Little People Win!

A bland supervisor, a high school student, an industrious bureaucrat, and Pamela Anderson prove that any of us can change the world for the better

The change has been long in coming. In an apparent blanket policy of protecting their own, police have sealed police-killing details in such a way that family members have sometimes gone days, or even weeks, without knowing how or why their loved ones died. In the case of Gregory Caldwell, his mother suffered an emotional breakdown because she could not find out what happened to her son. An incident two months ago in which police killed kidnap suspect Cammerin Boyd appears to have created a tipping point of sorts in the public's outrage over the secrecy policy -- one that's unique among the police departments Wechter examined during a yearlong study. The new Police Commission required the department to release the names of officers involved in the Boyd shooting, the first crack in the police secrecy wall in the eight years I've been here.

Now, the commission appears poised to take that decision a step further, beginning deliberations on how to craft a policy that would require openness, without endangering witnesses -- a real possibility in cases involving dangerous criminals -- and without creating situations in which investigations are derailed because, for example, a suspect is tipped off by publicized information in a police report.

I asked Doug Chan, one of Mayor Gavin Newsom's appointees to the commission (and, as such, certainly not one of the body's firebrands), whether he thinks the department's secrecy wall really is cracking. "I think the answer to the question is, it's a new day at the Police Commission," said Chan, a San Francisco attorney and a Chinese-American community activist.

"I think it poses the classic tension of secrecy in an open and democratic society," he added. "I think you have to look at what interests are to be served by a secrecy policy. If those interests aren't compelling, the balance must be weighed in favor of the public's right to know. I envision the role of the commission, as a civilian oversight panel, is the appropriate place to make those determinations."

That's a far cry from the current situation, in which blanket secrecy is the order of the day when it comes to police killings.

Chalk up another one for a couple of little guys, Jayson Wechter and James, the high school student.

If life is a series of choices, then being a B-list pinup celebrity would seem to preclude fame as a champion of the common man. Pamela Anderson followed the pinup route, and from an important perspective, it's been a wise choice. Her starring roles in several babes 'n' action television series have opened to her a world of money and rock-star lovers, and earned her a place in the life of the mind of the American male. Of course, her chosen path keeps her from serious consideration as a figure in the moral world.

That's too bad, because in her own, circuitous way, Anderson may have struck a giant blow for Everyman. She appears to have played a role in the chain of events that ultimately led to the downfall of San Francisco credit card, telemarketing, and porn tycoon Mark Cohn, a convicted swindler featured in a front-page investment-fraud story in the Wall Street Journal last week.

Through the San Francisco offices of his Four Star Financial Services, Cohn at one time reigned over a $200 million investment fund, a financial-services firm specializing in collecting on bad debts, a credit-card telemarketing company, and controlling interest in a Seattle-based Internet porn empire -- the empire that in 1997 publicly featured the pirated home sex videos of Anderson and her then-husband, Mötley Crüe rocker Tommy Lee.

Anderson and Lee sued and eventually obtained a judgment of nearly $1.5 million against Internet Entertainment Group, which was half-owned by Cohn's Four Star. The judgment proved a crippling blow. IEG's gadabout director, Seth Warshavsky, ultimately fled his Seattle base to Thailand, according to a Seattle Weekly account. Cohn's empire -- which, besides Internet porn, allegedly involved bilking people through a credit-card scheme and taking $200 million from investors in a possible Ponzi scheme -- began to wobble, and Cohn started scrambling for money to maintain apparently fictitious returns to investors. In 2001 federal investigators questioned Cohn as part of an investigation that led to fraud and conspiracy convictions last year. Now, Four Star faces liquidation in San Francisco bankruptcy court, most of its $200 million seemingly gone. The FBI is trying to find out what happened to the money, the Wall Street Journal story said.

Anderson, through her publicist, remained true to the little-person role she has chosen for herself in regard to the moral universe. Anderson's press agent did not respond to repeated requests to allow her client to bask in the glory of her achievement via comments in SF Weekly.

Young Tony Hall, suffering through a bus-station grip 'n' grin 40 years ago, may not have imagined that moment leading to a speech that nudged history along. James, the high school senior, may not have envisioned an overhaul of San Francisco Police Department policy when he came to school with news of an incident at the Geary Boulevard Mervyn's store. And as she fellated her husband deckside before a rolling video camera, Pamela Anderson might not have imagined herself striking a blow for Everyman.

But good things happened, just the same.

Let the aforementioned little people be an inspiration to the rest of us, as we sit in our cubicles wondering whether our picayune efforts will ever amount to anything. If Pamela Anderson is any indication, they just might.

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