The BID Itself Incites to Violence: the Mendacity of John Tronson, John Caner, and Everyone Else Who Runs a BID

Berkeley BID Patrol officer giving a performative demonstration of Homer’s maxim that “the blade itself incites to violence.”
The Downtown Berkeley Association is the shell corporation that runs the Downtown Berkeley BID, founded in 2011. By now you’ve probably seen the video, filmed by a brave citizen journalist, of a Berkeley BID Patrol officer1 punching a homeless man over and over and over again because he felt “disrespected” by him. The story made the international press.

Now, Berkeley is far, far off our beat, and, deep down, despite the divers desperate, damp dreams of our local Hollywood BIDs about the gentility and grace of our silicon-addled red-headed stepchildren to the north, we generally find ourselves unable to give even the teensiest shit about what shenanigans they get up to north of Pacoima. However, this case requires comment, shedding some light as it does on the ultimate source of the lies with which we who cover the BIDs are habitually showered.

Berkeleyside has a good summary of the background. Two Berkeley BID Patrollies confronted two homeless men and then, after some shouting, one of the BID Patrollies lost his shit and punched one of the homeless men repeatedly. The whole thing was caught on video, although the truth didn’t come out until the homeless men had been arrested, charged with assault and, that fall-back catch-all bullshit charge, criminal threats, and pled out, even though they were transparently, evidently, innocent. This kind of thing happens every day. What’s more interesting is the Berkeley BID’s spin on this hateful miscarriage of justice.

One of the two Johns discussed in this story.
One of the two Johns discussed in this story.

According to Berkeleyside, John Caner, BID CEO (and thus roughly analogous to Hollywood’s own John Tronson, former Kommandante Supremo of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance) the two BID Patrollies involved in the altercation will be fired. OK, fine.

But in 2012, Berkeley voters, although generally speaking a bunch of Peugeot Pinkos, universally infected with a virulent indigenous strain of NIMBYitis liberalosis, acted like the proverbial stopped clock and rejected Measure S, which would have been essentially the same as LAMC 41.18(d) but with the restrictions of the Lavan injunction baked into it. What’s instructive, though, is the rhetoric of the BIDs before the election. For instance, John Caner was quoted in the East Bay Express in support of the measure:

John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said that much of the frontline enforcement work under the sit/lie law would be delegated to “ambassadors” rather than to Berkeley cops. Ambassadors are employed by merchants’ associations. Caner foresees a system in which ambassadors would quietly shoo homeless people away from the city’s main commercial districts, making them cleaner and more pedestrian-friendly, while creating an uptick in foot traffic to bolster local businesses.

He also argues that even though Measure S includes citations, it’s not viewed as way to raise revenue for the city. Rather, it’s a tool to divert homeless people into social services, and protect and grow businesses that provide sales tax revenue for the city — and thus help fund those social services.

Well, if you watched the video you’ll have seen what’s involved in “quietly shoo[ing]” away the homeless. What’s striking, though, is the fact that John Caner’s theoretical framework is the same as that used by John Tronson in arguing against the Right to Rest Act. Tronson says: “nobody is gonna ask anybody to move who’s just resting for a couple minutes cause they need to rest.”. No, John, they’re not going to ask them to move, they’re going to punch them in the fucking face, or, as John Caner puts it, “quietly shoo” them away.

Screenshot of the Downtown Berkeley Association's Facebook page, proving definitively that, if not John Caner hisself, people who he knows, were ideologically intermingling with Hollywood BIDs in Santa Monica in March, 2015.  No wonder they all went home with social diseases
Screenshot of the Downtown Berkeley Association’s Facebook page, proving definitively that, if not John Caner hisself, people who he knows, were ideologically intermingling with Hollywood BIDs in Santa Monica in March, 2015. No wonder they all went home with social diseases

And John Caner tells us that even though homeless people will be arrested for sitting on the sidewalk, Measure S was really “a tool to divert homeless people into social services.” And John Tronson tells us that not arresting people for sitting on the sidewalk, well, “that’s the opposite direction of where, really, the authorities on homelessness are, are telling us that we should go. You know, and permanently ending homelessness is the solution. And, and, uh, facilitating, um, you know, living on the, the sidewalk is not, it doesn’t help.” Both of them argue that arresting the homeless is actually good for them!

It turns out not to be a mystery. These things rarely are. It seems there are national conferences where BIDdies can get together and share secret recipes for chasing off the homeless and getting city councilmen to drop trou and bend over tables. There was one in Santa Monica earlier this month. The Berkeleyites were at it, the Hollywood BIDdies were at it. They networked. Networking is even on the goldurn schedule, that’s how much they did it. They swapped the conceptual equivalent of bodily fluids, and it can’t be the first time they’ve done it, and when you network with someone you’re also networking with everyone they’ve ever networked with. No wonder they’ve all got the same incurable social diseases: intolerance, greed, arrogance, disdain.

The problem is this: if you’ve got a hammer, every homeless person looks like a nail. As Albert Einstein once said, “the blade itself incites to violence.”2 You get a bunch of BID-meisters and a bunch of compliant legislators forging for them statutory tools of war, and what else will happen but violence? As a good friend of ours3 once said, it’s amazing what people will do just because they can. Amazing but not surprising.

  1. In Berkeley, because east of Pacoima they evidently have trouble using words to mean what they mean, they’re called “Ambassadors” rather than BID Patrollies, but a rose is a rose is a rose, as Albert Einstein once reportedly said.
  2. Actually it was Homer, Odyssey, 19.3: αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐφέλκεται ἄνδρα σίδηρος.
  3. For once it wasn’t Albert Einstein, go figure.

Image of Berkeley BID Patrollie punching homeless man is a screenshot from this video and appears here under a claim of fair use. Image of DBA’s Facebook page is another example of fair use. Image of John Tronson is ©2015 MichaelKohlhaas.org.

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