It was a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time — and when you live on the streets there are many such places

I just had a slightly humiliating experience. One of those experiences where you feel like a bum. I just got rousted by three different cops. You KNOW you could be in big trouble when three different cops cars pull up, specifically to deal with you and nobody but you.

I’m hanging out drinking beer and charging my cellphone at one of my favorite late-night hang-out spots on the campus when it’s raining. This little nook of space in the basement of Dwinelle Hall. I’ve been using it for years and I’ve never had any problems because it’s usually deserted in the evenings, and especially deserted on the weekends. At least until now.

So around 9 o’clock I notice this cop car pulls up right outside (I’m in this little lobby area). And doesn’t leave. So I’m starting to get a little nervous. Finally this cop — this young black woman — comes in and confronts me. “We got a complaint that you’ve been lodging in here.” So I just figured somebody had complained that some weirdo bum had been hanging out in the building (there’s at least a dozen other homeless people that regularly hole up in the building when it’s raining — several of whom are a bit peculiar — and I probably got caught in the cross-fire.)

So I give her my ID card and she runs my name across the wire. And I figure after I’m cleared for not having any outstanding warrants she’ll let me go.

But then a SECOND cop car pulls up and a second cop comes into the building. It’s this Asian cop who got really heavy with me this one night a couple years ago. So now I’m really squirming, thinking I might be in hot water (turns out he was very cool and friendly and didn’t have an attitude towards me this time, thankfully). So he asks me a few questions. Then asks to see my cellphone. I give it to him. And he asks me several questions about my cellphone. Which is weird. So I’m trying to figure out what’s going on.

And then a THIRD cop car pulls up. So now I’m really thinking I’m fucked. He’s a big young white guy. And as he enters the lobby and approaches me he puts on these blue plastic gloves. And I’m thinking: “Is he planning on doing a full body search here??” Like what the fuck is going on? I was just sitting here minding my own business. And now all this. He’s asks me a few questions. Then he asks me about the jacket I’m wearing. Which is dark blue. “Is that jacket reversible?” he says. “I don’t know, I’ve always worn it this way,” I says. “Could I take a photo of you with your jacket reversed?” he says. “Sure,” I says. The jacket is tan when it’s reversed. He takes a photo of me and my jacket. And then goes back outside to his cop car.

So now I’m standing there in the lobby with the Asian cop and the black woman cop, feeling like a criminal. FBI’s most wanted list. (I also have a 6-pack of beer by my stuff, hidden in a black bag, two beers already drunk, four to go — so they can bust me for public drinking and haul me off to jail at any moment if they spot that, so I am a bit nervous).

“Am I in trouble?” I said to the Asian cop. Still perplexed by what’s going on.

“A student got her cellphone stolen and you match the description of the suspects,” said the cop. “White male, about 50, 6 foot, wearing a tan jacket, slightly balding.” (that hurt)

“That would be me,” I said.

(I’m realizing it’s just one of those deals where “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Which can happen often when you live on the streets. Because you’re usually in the wrong place.)

The big white cop comes back in and says, “Can I search through your backpack?”

“Sure,” I says. He pulls everything out of my backpack one by one. And then puts it all back in.

“Can I search you?” he says.

“Sure,” I says. “Is this how you do it?” I turn around and put my arms out by my side (I haven’t had a lot of experience with this sort of thing, thankfully).

“No. Put your hands behind your back.” I comply and he gives me the old frisk. Finds nothing. “Can I look through your bag, too?”

“Sure,” I says. Now I figure I’m fucked. “Thats just my 6-pack of beer. I was going to drink it later. I surely wouldn’t drink it here on campus property.” (he lies)

“What kind of beer is it?” asks the Asian cop.

“Racer 5,” I says.

“That’s good beer,” he says with a friendly smile.

“7.5% alcohol content,” I says.

(Fortunately I had put the bottle caps back on the two empties, so it looked like a full six-pack as long as he didn’t look too close.)

After a bit more chit-chat they say:  “Thanks for your cooperation.” And I grab my stuff and get my ass out of there and off the campus as fast as I can. With a big sigh of relief. But humiliated too. And now this once great hang-out spot is burned-out and off limits. Sigh.

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A Berkeley cop retires

Officer Aranas, Hate Man, and Asshole John, in one of the many, many interactions between the police and the street people.

Officer Sean Aranas was a ubiquitous presence on the Berkeley street scene over the last 25 years. And I’d regularly see him whizzing back and forth on his bicycle, responding to one call or another, or maybe just on his rounds looking for some action . . . It’s one of the weird things about cops and street people. Cops are one of the few non-street people who are privy to our world. They live alongside us as a constant presence, seeing us where we live at our campsites, and rousting us at our hang-out spots after midnight. So they are part of our world, even as they are mostly an adversarial presence. We’re like two teams, two armies, locked in a constant state of conflict or detente.

