psychology and became a therapist for women and girls.

You could say she came out swinging. With her loving husband Patrick Phair, she co-founded Building Resources for Anti-Violence Education (or, BRAVE People). The pair have since taught nearly 10,000 women the art of self-defense. Phair, whose dad also worked for the military, gave shape to their shared teaching style. What makes their course different from most is its basis on a police and military combative training. Its techniques informed WW II combatants and now, under the instruction of Grieco, teach women how to defend themselves in real-life situations.

The women enrolled in the self-defense are called the Fighting SHE Weezels—a mascot that represents the weasel’s ability to attack other animals several times its size. And the course is just one part of her multi-pronged approach to empowerment. With the founding of her new, Bay Area-based organization, the SHE Institute, her mission is dedicated to “sustainable living and leadership educating safe, healthy, economically responsible advocates and leaders.” Not only will the Fighting SHE Weezels of the self-defense course battle their own demons, but also learn how to form partnerships with people, communities and governments to promote women’s rights.

“When women know that in the face of an imposing male that they can hold their own,” Grieco says, “it changes everything.”

Sounds like a winning strategy to me.

The details:


SHE is Wise Workshop Schedule
Sundays, 10 a.m.–noon
12 weeks – $360
(Payment plans available)
For more information or to confirm your place in the workshop,
or call 415 531 1774

A week has gone by and the suspect for the triple-shooting on Canon Avenue, Damon Joseph Ferreira, remains at large. On Wednesday, September 23, a man shot and killed Damon Wessel, 48, and Michael Caldwell, 44 in a four-plex less than half a mile from Park Boulevard. Shots fired at around 8:40 p.m. and a third victim, whose name has not been released, was in critical condition last week at Highland Hospital. More than a dozen police officers arrived at the scene when one of the victims called 9-11. Sgt. Gus Galindo said that those shot knew the gunman.

News of the murders brought the homicide rate up to 85 for this year and rattled neighbors. But the reports that the triple-shooting took place in the Dimond district are false, as the crimes actually transpired in the Glenview.

Pete Barnett serves on the Glenview Crime and Safety Committee and represents District 5 on the city’s Measure Y Oversight Committee. He also stays in close contact with the Oakland Police Department. “The scene of this event is in OPD Beat 16Y,” he wrote in a recent email, “which most people consider to be the Glenview area.  But neighborhood designation has a flexible definition which, I think, depends more on the perception and habits of area inhabitants than any formal definition.”

Barnett also had this news about the suspect in the Canon Avenue shooting: “According to what I have been told by our PSO, Officer AC Smith, [the suspect] was ‘hiding out’ in the apartment there because he was wanted on a no bail warrant from another jurisdiction.” The suspect, Damon Ferreira, is also on parole for auto theft. He was visiting with the victims at their Canon Avenue home when some kind of dispute arose among them and he opened fire.

Since the shooting, several postings on the GlenFriends listserv bespoke of heightened neighborhood anxiety. Comments like “I heard two gunshots again last night…Did anyone else hear them or know anything?” and “I heard the shots and I am on Dolores Avenue” moved some neighbors to protest.

Barnett was one of those neighbors. On Tuesday he wrote a post to discourage such entries, asking neighbors to call the Oakland Police Department rather than cause worry. The said gunshots, as reported on an earlier post on the listserv, were actually fireworks popping off.

He also emailed that last week’s shooting was “a very unusual event in this neighborhood, which remains second on the list of areas with the least amount of calls for police service in Oakland.”

UPDATE: On November 18, suspect Damon Joseph Ferreira was found…and killed at his Stockton residence.

The Glenview Neighborhood Association meeting came to order yesterday with a moment of silence. For a good few minutes the small, carpeted room at Presbyterian Church lay quiet for the police officers who died this year. Everyone in attendance—some 30 neighbors and Vice Mayor Ignacio De La Fuente—received a blue ribbon to show their support.

In his briefing on the city’s affairs, Ignacio De La Fuente said that Oakland wants to provide its law enforcement with financial help. Some of the federal stimulus funneled to Oakland will also go to the beleaguered parks system. But there’s not a whole lot of money in the proverbial kitty these days. “The city of Oakland’s budget deficit is something like $85 million,” he said, which is a lot larger than earlier estimates. The enormity of this isn’t lost on De La Fuente, who came into office in 1992 during a recession. “I’ve seen $35 million in the red, sure, but this is the worst I’ve seen in 16 years in office.”

As De La Fuente elaborated on making city-wide cuts I noticed how spiffy he looked. His black-top, half-frame glasses and tailored, pin stripe suit gave him a sharp appearance. The majority of the group walked in wearing their fleece or loosened collared shirts. A couple wore scout badges. But among the workday weary, Ignacio appeared to have been spritzed with fresh rose water. His violet-colored tie shimmered as he fielded questions about the Glenview’s flower median. (Due to budget constraints, its drip water system will be dramatically reduced.) Of the city’s spending priorities, he said that the city has to focus on basic services. “I don’t think citizens have a clue as to how much resources it takes to water the city parks and maintain its lights.”

He also reiterated how the city has to weed out wasteful spending practices. Of a recent audit in the Public Works department, he said there were 200 suggestions for improvement. “We’re also one of the few cities whose citizens pay into city employee pensions,” he claimed. On the negotiating table, then, is a reduction in pay or a reduction of pensions. “We’re going to have to do less with more.”

Some expressed frustration at how cities across the country choose to prioritize spending. And De La Fuente shared these concerns and pointed to the present set of circumstances. Then he confessed, “I should tell you that tomorrow the Oakland Tribune will publish some things I said about our mayor. With all due respect, I think he’s done a poor job.”

It was hard not to imagine how Oakland would’ve fared if De La Fuente won the mayoral race. The cardboard flowers his campaign laid all over the city came down when Dellums won. A few remained interlaced in a chain link fence at the empty lot on Park Blvd. and Hampel St. For weeks after the election, their smiling yellow faces greeting casual carpool riders. These days, Oaklanders are getting ready to weather a new status quo.