I may have been six years old the first time I flew back to Seattle. When I was six nobody knew where Seattle was.

I may have been five, or even four–I do know that I was two when we flew from Seattle to go live in Marietta Georgia and shortly after that we flew back, and thus I began flying back to Seattle when I was too young to be afraid to fly and I have continued to fly back to Seattle through a debilitating fear of flying until this day, if you leave out the few years when I would not fly but instead got into the habit of taking the train back to Seattle.
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No enterprise zone

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 25ยข. 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.

Mission Street poetry thursday, friday, saturday night

as long as hail is not pouring out of the sky tonight and through the weekend, I will be out on Mission Street reading at the spots indicated on the map in my venue post from last week. I will aim for 9ish in the evening until bar traffic trickles to an end at whatever point after 2am that happens. I will also aim to be at the Wells Fargo at 22nd the whole time, save runs home for warmth and other necessities. all it takes to get people to stop are one or two other people who’ve stopped. so do Stop by if you are in the neighborhood.


A Letter

Dear Mayor, Board of Supervisors, and the Department of Public Affairs for the San Francisco Police Department,

As I write this, yet another police siren is sounding through my window, an increasingly aggravating noise whose frequency has only continued to increase over the last few months and has become especially intensified in just the last couple of weeks. Moments ago I returned from a shopping trip for groceries, from locally owned stores on Valencia Street, as I have been doing for eleven years, without fear for my life or person, as has generally been the case for eleven years. As I approached my house, I passed an enraged man making violent threats against another man on the sidewalk by the MUNI stop–not an infrequent event, and one that generally I make my way gingerly around and go on. As I passed the scene of altercation I happened to notice a police officer ticketing a homeless-looking man for trespassing on property which was vacated by a church about a year ago and which the owner has apparently been unsuccessful in finding another renter willing to pay whatever s/he is asking.

The police officer glanced up the sidewalk in the general direction of the shouting, then, seemingly unconcerned, went back to finish writing his ticket which the trespasser will of course have no way of paying so who knows where he will end up–and I thought “is this what it’s come to?”

Put briefly, I have been simmering in anger about the apparent drive to aggressively arrest those involved in non-violent, victimless crimes up and down my street, to clear them out for–for whom? For those with money who would like to live in a city but are afraid of those who are not just like themselves in the way they live their lives? I don’t know. I don’t know exactly where the motivation has come from to begin this campaign, but once I saw the notices for the “community safety cameras” now trained on the BART plazas at 16th Street I began to notice a sneaking suspicion that the Mayor and the Police Chief are engaged in a Giuliani-inspired crusade to “clean up” San Francisco to make it more “livable.”

But let me just point out what a livable city is NOT. At least here, where progressive policies once kept the Police Department trained on actual threats to community safety, such as gang violence, homicide, rape and muggings, a livable San Francisco is NOT one which is heavily monitored, policed and harassed into complying with the insane wars against (some) drugs, against the homeless, and against sex workers. San Francisco used to stand for humanity instead of persecution of those who choose to live their lives in ways the federal government has condemned, even though they HURT NO ONE except when the prohibition of their chosen ways of life drive them to petty thievery, for instance, or into defecating where there were no public restrooms available.

But you know? When someone commits a violent crime in the service of a habit, they should be prosecuted for the violent crime rather than the habit, which is in itself harmless except, perhaps, to the person who has it–and at one time I thought that this city agreed with me in that this was none of the government’s business. When there aren’t enough public toilets to accommodate those who need them, they should be placed in neighborhoods with the greatest need. Instead, however, it seems that this city has suddenly chosen to align itself with the right wing absolutists who advocate that the people involved in these sorts of crimes are criminals for their non-violent, victimless behaviors and that a proper city should not allow anyone to subsist in it who might frighten a newcomer with enough money to live downtown but not enough guts actually to live in a real city.

I would be interested to know just how many violent crimes it is estimated that the “community safety cameras” have actually prevented. Was the 16th Street BART plaza a particularly dangerous place to frequent before those cameras went up? How many homicides, muggings and rapes actually happened within the area that they now survey? My point of course is that it is all too obvious that these cameras were set up to “protect” people from themselves, not from any particular threat, and this zeal to “protect” has long been a concern of the conservative, puritan element of American society that believes that no one should dare to live as though they do not believe in sobriety, chastity and industry. In other words, the concern of an element that, prior to now, I never thought of as holding sway in San Francisco.

I’m not actually that naive, however. I do suspect that the stepped up police activity is related to money, to the gentrification of the Mission, and to the general unease of the rich around those who get by in ways other than monetary acquisition. The Mission used to be vibrant and alive with lifestyles of every stripe, a neighborhood which may have felt gritty, but which was real and even had a sense of solidarity about it. Now no one trusts anyone: who might be trying to inform on whom? Who has been picked up and let back out under the condition that they work against those who were once part of their community? You might think that prostitutes, transients and those with illegal habits are without community, but this is simply not true, and the police department and by extension the whole city is currently involved in a campaign to destroy it.

As much as some believe that this is absolutely the right thing to do, I thought San Francisco knew better. Mayor Newsom has lost my vote. Any city supervisor who stands up for what is ethically right, in the face of great pressure from those who feel quite differently about right and wrong and who feel they have the right to force this view upon others, will gain it. I realize of course that I am but one voice, but you must realize also that you all are persecuting a community that effectively has no political voice whatsoever, especially given that much of it has been defined as “criminal” and thus without legitimacy. I can guarantee you there are many in that community who feel the same way I do, but who have been driven to desperation by the national wars undertaken to eradicate them, wars doomed to failure but nevertheless capable of engendering hundreds of thousands of needless casualties.

I once thought San Francisco had the sense not to participate in this war. I guess I was wrong.

Oh listen. Another police siren. Why don’t I feel any safer?

Your citizen for now,

Erik etc etc