With most cops (at least here in Berkeley) it’s not personal with them when it comes to the street people. Some are even sympathetic. For they get a good look at the squalor in which many of us live. Most of them also realize the hopelessness of the situation, which they understand better than most. For they are constantly called in to solve a problem for which they have no solution. And they witness the dreary cycle over the decades where they roust a homeless campsite from one block, only to have it pop up on the next block.

One of the things that truly distinguished Officer Arenas from most of the other cops over the years was his willingness — nay, his EAGERNESS — to get physical with people. And the sight of Aranas on the ground, wrestling and grappling with a suspect that he was attempting to handcuff and arrest, is no doubt one of the enduring images many people have of Aranas in their minds. Whereas most other cops go out of their way to avoid these kind of physical situations. Because, frankly, they’re dangerous. To the cops as well as the other person. And plus, the cop has to exert a lot of effort. And, frankly, most cops are just doing their jobs to get a paycheck, and strive to avoid any added aggravations. But I suspect with Aranas, he felt that was one of the things he was good at — he was big and strong and a natural athlete, always in great shape. And maybe by getting physical he was trying to over-compensate for not being so strong in the mental aspects of the job. . . One enduring Aranas image: This wingnut, tweaking on meth, was in the middle of the Haste & Telegraph intersect, stomping back and forth around in circles, and raving at the top of his lungs as cars whizzed by him from every direction, honking their horns and trying to avoid hitting him. . .Aranas pulled up on the scene on his bicycle. Carefully surveyed the scene from a distance for several minutes, like a predator stalking their prey. And then, at the exact moment when their was a split-second break in the traffic, Aranas made his move, dived at the guy at the legs, took him down to the ground with a text-book perfect NFL tackle. Handcuffed the guy and pulled him off to the safety of the sidewalks in a blink of an eye. A perfectly executed move. And I had to admire the pure athleticism of it.

On the down side, one time this friend of mine — a perfectly peaceable fellow who never caused any problems — was doing a busking routine in front of the Berkeley market, rapping out poetry and rap beats. As i passed him, I noticed Officer Aranas making a bee-line towards him on his bicycle. When I came back to the scene about 15 minutes later, the entire block was roped off, cop cars everywhere, with Aranas and multiple other cops on top of the guy, handcuffing and practically hog-tying him. . It was a scene completely and needlessly escalated by Aranas. The type of thing that most other cops would have resolved peacefully.

Myself, I rarely had any serious interactions with the Berkeley cops. I strove to stay off of their radar, and mostly succeeded. I don’t think I spoke more than 10 words to Officer Aranas in the 25 years he was on the job. And he mostly just ignored me. Accept for this one time. I was sitting on a bench at People’s Park one evening. And I can’t even remember what the minor violation I was committing (if anything) that called myself to Aranas’ attention in the first place. But he suddenly came at me on his bicycle and started angrily haranguing me over some perceived offense. He was so needlessly amped up and over-reacting to the situation, it really made me wonder about his mental stability. For usually he strove to adopt this bland, emotionless Mr. Spock facade — “just a cop doin’ his job” — often in the midst of highly-charged scenes.

Aranas’ other claim to fame in the history of Berkeley. In the last weeks of Hate Man’s life, Aranas hit him with a stay-away order from People’s Park, for some completely bogus reason (according to Hate Man). So Hate Man, who was a legendary People’s Park figure, spent the last weeks of his life exiled from his beloved (or is it behated) park.

At any rate, Officer Sean Aranas is “retired” now. You got the feeling he stirred up shit one time too many. And his bosses figured he was a liability, and they had better cut their losses before he really got them into trouble. You got to figure it was one of those deals where they gave him the choice of “retiring” or being “fired.” Officer Aranas.

Rule Number One: NEVER throw a cigarette butt at a cop (inadvertent or otherwise)

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I offer up these savvy tips for successful street living, virtually free of charge.
Whenever I’m drinking late at night at this secluded spot on the campus — this second-floor balcony over-looked this trail below — I’ll think back to this time I was hanging out here 7 or 8 years ago.

I happened to toss my cigarette butt over the railing to the trail below. Something I normally don’t do. I loathe litter. But I was in a bad mood. It was after midnight and I had just drunk my last beer and smoked my last cigarette and I was flat broke and it was the middle of the winter and it was pouring rain. So now I was trapped on this balcony for the foreseeable future with no beer and no cigarettes and no nothing and my life was just a piece of shit that had amounted to nothing. So I was in a sour mood. So I just flung the cigarette butt over the railing in an act of defiance like “FUCK THIS WORLD!!”

