I probably shouldn’t blog when I’m this angry but I am going to write and see if it is printable when I get to the end. Lately in the Mission District in San Francisco–which is to say, the last 18 months or so–police foot patrols have been increased in order to “increase neighborhood safety and awareness of crime.” Usually they harass homeless people out of doorways (thank heavens we’re saving the neighborhood from sleepiness!) and drag intoxicated individuals into the drunk tank (which may keep the intoxicated from stumbling into traffic so there may be some good in that I suppose, although I doubt that detention is the best place to sleep off a bender). Very occasionally they will bust up a drug deal and run all the dealers off into the four directions lickety split while they collar some poor junkie and his or her crack-addicted middle man to throw them into
treatment jail, where they are sure to experience withdrawal without medical intervention for however long it amuses the police to see them writhing on the floor. And then the officers put another notch in their Drug War belts so that… why is it so important again? Oh yes: so we all are imprisoned in someone else’s consensual reality. Well, except that alcohol, one of the most dangerous drugs known to man, never gets a bust. Huh. Can’t make sense of that one, but there you are. Not everything in our Great Society here in San Francisco can be explained.
Today they were on a street peddlers sting. That is, they were busting up anyone who dared put a few items out for sale on the sidewalk. See there’s this thing, if anyone isn’t aware of this facet of American Suburban Culture, there’s this thing called the “yard sale” where you gather up all the clothes that don’t fit you anymore and all the music that you’ve ripped onto your harddrive and anything else you no longer have a use for and you sell them to other people so that these things can clutter up their houses until they decide to have a yard sale.
In the city, “yard sales” happen on the sidewalk. Now, if you are lucky enough to live in a flat or a house with actual frontage on the sidewalk, you might be able to get by with a “garage sale,” where most of your stuff is actually three or four inches inside your garage, but if you don’t live in a place like that, your only choice is to sell on the sidewalk.
But apparently this is highly dangerous, offensive to tourists, and likely to become a scourge of street-level free enterprise if it were allowed to go on willy-nilly. So the street beat cops come up to me and give me the steely eye and stout, legs apart stance to show me they are not going to take any guff and ask “Do you have a peddler’s permit?” To which I should have replied “I’ll have my lawyer get back to you on that” but I stupidly just said “Nope!” And they told me I had to pack up all my stuff and scram in order to avoid a $300 ticket.
So I said, “OK.” And they walked away saying they’d be back. “OK.” I said. I packed up and left. I will say up front that had I not been a relatively cleanly-dressed white guy I would have been lucky if they had just walked away at that point, but they did, because I was not offering any protest or looking particularly guilty of anything, but gods know that does not offer one any protection against cops intoxicated on authority.
Imagine! Someone might make a hundred or so dollars selling their stuff on the sidewalk but we cannot let this happen in our fair city. Only those who have gone through the proper channels, secured the capital necessary for permits and leases and tax numbers and I’m sure a thousand other bureaucratic details that ensure that the city gets its fair share of the profits–which, you know? If they said “we need .x% of your profits for the city” I would have handed them the 25¢. But no. I had to skedaddle before some youngster caught a glimpse of me folding my tshirts neatly on my suitcase and tugged at her mothers sleeve to ask, “Mommy, what is that man doing?”
“He’s selling his possessions to pay the rent dear. Try not to stare.” I know this would have been traumatic for the child and for this I do apologize. But to the degree that it is mostly another tool to harass the homeless or desperately poor, who make up the lion’s share of “street peddlers,” it is a noxious exercise in authoritarian bullshit. People with yards don’t have to give any of their sales back to the city, unless they go so far as to declare the profits on their tax returns, which I am sure everyone does–then maybe some of the cash comes trickling back in the form of state and federal subsidies. One day. People without yards? SOL, I’m afraid.
I need to borrow someone’s yard. Even a stairway would do, as long as it opened onto the street. And I need it tomorrow. Otherwise I’ll be reduced to trying to have my sale in the alleyway to my building, which alleyway is lined with dumpsters and so is not very attractive to window shoppers and of course this weekend the landlord chose to shovel out the basement storage room and do some sort of minor sanding and painting here and there so it is not really feasible to try to sell stuff through the same doorway that the maintenance workers and trash haulers have to use. I do not know if they will be here over the weekend, but our landlord hires extremely cheap and desperate labor who will work at midnight on a Sunday if necessary. It’s happened.
The only thing I can think of is to shave my head, trim my beard, put on my other glasses and go back out there tomorrow and when they ask if they didn’t see me today look like I have no idea what they are talking about. I did get out quickly enough that they did not come back for a second look. I can lie to cops. I cannot really lie to anyone else but I don’t consider cops worthy of the truth. They are not your friends.
Ah, here is that video:
So I am not certain how to assert my right not to speak to a cop when he asks me if I have a peddler’s license and especially if they ask if they didn’t see me in the same place yesterday. Suggestions welcome.