RW187 - That's My Rock

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to people having been sitting on the streets on somebody else’s rock for all of humankind and people haven’t called the cops on them, but solved it among themselves.

Dan has no complaints other than what everyone is complaining about. John agrees.

Yesterday John’s sister came over and they talked about their childhood. He hadn't seen her in a few weeks because when his contractor got sick with Coronavirus the whole family was running back into quarantine from one another. It is nice to see a little bit of sister. But otherwise John is in the rut. Seattle has been rocked by protests, it is what they do best.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

Police brutality (RW187)

Seattle having a relatively diverse police force with a bad record

The police in Seattle have a very bad record. You would think that Seattle, a city that gives the impression of being very woke, would be better at that and a lot of people have asked the question why they are not. The Seattle police force is very diverse, not as diverse as it could be, but there are more Asian cops on the Seattle police force than anywhere else, in 2019 40% of the new hires were people of color, there is a big LGBTQ contingent of police in the Seattle Police Department, and there are a lot of women. Politically the upper cops work closely with the mayor. There are community policing commissions and they have done a lot of work to make the police the best, most touchy feely, squeezy police that you can have.

Seattle being a middle class city, redlining

Seattle has a lot of diversity, but it has always been a middle class city until very recent. There were a couple of rich neighborhoods where the lumber barons, the railroad barons, the Boeings and the Nordstroms lived, but other than that Seattle is mile after mile of bungalows. Even in the poor and lower lower middle class neighborhoods there were never any huge public housing projects, but people owned their single family homes. They were small homes and the banks wouldn't loan them any money because they were redlined, but they owned the house.

Redlining was a process across the United States of basically drawing imaginary lines on maps of cities and saying: ”On this side of the line we are going to rent and sell houses to people of color and on this side of the red line we are not going to!” It was a practice of collusion between banks, real estate agents, city councils, governments, and fire departments. All the institutions were colluding in a paternalistic way. They were not discriminating against anyone, they just wanted to make sure that black people live with black people and white people live with white people. No discrimination whatsoever. It was not a bad thing. They were just trying to make everyone comfortable.

If you were black and tried to buy a house in a neighborhood that was on the wrong side of the red line, no one would ever say: ”I am sorry, you can't buy that house up here!”, but they would do everything they could to work toward you not. The banks would say: ”We can't give you that loan on that house, you just don't quite have the collateral!” or the real estate agent would say: ”I don't think that is the right listening!” If you insisted, if you were: ”I want to buy that house!” they would say: ”No!”, but the goal of it was to keep you in your place.

Redlining persisted in Seattle as an actual practice and not just some tiny little thing on a couple of streets until the 1970s. It is true across the United States. Even after all the civil rights stuff in the 1950s and 1960s there was still this quiet collusion. One of the pernicious aspects of it was that banks would not give home improvement loans or small business loans in redlined districts, which is why when you drive through those areas the houses are all in poor shape and why the small businesses seem so ad-hoc. There was not a line of credit!

So much of why American neighborhoods are prosperous and why people get to add on a room to their house is all because banks extend small lines of credit to people based on the equity they have in their house. Whether or not it is a good idea to take a loan out based on the equity you have in your house, oftentimes it is and oftentimes that is how you even start your small business. Owning a house is the primary way a middle class person establishes a toehold in wealth and ownership.

But in black neighborhoods, even if you owned your own home, you couldn't translate that equity into economic opportunity for yourself because the bank didn't say: ”We are not going to do that because you're black!”, but they would say: ”We don't feel like that is a good risk for us because the we don't feel there is any equity really in that neighborhood!” It was self-perpetuating cycle: ”We are not going to loan money because we feel like the risk is too great!” and then the neighborhood falls further because no-one can repair their gutters and then the banks just double down on it and pretty soon you have neighborhoods like you do in the South End where for decades the homeowners did everything they could to care for them, but they just didn't have the resources.

The police having a fraternal culture and a long history of excessive violence

The police union promotes a culture… The police department has an internal culture and police in general have a fraternal culture and it almost doesn't matter how many female police officers you have, it is still a fraternal culture that absolutely resists being made into a touchy feely, community and responsive outreach-oriented organization. The Seattle Police Department has a long history of excessive violence, of aggressive policing of people of color, such that the Department of Justice imposed a consent-decree on the Seattle Police Department not quite 10 years ago, basically saying: ”You can't manage yourselves!”

Too many instances of excessive violence had gone through the internal process of review and one time after another they have spit out ”No prosecution!” Every single police shooting came back justified and the Department of Justice was taking over and monitored the Seattle Police Department, which was a huge embarrassment to them. Just recently a group of cops sued the city, saying that they wanted the consent decree lifted because they felt like they had met all the conditions and they wanted the consent decree lifted and wanted to be free again, to ride their machines and not get hassled by the man and then this just happened.