Unbeknownst to me, there happened to be two cops walking on the trail below me. I don’t know if my cigarette butt hit the cops on the head. But at the least it must have come very close. Because the two cops immediately made a bee-line to where I was sitting on the balcony. And one of the cops was raging mad as a hornet. As if my tossed cigarette butt was an affront to his very manhood. And I — homeless degenerate lurking on the campus — represented everything vile and evil and wrong with our current society. In other words, he took it very personally.

“DID YOU THROW THAT CIGARETTE BUTT??” said the cop.

“Yes I did,” I admitted. The butt no doubt had the DNA of my saliva on it. So there was no way to avoid the rap.

“ARE YOU DRINKING??” said the cop.

“No. I already DRANK it all!!” I said, with real anger in my voice (I was still pissed about being out of beer).

“ARE YOU BEING A WISE-ASS??” said the cop.

“Not consciously,” I said.

So the cop started writing me up a $450 littering ticket.

“You’re not going to give me a littering ticket for one cigarette butt are you?” I said.

“I SURE AS HELL AM!!” said the cop, thrusting the little yellow citation at me.

So I ended up doing 45 hours of community service picking up litter and thousands of cigarette butts in the park to repay my debt to society. All because of that one lousy cigarette butt.

And it didn’t end there. That cop developed a personal vendetta against me. Every time I turned around he would show up. Catch me in the act of drinking in public. And hit me with a $250 “open container” ticket. He must have hit me with nearly 10 tickets over the course of the year. And one night he even gave me the flashlight treatment and hand-cuffed me and arrested me and hauled me down to the Berkeley police station where I spent the night in the drunk tank (the weird thing is I wasn’t even drunk at the time, I had just started on my first beer).

But then, over the course of the next year, over the course of all our interactions, I finally wore the cop down with my fabled charm. Or maybe he just forget what he was mad about me in the first place. And he actually started to feel friendly towards me. And whenever he’d see me he’d say “Hey Pete, how ya doin’?” with a beaming smile on his face. And we’d banter back and forth with a little friendly small-talk before we went our separate ways.

A fairly pleasant encounter with an Officer of the Law

 

It’s 9:30 at night and I’m just hitting the campus, carrying a 6-pack of beer (discreetly hidden in a black bag). When this cop happens to be walking right towards me (uh oh). Heavy-set guy. Looks like he’s maybe half-black, half-latino.

“You have a good night, Mr. Labriola,” he said as he passed me.

“You too,” I said.

“Hey, how did you know who I am?” I said.

“I’ve had at least a half-dozen interactions with you,” he said. “You were always very polite.”

“Oh,” I said. “You’ve got a better memory than me.”

“Ha ha,” he said.

“Well have a good night, cool cat,” I said.

“You too,” he said.

And I headed off to find a discreet place to drink my beer.

You know how it is. Some of my late-night interactions tend to be a bit of a blur in my mind. But it made me wonder. I like to think I’m a pretty inconspicuous person. But maybe I’m not as inconspicuous as I like to think I am.

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I’m not anti-cop or pro-cop, by the way.  Being homeless, dealing with the cops is just like dealing with the rain.  It’s just one more Force of Nature that you have to deal with. And it’s really nothing personal. Usually.

One of my Facebook friends suggested that maybe the cop was familiar with me from reading about my exploits on my Facebook page or the internet. But one of the great things about being known by a pseudonym; it’s unlikely the cops would ever make the connection between “Ace Backwords” and my real name, the real person they deal with. And likewise, nothing would pop up if they happened to run “Ace Backwords” over the wire.

Cops, by the way, have a wide spectrum of opinions and attitudes about “the homeless.” Some are actually sympathetic. While others are outright hostile. Mostly I think they’re just weary and jaded about the whole thing. I mean for decades now, they’re the ones called in to deal with the problem. And they, more than anyone, know they have no solution. Other than to run the homeless off of one block. Only to have them turn up on the next block. 
 
There’s a weird bond — a weird connection — between the cops and the homeless street people. They’re one of the few indoors people that are privy to our world, after all. They work the street beat, just like the street people. And they’re among the few people that are out there with us after midnight. Rousting us at our campsites and hang-out spots, they’re more aware of how we actually live than most people. We’re like two competing teams — two competing armies — playing on the same playing field.

The day The Man tried to take our Christmas Tree

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“Have a bad Christmas!!”

Every year Hate Man used to set up a Christmas tree at his hang-out spot in People’s Park. And it was a nice little bit of Christmas cheer on the street scene. Which can often be a sad time of year for street people. Who lack the family and home that everybody else is celebrating. But even though we were homeless we could still at least enjoy our own Christmas tree.

