Sun 11 Mar 2007 9:06 PM
Just when you thought that you’d successfully perpetrated the masquerade of adulthood there’s suddenly a squad car peeking in the corner of your eye. It was not passing and continuing down the street as squad cars normally do but had instead pulled into the bus stop which I was walking alongside. The cop in the passenger seat was looking at me and I stopped to look back at him. The mostly full can of beer I had in my hand was prodding various parts of my mind and not in that kindly manner which a mostly empty beer can tends to prod. Feeling a little embarrassed I waved the can in an attempt to convey my sheepishness at so obviously flaunting this display of vice. No reaction could be discerned so, not knowing what else to do, I began to continue my trek home. “Hold it!”
My little brown bag had provoked some interest, it seems, but not as much as my leaving. The cop on my side of the black & white asked me what I was carrying. I told him. He asked if it was open. I told him it was. The two cops looked vexed but not in a manner which said,” you’re a horrible person corrupting the morality of the people” so much as it said, “you’re wasting our time lowlife”. The cop on my side (I’d like to think of him as my cop) told me to pour it out.
Here’s my failure. I could have argued, whined, pleaded, or questioned this instruction. Instead I leaned sideways and held the can at arms length while my recently purchased and hardly molested beer flowed out into the gutter. I didn’t say a thing– no abuse or deserved invective was launched nor was there any lunatic mumbling or complaining about the police not having anything to do. I kow-towed at the first pedestal of authority and ate shit.
The driver (not my cop) told me that they weren’t gonna write me a ticket because of something which became inaudible because his voice caught on with the amount of bullshit flowing freely and decided to lower its output out of respect for the hearing population. The car pulled out of the bus stop and carried on down the street slowly shining a spot lot in various doorways and the park down the block. No one was hanging out drinking and so the car continued.
After throwing the can away I continued towards home picking at the egg all over my face. Once I was in a park and the police came after neighbors called and I was also required to pour out my beer. The cop talking to us (two people) explained that there had been a lot of complaints about people in the park after hours and that there had been a lot of needles found in the playground where we sat… After checking our IDs he came back looking like the most tired and disappointed father modern television has been able to contrive. His instructions for us to pour out the beer was so rote that he had already turned his back and started walking to the squad car before we could even tilt the cans. My bold friend at least had the gumption to continue drinking her beer (quickly) all the way to the trash can. I, of course, was licking the bathroom tiles clean hoping for a good lashing in return.
Over the years I’ve had run-ins with the police and these are the only two instances where I could be considered to have violated any law. There have been random stops on the street often resulting in a quick and hostile back and forth with no one getting out of the car although I was once the beneficiary of being stopped by one squad car and ending up leaving four behind after a while of leaning against a fence. I’ve been sitting places and had the cops roll up. I’ve been searched, I’ve had my ID run through the system, I’ve been handcuffed and once I even received a certificate of release. I have never been charged with a crime and I have never been put into the back of a cruiser.
The volume of my interactions with the police is probably due to the amount of time I spend on the street. Busses are not a common mode of transportation for me and I’d just assume stick my head out the window of an airplane than ride in a cab. I walk everywhere and often times I walk at night. Due to my healthy aversion to the rest of the human waste also out on the street at night I often take dark, untrafficed streets or cut through isolated and desolate parts of town. There’s been no systematic harrassment perpetrated against me by the SFPD so far as I can tell.
Of course it doesn’t help that I tend to look like a junkie or a homeless person. It has been commented that security guards are strangely attracted to me. The fact that I was bundled in a trench coat under a hood (it was raining and cold) with a large hiking backpack on probably ensured that I be stopped the fateful evening of my beer being poured out into the street. Had I been any number of drunk tossers trolling Haight Street any night of the week who have the sense to dress more to their station the police would have ignored me. I looked like a degenerate and I got stopped. The disappointment was probably that I didn’t have bags of crack hanging out of my pockets and that I was only degenerate enough to have bought a Tecate to walk me home. This is irritating to me, but would probably be moreso if I were black.
More irritating to me is my lending this attention from authority my full and uncompromised acquiescence.