Yesterday the district attorney quashed their suit and the consent decree is still imposed, he just took away their suit and said: ”Clearly you still need Department of Justice oversight!”, although right now the Department of Justice is not really in the finest shape either, but is a cascading chocolate fountain of hot garbage. To Seattle’s shame and consternation, of all the places in the world they have not managed to build a police force that reflects the city values. The fact that Seattle can't do it, having tried and tried and tried, is evidence of the systemic corruption of that kind of police force, that kind of policing.

Police being organized in labor unions arguing for work safety issues

It is very difficult to enact effective reform because the police institution is built around the idea that they are loyal to themselves first, that they defend themselves first against the city, against the politicians, against the citizens. The sense we have of politicians working for us and then we get really mad because they are not doing what we want and we say: ”You work for us!” and the politicians go: ”I am here to tell you that I am going to do the best I can for you!”, but politicians are elected and political people are appointed and we can remove them from office if they super-duper disappoint us.

City employees are working people with a difficult job and when you go into the DMV and you are mad about the service you are getting, it is the fact that they are big bureaucracies that don't have a ton of accountability built into them and they have a lot of job security and produce a slow moving machine, but police have worked it really well. During the middle part of the century the police did a little switcheroo where they presented themselves as a labor organization. They were middle class or working class people and when they felt under attack by city governments during the labor movement years, they naturally said: ”We also need a union and we need to organize as labor. We need the power of collective bargaining in order to get good contracts and to not get forced to work unpaid overtime!” and all these basic labor union stuff.

Having formed those unions, they had this additional thing that they were carrying guns. Cops are the people that get employed by the ownership class to break the strikes of other labor unions. Cops aren't pro-labor necessarily. The last thing that an owner does when the strike closes his thing down is call the cops in and the police are not working on behalf of the workers, typically. They weren't especially natural bedfellows with other unions, but increasingly they use that union power to set the rules for their own conduct.

For instance, if you say: ”We don't want the police to pull their guns on every person that appears to have a toy car in their hand!” Every time a kid is walking down the street with his hoodie pulled up and when a policeman says to him through a microphone: ”Hey, take your hands out of your pockets!” and the kid doesn't for whatever reason, maybe he got a mouse in there, maybe he does have a pistol, maybe he got a hole in his front pants pocket and he is jacking himself off. Who knows! There are a million reasons why a kid doesn't take his hands out of his pockets the first time you tell him or the fifth time you tell him. People are weird!

The fact that he has his hands in his pockets doesn't necessarily mean that you should pull your pistol, point it at him, and scream at him to get on the ground. ”We would like the police to stop doing that. Signed: Citizens of the town.” and the police union comes back and makes it a workplace safety issue: ”If you are asking us to not pull our guns, it is not just that maybe this kid does have a gun in his pocket and he turns around and he pulls it out and it is not a mouse, but it is a gun, he shoots the police, and if they would had their guns out they would have been safe!”

Also: ”If you ask us as police to look at that kid and evaluate him, his posture and his position on the sidewalk and how he is carrying himself and what he says to us when he turns around and says: ”I don't have a gun! I have a mouse in my pocket! If you ask us to do all that complicated listening and evaluating and looking before we pull our guns out, you are creating is a fog of war for us. You are making the situation very confusing for us and it is that confusion that puts us at risk, because while we are sitting there, trying to hippie-evaluate people with psychology, they are pulling mice out of their pockets all around us.”

The whole premise of community policing, of asking the cops to take a second before they do anything, or to try and defuse situations by talking, or even get to know the people on their beat, the unions pushed back against all that as workplace safety and they used a lot of the civil rights law, anti-discrimination law, laws that were meant to protect workers from being coerced into unsafe practices at their job, and they flipped it on their heads and they made it about the fact that the cops needed to be constantly in a posture where they assumed that everyone walking around with a mouse in their pocket actually had a gun.

Culturally they are trained to, and within their culture are rewarded for, expecting that every citizen is up to some crime and most of the time the police drive around and they look around at people on the street and they think every single one of these people is committing a crime, they just can't tell. That is the natural assumption if you are not being taught that your job is to go in and defuse situations. That workplace safety stuff and that union stuff then creates within police a sense that everybody is out to get them.

Everybody in the city says: ”Wait a minute, why did you kill that kid?” - ”What do you mean? I thought he had a gun!” - ”Well, he didn't have a gun. He had a mouse, and a mouse doesn't look anything like a gun!” - ”Well, he pulled it out and I thought it was a gun. I don't know what else to tell you. I felt unsafe!” - ”You got to be kidding me! What are we paying you for if not to tell the difference between a mouse and a gun?”

