This is not America

Today's entry is not a rerun, but it feels like it because this is the fourth time I've seen it in not much more than a month. There must be a 'crackdown' going on. It's part of the normal cycle of homelessness and street life.

First, do nothing and offer no help to prevent people from slipping into desperate situations.

Second, ignore the people living on the street, all of whom got there because of step one.

Third, start arresting the homeless under whatever pretext can be invented, making their already miserable lives even more miserable, in hopes they'll relocate outside city limits.

When the crackdown reduces visible homelessness, or if more people complain about the crackdown than about the homeless, then return to step one for a while.

In today's episode, I was walking 16th Street toward the Mission BART station in San Francisco, when two strangely polite cops started questioning a couple of bums who'd been bothering nobody, simply sitting on the big concrete planters in front of Bank of America branch #4,289,910.

As in all the hasslings I've seen, the street people were just talking to each other, which used to be legal. "May we see some ID, please?" came the inquiry from these stalwart officers of the law. Very polite, 'please' and all. 

Again as always, I stopped and watched, in case there was something to be seen. Which means, to take notes and write about it, sure, but also it means being a witness if the cops pull out their billy-clubs for batting practice.

There were no arrests this time, and no violence, because both bums had passable ID, and neither had any outstanding warrants when the cops read their license numbers over the radio.

For ten minutes, those two harmless and impoverished old men were not free to go. They were interrogated, until the cops couldn't find even a phony pretext to arrest them, and told the bums to "Move along." The two bums said OK and started walking down the sidewalk, until one of the cops shouted, "No, no!" and told them to walk off separately.

One bum said something quietly to the other, probably, "Meet me behind Walgreens" or some such, and then they walked away, and away from each other, one to the east, one to the west. Good work, officers. Homeless isn't enough, so let's try making the homeless friendless, too.

When I've seen cops picking on other homeless people recently, I could at least rationalize that I didn't know the down-and-outers involved, so, hell, maybe they were troublemakers. This time the cops' records check proved that they weren't troublemakers, so the entire intent of this hassling was plain meanness.

It would be a stretch to say that I knew either of those bums, but one of them was a familiar face. I used to live in a rez hotel around the corner, and he's lived on that street for years. He's panhandled me and I've given him a few bucks, and he's no danger to anyone.

This is America in the here and now, and it's ugly, on the way to getting uglier. By what authority can the police approach anyone anywhere doing absolutely nothing and demand identification?

"Are your papers in order?" Mine aren't, and even if they were, being forced to show ID to every bluesuit with a badge who demands it is not what I'd call freedom. It's only America, which isn't at all the same thing.

From Pathetic Life #18
Monday, November 6, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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