A Berkeley cop retires

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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.

Hate Man and his stuff: Part 2. Hate Man tells the University to stuff it

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When Hate Man moved to People’s Park and set up Hate Camp there, his battles with the police and the University over his “stuff” really intensified, and became virtually a daily form of warfare that was waged for over a decade. It wasn’t uncommon for Hate to have a dozen “stuff”-related tickets at any given moment. Virtually all of which Hate defeated in court.

The problem the police had with nailing Hate over this issue was that there was very little legal precedent to go by, as well as the difficulting of exactly defining what “too much stuff” entailed. A fact that Hate was able to exploit in court.

The cops would arbitrarily attempt to come up with different definitions — one was “you could only have as much stuff as you could carry.” But Hate would argue that this discriminated against older, smaller, weaker people who couldn’t carry as much as younger, bigger, stronger people.

Or the cops would try to give street people tickets for having chairs, which they considered a form of “lodging.” To which Hate countered that this discriminated against the homeless, because normal people were allowed to bring lawn chairs to the parks when they had their picnics.

Hate had an excellent legal mind. And he enjoyed using it. He enjoyed the gamesmanship of the battle. And never took it personally against the police or the University. He saw it as part of his life-long mission to learn how to deal effectively with nemeses and people who were in opposition to him. And most of the cops didn’t take it personally either. Aside from one or two who REALLY hated Hate Man’s guts and went out of their way to make Hate’s life miserable.

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And to be fair to the cops, it was necessary for them to periodically crunch the homeless street people over having too much stuff. Because many of them compiled huge masses of crap and made huge messes. And if the cops didn’t periodically prune the herd, they’d turn our public parks and public spaces into private squats and homeless shanty towns.

Hate Man, though, was in somewhat of a unique position. He served as sort of a communal store and trading post for the street community. And among his stuff he’d have things like a “medicine chest” where street people could get things like aspirins and cough medicine and band aids. And if you needed to borrow a screw driver or an extra blanket or the proverbial cup of sugar, Hate would usually have it among his mounds of stuff. And Hate also let other street people store their stuff alongside his stuff — he’d keep an eye on it while they had to take care of some business. Which added to his mounds of stuff. And, of course, he usually had several big garbage bags of recycled cans and bottles.

Every now and then I would ask Hate if it was really worth it to go through the daily grind over his stuff, and wouldn’t he consider “flexing” and lightening his load. But Hate Man was always adamant about living his life on his own terms. And if society wanted to stop him, well, good luck doing that. Ha ha. Hate was never shy about pushing the envelope. And wherever the line was drawn, he’d extend it by a couple extra feet. And it would be from that point that he’d be willing to start negotiating. Ha ha.

Finally, in a last-ditch attempt to get rid of Hate Man and all his stuff, as well as all the other homeless people who were basically living in Peoples Park, the University arbitrarily came up with a ban on all cardboard and tarps in the park. Hate Man, realizing this would make it virtually impossible for street people to exist in the park, decided to go on the offensive. And he — and his noisy band of fellow street people — set up a big 24-hour-a-day protest on Bancroft Street, at the foot of the campus and directly in front of the University police station. And he managed to create such a public uproar, that after several weeks the University backed down and relinquished the ban.

And Hate Man prevailed once again. THE END

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