The cop and then all of his buddy cops have been fed hook, line and sinker that this is a safety issue for them and that all these people are mad at them, but those people have no idea what it is like out there in the streets day in and day out, trying to tell mice from guns, and so it further widens that gap of common cause. Suddenly you got a group of police that feel like not only is the city full of criminals who are their sworn enemies, but they are criminals who are masquerading as politicians who want them to be unsafe, who want to see them killed by all these gun-carrying, mouse-owning kids, and that is a reciprocating misunderstanding or misapprehension of the world, an ouroboros that only makes itself worse with every next iteration.

When Seattle finally said: ”We don't even know what to do with our own cops! They are out of control!” and the federal government came in and took over this problem it did not make the cops say: ”Well, we should really take a hard look at ourselves!”, but all they said was: ”Now we are also at war with the feds. Everybody hates us and they are all wrong because they have no idea what it is like on the streets!”

Only people who like to enforce want to become police

Obviously we have a cultural problem in America, which is that because the police are like this, the people that want to be police typically are not coming from the linguistics departments of universities. People go into policing who want to model the people that they see policing the streets, and if you watch people police the streets who are officious and mean, who aren't there to play, to ask questions, or to solve disputes, but to enforce and to decide when you are growing up and decide what job you want, the people who like to enforce are going to say: ”I think I want to be police!” and the people who like to solve problems are going to go: ”I sure don't think the police is where I belong!” and it reinforces itself over time.

The police academies have plenty of policies to weed sociopaths out of the process, but they don't submit a 10 week battery of tests to people to say: ”If a kid had a mouse and you just didn't like him and wanted to shoot him, what do you think you would do?” just to find the people who say: ”I probably want to shoot him anyway because he is just a stupid kid!”, the ones that post on Facebook those pictures… there was a guy that got fired the other day who posted a picture of himself in riot gear on his Facebook page and was like ”Let's go start a riot!” - ”Hey, you are fired!” and he had only graduated from the police academy six months before.

He is not sitting in his house right now, thinking: ”Oh, fuck, I really did that poorly!”, but he is sitting in his house right now going: ”The fucking system and the politicians and the blacks screwed me!” and there is surely some sheriff's office right now calling that guy up: ”We will give you a job! We are not one of those pussy big city cop organizations that fires you for a hilarious Facebook post!” It is the cultural divide in the country at that point.

You got to love it when you are up on Capitol Hill and you encounter some cops that are young and gay. ”Wait a minute! You are a young gay person who came up in in the world, and being gay does not naturally make you a liberal, but it surely affects somewhat your view of policing in a gay neighborhood. Maybe culturally somehow you would be a little more gay right now and a little less cop?” But no, the copness becomes the absolute primary blood regardless of who you are. It is why black cops in St. Louis can sit and shoot black kids in St. Louis based on no other problem than the kid was black, because they become cops in their hearts, they become heart cops.

Attempts to reform the police

When John ran for city council he went in like a lot of people go in to politics, thinking that these were problems that just needed to be worked out because clearly the police did not want to be at odds with the city and clearly the new chief of police seems like a very reasonable person. The city had worked hard and searched for a new chief of police for a year and a half and they finally picked this person and it is woman of color, and the community really wants to be engaged in community review.

There were suggestions like: ”Why don't we have neighborhood watch or neighborhood meetings where citizen comments get taken into consideration as the police make policy?” All of that is happening all the time in a city like Seattle. Many people are working all the time, not to reform the police in a big way, although that is happening, but to reform the police in little ways: ”Why don't you just have the neighborhood police come over and have coffee with us some time and get to know us?” Seattle had bike cops, the first police ever on bikes in the United States were here in Seattle. Bike cops were going to solve things because they were on bikes.

How can you be on a bike and not have a little bit more fun than driving around in a car? You can get to places, you can chase bad guys down stairwell cases, you are action oriented, you are fit, you are not some fatzo who is eating donuts and can't chase a criminal, but you are a young zoom! Bike cops! None of it worked because all of that stuff came up against the tangled knot of policies and contracts where the unions said: ”Well, we have a contract that says that we don't have to do that because the cops are the thin blue line that protect us from anarchy!”

No conservative politician all the way three quarters of the way up into the Democrats, meaning that conservative being every Republican and half of the Democrats, are ever going to come out and say that they are truly against the police because there is just no political expedience to it. It does not help them at all because all the people protesting in the streets against the police are still a small fraction of the voting population and all those politicians are just doing an absolute brute force calculation: ”Is this going to help me with my constituents if I come out really hard against the police?” And the answer is: ”Never!”