But then one year The Man told Hate Man that it was against the law to set up a personal Christmas tree in a public park. Siting zoning laws or some other rules and regulations that forbid individuals from erecting “structures” in public parks. And he ordered the grounds crew to confiscate the illegal Christmas tree and haul it away to the City Dump.

“That’s ridiculous!! That’s outrageous!!” declared Hate Man, as he watched them hauling off our Christmas tree. “Claiming that homeless street people don’t have the right to have a Christmas tree!!”

So Hate Man got a second Christmas tree. And defiantly set it up at the same spot. “And if they try to take this Christmas tree I’m willing to go to jail for it. If the cops try to take it, they’re going to have to arrest me first and haul me off to Santa Rita in handcuffs!!” Realizing how bad they would look if this story ended up on the front pages of all the local newspapers — “HOMELESS MAN THROWN IN JAIL FOR CRIME OF HAVING A CHRISTMAS TREE!!” — which it would have (Hate Man knew how to use the media to his advantage). The Man backed down and allowed Hate Man and the Berkeley street people to have their own personal Christmas tree.

And we all had a very Merry Christmas and lived happily ever after, until some crazy homeless tweaker chick grabbed our Christmas tree and hauled it off and dumped it in a garbage can somewhere for some unknown reason. The End.

 

 

An unfortunate encounter with a particular cop

A favorite hangout spot.

This is one of my favorite late-night hangout spots on the Berkeley campus. The balcony alongside the Golden Bear restaurant. Its usually deserted after 10 PM. And it has an awning to protect you against the rain. Plus, there’s a big pillar directly in front of me that mostly blocks me from public view. So I can sit here and quietly sip my Olde English malt liquor while I spew my madness and venom across the Facebook airwaves.

The only time I ever had a problem at this spot was this one time about four years ago. It was around midnight. And I had just finished my last beer. And was smoking my last cigarette. And it starts fucking raining. So I’m doubley pissed. I’m now out of beer. AND I’ve got to deal with the fucking rain. So the party is definitely over for the night

I took the last drag on my last fucking cigarette and tossed the butt over the railing of the balcony. “Fuck it!” I said.

Generally I don’t like to litter. And I pick up all my cigarette butts. But it was one of those dismal moments where you just feel “Fuck it!”

The next thing I know, two cops are in my face. “DID YOU TOSS THIS CIGARETTE BUTT??” said the cop. He was visibly angry. Evidently the two cops had been walking up the trail below me. And the cigarette butt hit the cop on the head.

“Yes,” I admitted. “That was my cigarette butt.” I was guilty of crimes against humanity.

“ARE YOU DRINKING??” said the cop.

“No. I already DRANK it all,” I said, bitterly. Which was the honest to God truth. I was genuinely pissed that I was out of beer. But honesty isn’t necessarily the best policy when dealing with cops.

“ARE YOU BEING A WISE ASS?” said the cop.

“Not consciously,” I said.

I could tell by the cop’s demeanor that I represented everything that was vile and degenerate about our modern America society.

“COULD I SEE YOUR I.D., SIR??” said the cop. And he proceeded to write me up a $450 littering ticket.

“You’re giving me a $450 littering ticket for one cigarette butt?” I said.

“I SURE AS HELL AM!!” said the cop.

For a second I considered throwing my butt over the railing again. For old time’s sake. But then I thought I better not press my luck.

To make matters worse, for the next YEAR that particular cop had a personal vendetta against me. It was personal with him. Whenever I was quietly sitting somewhere drinking my beer. He would find me. And write me up a $250 “open container” ticket. He nailed me at least 7 or 8 times. I guess he thought I had thrown the butt on his head on purpose. He even arrested me one night (even though I wasn’t even drunk at the time — I hadn’t even finished my first cup of beer). Shined his flashlight right in my face, made me do the “walk the straight line” test. Which I handled with aplomb. But he arrested me anyways. Handcuffed me and hauled me down to the Berkeley jail where I spent the night in the drunk tank. Which was a weird S&M kind of experience. Being handcuffed and everything.

This went on for a year. Where this cop was constantly on my ass as a nemesis.

But eventually, in the course of all our interactions, I began to wear the cop down with my fabled charm. And he ended up actually really liking me. We practically became friends. “Hey Pete, how ya doing?” he’d say whenever he saw me. Addressing me by my first name. Which is rare when dealing with cops. They generally like to keep it formal and polite while they’re busting your ass. Go figure. So he stopped bothering me.

Which is why I can still hang out at this spot after midnight quietly drinking my malt liquor. THE END

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