There have been many socialogical studies attempting to unearth the reasons why people fall into the roles they do on either side of authority– the Stanford Prison Experiment being (although horribly flawed) a frequently cited example. For an examination of how ego perverts taste check out the site of Philip G. Zimbardo who authored and conducted the study in 1971. Perhaps not the best example: the site reads in that same mythologizing manner which Crimethinc. columns use to turn their vegan bake sale into a successful thwarting of the industrial-military-complex. For whatever reason, due to some reptilian portion of the brain, people tend to fall under the spell of some higher ranking person or, when ranking higher, to act like a right prick. Your co-worker who constantly grumbles under his breath about your boss will always be the first to agree with the boss’s ideas; the boss will always make snap judgements to assert their position of decision-making; the boss goes home and hides behind the paper from his wife’s wrath. In certain anarcho-punk circles there’s a theory that all oppressive/oppressed impulses are the creation of senor system and that being punished at the age of six for painting the television blue we have all learned to kneel willingly before the capitalist execution squad. My suspicion is that there is a much deeper reason behind some people’s kneeling and some people’s aiming– not that I could offer any counter-theories.
So here I wander through my existence sticking carefully to shadowed streets and, when caught by the local law, here I go pandering by means of my own private minstrel show. Walking home one night one of the local sidewalk neighbors was being interrogated by two cops while another two hovered by their squad car. The guy backed into the bus-shelter is not a threat or a menace– he can’t stand up straight nor can he piece together a coherant sentence. At best they caught him passing drugs off from the dealer to the client. “We walked up and he had it in his hand” one cop laughed to the back-up unit
I walked by and did nothing, said nothing, asked nothing and din’t even stop of watch and make sure there was nothing egregiously wrong with the manner in which this stop was being conducted. I looked, turned away and walked to my house. When my neighbor was back on the street the next day I recalculated my assessment and realized that they’d probably busted him for public urination. Go ahead coppers, send the ticket to my shopping cart. A couple weeks before while standing in front of the job two men stopped a woman telling her they were undercovers. She kept saying “I don’t know you, I’m not going with you” while they tried to steer her out of foot-traffic. She lamely attempted to walk away but instead walked into me. “You don’t need to go anywhere or get into a car that’s not a patrol car with uniformed officers” I didn’t tell her. “Where’s your badge?” I didn’t ask them. I thought both but stood as lame as the woman’s attempts to writhe out of this situation.
Once upon a time I did attempt some sort of intervention which involved the police. A bum in front of the coffee shop where I was losing chess hassled someone for a handout and the person shot them down which earned some menacing abuse. The person then called the police saying their life had been threatened and they waddled off. Half an hour later the cops showed up and ran to the bum who by any precursory observation, was far gone beyond the realm of immediate sanity. They started to tell him to leave, gather his shit and go. I yelled at them– he’s not doing anything, leave him alone. “Did you call?” This threw me for a loop and I repeated my last statement with the words rearranged. “Did you call in a complaint?” No, that fuckin’ guy left. They ignored me and made the guy get his shit and shuffle off down the street.
So passive. A people of inaction, of ducking, of getting by with the bare minimum and hoping they don’t catch hell. We do what we’re told wherever we go and it’s just easier to have been told than it is to ask why or try it our own way. And so things turn to shit, continue to worsen and we can complain about the state of things but, really, we lost our rights to complain when we didn’t stop it from
turning to shit in the first place.
It makes me wonder what would happen if, for instance, there’s a decision to invade Iran. While people have grown disgruntled towards the current president and the two wars raging there’s very little questioning of his authority going around. If bombs began lighting Tehran up like a disco ball would there be riots in the streets across America, one big explosive “no!” from the people? Would it be another mass distribution of “America: Open for Business” signs? My eyes have seen the glory of a mostly annoying throng of socialites wandering down the middle of the street waving signs trumpeting peace and my ears have heard the most depressingly idiotic diatribes from the stage. Half the people attending would be exercising their right to skip class or a day at work, the other half attempting to woo sexual targets with pot and lip-service revolution. The Europeans may leave a lot to be desired but they seem to be more on the ball when it comes to being pissed off about something.
Here I am unable to skip out of work to save the world. Here I am pouring out my beer out in the gutter.