A portion of their constituents are concerned and want to see some action with the police. Democrats and even liberal Republican want to see some change, they want to see some action, they want to hear that the police are going to be better, and so we have all these reform-policies, we have these committee meetings, we have this community policing conversation, we hire a new chief of police who is a woman of color, we elect a mayor who promises police reform, but it is all performance and it is sufficient performance for every liberal Republican and sufficient performance for most Democrats.

To actually reform the police means to go hard against them and to go hard against the idea that they are a labor organization and to go hard against the tradition that they are making their own rules and to basically dismantle them in a profound way while they are fighting you tooth and nail. Not only they are fighting your tooth and nail, but every police organization in the country is fighting your tooth and nail, and the whole constellation of gun people and the law and order types in Washington.

If Seattle went hard against their police department and said: ”We are going to do this over and we are taking the police department apart into some constituent parts. We are going to build a community policing organization. We are going to take all of the hyper-militarized body armor and riot tanks and combat helmets and all of this tear gas and everything and we are going to throw it in the ocean and we are starting over with a new idea about policing here!” there is not a politician in America that wouldn't have something to say about it.

It doesn't have to be Trump, but the most liberal president you could think of is going to say: ”Well, now, whoa, wait a minute here!” That is not a thing that Obama would have said: ”Good idea!”, so you would have to go hard against the concept of police while everyone in the world was fighting you in order to reform the organization. If every single millennium voted the same way, if they voted completely as a block, and they grew up to be 40 year olds who continued to vote completely as a socialist block, they would not have the power to fight all the police in the world or all the police in America. The police have absolutely designed it that way.

A police-inspired set of riots

There is so much evidence, not just theory, that the harder your police get, the more crime they find or instigate- They are busting kids for doing nothing and it goes up on their statistics and then they can point to it and say: ”There were 7500 incidents of violent crime in Seattle!” - ”Really? You mean the time that you told that kid to take the mouse out of his pocket and he didn't understand you and you threw him on the ground and arrested him for resisting arrest, is that up on that statistic, too, because it seems like those statistics are a little padded?”

Every night for the last week people go down, they protest, they say that cops are too violent, cops show up on the other side with four foot long billy clubs, tear gas rifles, flash bang grenades, beanbag guns, but even more those suits that they wear, the helmets, the chest plates, it is like football padding combined with the type of padding you would wear if you were learning a martial art with bamboo swords, all the way down to super hyper reinforced skateboard elbow pads and hockey pants and some shit down on their boots that keep their ankles protected.

They are cool outfits and if you were going into a neighborhood stick fight arena where people from different neighborhoods squared off to settle neighborhood disputes by sending their most aggro local citizen into the gladiator arena to fight their neighbors to the death with sticks, those would be amazing outfits for that combat performance, which John heartily endorses, but that is a bad outfit to wear when you are faced off against a against a bunch of people whose only armor is their dreadlocks, or worse, whose only armor is their pinafore because they are just regular citizens who say: ”What the…? I need to go down and do something here!” You are going to meet those people head on in those outfits? Give me a break! It incites violence!

What we have been seeing the last week is 100% of police inspired set of riots, but the idea that the protests are going to change the institution will ultimately feel insufficient. Police culture is in most cases out of reach of reform. You can fire the police chief and find a chief from somewhere else, someone with a master's degree in public policy who has a twirly mustache or who has pictures of himself playing with his kids and dogs. Police chiefs are political jobs and you are picking from the police officers in the country who were the smartest and the most ambitious and who rose through their departments until they got into a public-facing job.

They were smart and they were sensitive and they figured out how to work the system and they figured out how to do that very tricky job of talking to their own officers in a way that engender trust, which means going into those rooms and saying basically: ”I know, they want us to all wear feathered caps and we are not going to do it, but I have to go tell them we are, so… between us…” and the cops go: ”Right on, boss! You go tell them what they want to hear!” and then the police chief stands in front of a microphone and says: ”We are going to really look into this feathered hat idea that you come up with. We are going to take it under advisement and we agree that something needs to happen!”

Those are the people that turn into police chiefs, and they might even believe at a certain point when they spent enough time in politics that they actually think the feathered had thing would work, but they have to sell it to their people and as soon as they try they are going to lose their faith forever because the cops will go: ”Traitor!” and then it is over. That happens one time and it is over. The police chief never gets their trust back again because it is such an insular culture. You are with us or against us.

You can fire police chiefs all day and all day long, but down in the ranks the lieutenant goes to the sergeant and says: ”All right, you got to put on these feathered hats. I don't make the rules. You just got to do it!” and then the lieutenant goes back to his desk and the sergeant turns to his people and says: ”Here is what we are going to do: When you pull over and you get out of your car, have a feather, put it up there like it is in your hat for a second, and then throw it on the ground and start kicking ass!” All you have to do is watch The Wire! All those characters are our heroes, we follow them through several seasons of The Wire, wishing them the best, but the cops in The Wire barely say: ”We should help these kids!”

Police attitude has not changed since the civil rights movement

A lot came out of the civil rights movement: The protests, the non-violent confrontation with police. Primarily what happened was the Civil Rights Act that happened at the level of the presidency and the Congress, but in terms of police, what we are seeing the police do today is the same stuff we saw the police do in 1962 or 1958. They are not turning dogs on people anymore because that was a really bad luck, and they haven't used any firehoses lately either but now they got a lot more tear gas and flash bomb grenades. The stuff that they are using now is no more humane than firehoses and dogs.

The cop reaction is the same: Show up with helmets on, stand shoulder to shoulder in a big line, and at a certain point it kicks off because of some nothing, some kid waves an umbrella at them too many times and they are like: ”Fuck you!” or one cop said yesterday: ”Well, we had to do a calculation when this riot was going to start and so we just decided that we needed to start it now because if we didn't start it now, it was probably going to start sometime later!” - ”Oh, sure!”

All the stuff that the protests accomplished in the 1950s and 1960s, all of the the rioting that happened in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the Watts riots, the Rodney King riots, produced a lot of awareness, but the cops in the Rodney King beating were doing the same exact stuff that the cops are doing today. They have the same looks on their faces, like: ”Hahaha, check it out! Kicking this guy's ass!” and whatever the Rodney King and the Watts riots produced, whatever all the non-violent protests all through the 1950s and 1960s produced, it did not produce any friendly, responsive police who think twice, who ask questions, who roll up on situations and try to defuse them.

Most police don’t think pot is a big deal if the person is white

Dan wonders if you adopt that mindset automatically the longer you are in the police.

Marijuana policy is a good example: Back when pot was illegal everywhere most police did not personally think that pot smoking was that big of a deal. Cops had a lot of time on the street dealing with people, they knew what pot smoking was, they saw pot smoking every single day, and they recognized that people that were smoking pot were not that big of a deal. Somebody that was stoned on pot was not dangerous, pot did not inspire people to fight, it did not make them resist the law, the money that was being exchanged in pot deals was on the order of $20-50, so it did not engender a ton of violent crime and very few people got shot because a pot deal went wrong.

With 95% of pot deals that go wrong somebody says: ”Hey, give me $20, here is your weed!” and then they hand them a bag of green toilet paper or shitty weed or the bag is a little light, and the person buying the pot goes: ”Hey man! Oh dude, you ripped me off!” and the pot dealer is already running down the street or stands there and goes: ”I didn't rip you off! What is your problem?”

John bought pot from a guy that he had known for five years as a friend on the street. He was a street dealer dude that hung out in the cafe and was a local low life and John was a local low life and John came up with $10 one time and ran into him and said: ”Hey, I want to buy some weed!” - ”I got some weed, dude! Give me $10 and I will go get it!” - ”Ah man, that is not how it works, you know that!” - ”Come on, bro, I gotta talk to this dude and he doesn't want to meet any strangers, man!” - ”All right, here is the $10!” and he ran off and John didn't see him again. This was a guy John saw every day and he never saw him again. For $10? John’s attitude was: ”Oh man! Hey, bro! That is not cool! Why did you rip me off?” The cops know that, they have always known it.

John is a white dude who looks like he flunked out of the police academy and druggies often think he looks like a cop. In the years that John was in a street culture he walked into situations all the time where he didn't know the people he was walking in on and they would say he was cop. Most of the time the person that was bringing him into that situation would be like: ”Dude, dude, he is cool!”, but the guy sitting at the head of the table would be like: ”Are you sure, man? I don't like the looks of this guy!" and John would say: ”You guys! I am just here to get high. I am not looking for trouble. I am not a cop or anything!”

This helped John on the street a lot because there were situations where there would be trouble between people and it was getting extremely sketchy really fast and John would be element that they didn't know what to do with, the stranger that looked just a little too square and fit and blonde and other. John heard the word cop all the time and he used it. Cops didn’t look at him thinking he was a cop and during the WTO protest in 1999 John walked around dressed like a cop and everybody believed he was a cop including some of the cops.

The thing about about cops and pot is a good lens because multiple times police came into an environment John was in where there was pot present, but the cops came in for a different reason, because someone had reported that there was a fire, because someone had reported a burglary, because someone in the neighborhood had heard a loud explosion and they were going door to door and asking people what they thought about it. John got pulled over and the car was full of weed, over and over in the course of the 15 years that John did drugs he came into situations where the cops appeared out of nowhere and they were all either in the middle of smoking pot or there was pot paraphernalia everywhere, or there was smoke hanging in the air.

John had a bunch of police come tear-assing into a backyard of a house where he lived where they were growing weed in the backyard when it was fall and it had been a wonderful season and the pot plants were 15 feet high. There was a literal little copse of trees that were the most beautiful buds you had ever seen, big sticky purple buds, covered with orange hair, just phenomenal. They had just trimmed the trees and the leaf litter still comprised a big pile of leaves that in times past you would have stuffed into big paper sacks and sold for $10 as ditch weed.

This was at the time in John’s life when he was still spending a lot of time with scumbags, but he had met enough people that were edging into middle class drug people and who weren't buying drugs on the street, people that weren't scrounging for drugs, people that bought pot an ounce at a time, or a quarter pound at a time. But John was also on a downward trajectory and was going to a third location with a speed freak, he was not headed to being a calm middle-class drug user.

The cops came running into the backyard with the fire department because of some thing that was happening over the back fence and they poured in there while John and the others were sitting in lawn chairs with sunglasses on, high as fuck, basically sitting in a forest of pot plants with their fire pit full of pot leaves, the most identifiable of all plant leaves. The cops and the firemen looked over the fence and realized that whatever they were looking for wasn't there, and they turned around and a few of the cops jogged out of the backyard, but the firemen and a few more cops turned around, talking to each other, apologizing to them, sauntering out.

Then a fireman stops and asks: ”Is this a fire pit?” - ”Yeah!” - ”Oh well, okay, let's just take a look here. You are 10 feet from the fence, looks good!” and he was surveying this fire pit that was heaped with marijuana branches and the firemen were looking at it: ”Yeah, it looks good! I mean, over here you could probably put a little ring of rocks to enclose it a little bit more!” - ”Totally, totally!” and the cops were standing there in the pot plants and say: ”Okay, have a good day! Put that ring of rocks there as we say!” and off they go. They don't give a shit about pot!

John had cops say when he was frantically trying to hide the fucking paraphernalia: ”Hey look, I'm not worried about your pot! I'm here about this other thing!” and John told the story about getting pulled over by the Alaska state trooper who was like: ”What is under the blanket?” and there was this giant bong and: ”All right, we don't care about you smoking pot. It actually makes you a better driver, but I'm not allowed to let you leave here with this huge box of pot!” and he dumped it on the ground and then drove off.

Black people being in a different situation

If John had been black, any one of those situations would have gone a completely different way. There was not a single one of those instances that he would have not been prosecuted for those drugs or had those drugs used as a pretext to tear his house apart, to run his license, and to handcuff him and put him out on the sidewalk where he would stand for a half an hour in handcuffs in front of all his neighbors, pressed against the hood of a car while they tossed his bedroom. If he had gotten busted for it, that would have been a drug bust and even if it had turned out that they busted him for less than whatever their crime threshold was, that it was a misdemeanor bust or something like that they would have pursued it through the courts.

Then John would have had a drug bust and then the next time it happened and they put him in handcuffs and threw him against the front of the police car they would have searched and they would have discovered that he had a prior and then this time, even though it was below the threshold, they would have taken him in and he would have been prosecuted and he would have been a habitual offender. There are so many instances in John’s life where if he had been prosecuted for the one thing, when the next thing happened, it would have been much worse.

John having been treated nicely by police whenever he got caught

During the three strikes years John would open the newspaper and read stories about how another kid got sent up the river for 30 years because it was his third strike. He would read the list of strikes and realize he had done all three of those strikes many times. The first strike was a stolen car, but it actually was his grandmother's car and she wanted to press charges because she wanted to teach him a lesson or she didn't want to press charges, but the cops were going to press charges anyway because they felt like he needed to learn a lesson.

Then he got Grand Theft Auto or maybe they bump it down to first degree theft or something. The second one was breaking and entering, but it was his friend's house and he broke in and got caught and then the friend had some weed and so it was all a big bust, the friend didn’t want him prosecuted, but the cops did, and the third one was some traffic infraction. So many people got sent away for all this chickenshit little nothing, stuff that John did all the time, stuff that he did and got caught. This is the most glaring example of how his white middle-classness protected him like a bulletproof shield because he got caught and released all the time.

Even the times that he got caught and taken to jail and booked and prosecuted and had to go to court, through that entire process, every person he interacted with was nice to him. The cops that busted him and put him in handcuffs and put him in the back of the car were: ”Well, you fucked up this time! I got to do this. I don't want to, but I got no choice. I got to take you downtown!” - ”Ah, man!” - ”Look, they got you dead to rights. I can't let you off!” and they would drive him down and the cop that was booking him said: ”Let me see your thumbs! What did you get busted for? Oh really? That is pretty stupid!”

Then John got put in the jail cell and sit there looking out through the bars and every cop that walks by he said: ”Hey, I have been in here for a while, is there is something going on?” - ”We will let you know!” Sometimes John would be in there for six hours, a couple of times he was overnight, and when they took him out in the morning, they said: ”We are letting you go!", or: ”Your friend came and paid your bail. Here is your court date!” and when John showed up at the court, it was the same thing: ”Well, this seems like a small infraction, but you got to learn sometime!” No cop in John’s life ever threw him anywhere.

Two times a cop hit him with a billy club. One time he was sleeping in Grand Central Station in New York City and a cop came along and whacked him on the leg and said: ”This isn’t the goddamn Hilton!” and John jumped up and was like: ”Yes, sir!” - ”Can't fucking sleep in the train station!” - ”Can't sleep in the train station? The train station is the number one place you sleep!” - ”Are you taking a train somewhere? Because it is 2am and there are no trains going anywhere. It is a place you sleep if you are between trains and you are in Utrecht!” That is not what he was saying, but: ”Move along!” That is the difference between America and Europe. If you are sitting in the train station in Utrecht to sleep on your backpack, it is very different than if you are curled up in the Grand Central Station with your fucking half a bottle of 10 high whiskey.

The other time John got hit by a cop with a stick was sleeping on a park bench, which was another situation where a cop on the beat came along, whacked him on the leg with a stick and said: ”You can't sleep here!” Otherwise every time John has been arrested he was treated with the utmost respect, frankly. How many times has he been put in handcuffs, put in a cop car, and taken downtown? Six or maybe seven times!

John getting tricked by the police into going to the court house for a refund

One time he went to the court up to the window where you are supposed to pay the fine because the court had sent him a letter saying that they had some money for him that had been forfeited or some bail he had paid at one point and he was getting back. He went to the cashier, handed the letter through the thing and the woman behind the glass said: ”Yeah, take this letter across the street. There is a store front over there that says ’Refunds’ just go in there and they will help you!”

John took his letter and walked out through the security and walked across the street and over across the street kitty-corner there was a row of 1880s storefronts. He knew the building because they had filmed an independent film upstairs in this old hotel and the building was abandoned, right across from where the new city hall is now. It had been abandoned, but it was a beautiful building and it was being preserved. The storefronts had soaped-up windows, you couldn't see in the floor-to-ceiling windows of this beautiful 19th century building.

John walked across the crosswalk, looked at the building, like: ”Huh? I have been in that building! Interesting! This must be some project where they are giving money back to the people!” and one of the windows had a sign in it that says ”refunds” and John opened the old glass-fronted wooden door that goes ”ding!” and he walked in and it was like the set of Barney Miller. There were five or six metal government-issued desks arranged in a haphazard manner and sitting at the desks and sitting on the desks with one butt-cheek up on the desk, elbow on the knee, chatting, drinking coffee, and smoking cigarettes are 15 cops.

Those were the tough cops, not the skinny recruits, but detectives with 20” necks, not the smart cops. John was standing there silhouetted in the door, they had the lights off, and the room was illuminated by the light coming in through the soaped glass. There was haze and dust, probably cigarette smoke. John was standing there like the customer he was and realized: ”Oh, fuck!” He had fallen for one of those scams where they get the criminals to come in because they think they got their free redeem. There was a roomful of cops with big smiles on their faces and the guy closest to him slides his butt off the desk and goes: ”Hi, can I help you? Let me see your paper!” - ”Oh, I got somewhere else to be!” - ”Come on in!” and he shut the door and put his arm around John.

It turned out that there had been a bench warrant for his arrest, he had missed the hearing, the bench warrant turned into a warrant, and at each time the fine doubled and quadrupled and what not in some old case from four years before. John had showed up, having lost track of what all had happened and he knew he had paid bail on himself a couple of times, and it was entirely possible at one point he paid $900 to get out of jail. It is entirely possible that they had $600 bucks or whatever waiting for him. Instead they had a warrant for his arrest and they crowded around him like a wall of meat, laughing, and they loved this, this was the best thing they have ever thought of, sending these letters out to a bunch of dopes.

Surely one after another came in: ”Ding! I'm here for my refund? Oh, man!” and some of them were bad guys. They looked at John’s warrant and said: ”All right, go back across the street to the courthouse and she is going to tell you when your court date is and you are going to have to pay some amount of money!” They evaluated him and even having snared him in their ruse they realized he was a non-violent offender, a white dude in his mid 20s who got a sense of humor about this. Everything about him was not what they cared about, and they let him go.

At that point John realized he needed to fucking solve this problem and he did all the things, met his court dates, pled out on the crime, paid the fines, and put it behind him, did all the bullshit that he had been fighting. The fact that they sneered him and still gave him a pat on the butt and said: ”Get out of here, we are fishing for bigger fish than you!” If John had been black, not in a million years would they have done that, and half of the cops in the room were black. He had other priors and they would have seen a habitual pattern of scofflaw in him.

John has never been busted for drugs

Fortunately John never got busted for drugs although cops pulled drugs out of him all the time. There were a couple of trumped-up charges, some breaking and entering, some public intoxication, some vandalism, some property destruction, trespassing, all the Penny Annie (?) shit. John does not describe himself as a street person, because that means a different thing, but a person that is living primarily on the street. He didn't really have places to go, he didn't have stuff to do, but he was part of the street culture, he was out every day, hustling, trying to get high, trying to find where the next thing was, interacting with people that were also doing that.

A lot of people were trying to make money in that economy and John was much more in on the other side of the economy, trying to find stuff without money, trying to figure out how to get by without money. He didn't have ID at the time, which cops really don't like, that is not a sign that you are playing along.

Deflecting situations without calling he cops

How hard is it to charge somebody with trespassing? There is trespassing where you are dressed head to toe in a black Catwoman outfit, carrying a pry bar and you are caught on the third floor balcony of a French chateau, and there is trespassing where you are just sitting in front of a place and somebody comes along and says: ”You can't sit there!” - ”Fuck you!” - ”You can't sit there, I said!” - ”It is a fucking public street. Go to hell!” and then the next person that comes along is a cop who got called by the Karen who was inside the door, and the cop asks for your ID and then you don't have ID and then they want to talk about this now.

That is just normal police harassment, causing crime. John was a sleaze, he didn't leave when the lady told him to leave, but also she was telling him to leave because she was a shitty person who didn’t want somebody sitting in front of her store and she knows she can call the cops, so instead of coming out and saying: ”Here is a dollar, will you go somewhere else?” she says: ”I am going to call the cops! I am going to show you!” and spends $2500 of the taxpayer’s money to show this guy that he can't sit on the sidewalk in front of her store.

It is a cultural problem that wouldn't happen in a lot of places because they wouldn't have the cops to call and they would say: ”Get out of here!” and that either meant: ”My friend who is bigger than you is going to kick your ass if you don't!”, which is an absolutely viable way of maintaining polite society, or they can come out and say: ”Here is a dollar for you to go find another place to be!” John doesn’t think that would be encouraging you to come back the next day to get a dollar if you show up and they want you to go because when you show up a second time and sit there waiting for your dollar you are extorting them and most people on both sides of that equation recognize that as a violation of street code.

”Here is a dollar, go fuck off!” is a nice way of bridging the gap between somebody saying: ”This is my shop. You can't sit on the sidewalk here!” and somebody on the other side whose instinct is to say: ”It is a free country. You can't tell me what to do!” John is not saying he ever got a dollar or gave a dollar in this respect, but the dollar is basically a stand-in for: ”Be nice, talk nice!” It is like kneel down and say: ”I'm running a flower shop here and most of my customers are ladies and you are scaring them!” or whatever, a human encounter rather than just: ”Get off or I will call the cops!”

The only reason we have that in our culture is that we know that we call the cops and the cops will… Why the fuck does the city provide thugs to do that kind of small work of: ”You can't sit here!” when that is a problem as old as time. For 50.000 years, human beings have been sitting down on rocks and there was somebody saying: ”That is my rock! Don't sit there! Why are you sitting there? You can't sit there!” and until 150 years ago, no one ever was like: ”Police!” and honestly: A lot of what got done was just regular thugs. The idea that law and order means that we filter all that stuff through an organized police force is a broken mind.

As a person sitting on the sidewalk who was being told to move along, if the guy from the store next to hers and the guy from the other store on the other side both came out, John would fucking move along! It never had to turn into anything. Those guys would come out and say: ”Hey, seriously! She asked you to move along?” and John would just do the calculation and go: ”well, this sucks now!” John is not mentally ill in a defiant way where that kind of pile-on makes him stand up and go: ”Okay fuckers! Bring it!” and those shopkeepers aren't looking for a stick fight with somebody.

There are times to call the police, but most of the time it doesn't have to go there. Most of the time people can solve their own problems. The notion that the thing that keeps us from devolving into a Hobbesian nightmare is this one line of valiant cops that are keeping a guy like John sitting on the sidewalk because he doesn't have anywhere to go from turning around and rampaging your florist's shop and raping you and burning the block down, that is a dark fantasy, and people love dark fantasies.

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