Officer: OK, so do me that favor and just get up and go somewhere cause you’re blocking the sidewalk.
Man: Not blocking the sidewalk, people got places to walk right past me.
Officer: You’re blocking the sidewalk.
Man: I’m not blocking nothing.
And you can see from the video that the man is not, in fact, blocking the sidewalk. But, unsurprisingly, the BID patrollies arrest him anyway.
They haul him down to their secret headquarters and, one assumes, turn him over to the LAPD for processing. Now, the city of Los Angeles has at least two separate laws regulating this behavior, both parts of LAMC 41.18. The first, LAMC 41.18(a), states that
No person shall stand in or upon any street, sidewalk or other public way open for pedestrian travel or otherwise occupy any portion thereof in such a manner as to annoy or molest any pedestrian thereon or so as to obstruct or unreasonably interfere with the free passage of pedestrians.
This is a reasonable law and it’s consistent with what actual human beings think is fair. That’s why the man says he’s not blocking the sidewalk. He’s not blocking the sidewalk. What the BID Patrollies want to accuse him of is a violation of LAMC 41.18(d), which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has called “one of the most restrictive municipal laws regulating public spaces in the United States“1 It states that
No person shall sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, sidewalk or other public way.
You can see that someone at BID security figured this out at some point, because they put LAMC 41.18(d) in the title of the video rather than anything to do with blocking the sidewalk. The point is that in a fair and reasonable world, cops2 would have to know what they were arresting one for before they made the arrest. It’s not consistent with a free and fair society to allow cops to arrest first and find reasons later. But if they’re arresting black homeless people their white privilege protects them from the consequences of their carelessness. They know deep in their hearts that they don’t have to follow the rules. And they’re right.
It’s obvious that the man’s real crime was being black and homeless. For instance, one of your humble authors has two daughters. They all look white and they don’t look particularly homeless. In the summer of 2013 one of the kids thought she’d give busking a try so she, her mom, and her little sister went to the southwest corner of Sunset and Vine and played, sang, and danced around an open guitar case for over 90 minutes (they made about $20, thank you generous citizens of Hollywood!) As far as we know they didn’t spend it on alcohol or drugs). BID bike patrollies passed by a number of times and not a goddamned word was said.
The kids and their mom were in flagrant, blatant, obvious violation of not only LAMC 41.18(d) but also whatever law regulates soliciting in public. We’ve written before about the BID Patrol’s selective enforcement of this law. Non-black, non-homeless people violate LAMC 41.18(a)(d) at will. They’re free to do so, and they should be, since it’s a bullshit law and certainly unconstitutional. If it were consistently enforced against white people at, e.g., farmers’ markets, it would be overturned immediately. Either way, enforce it against everyone or against no one.
P.s. We wonder if anyone can make any sense out of the fragmentary conversation at the end of the video (11:04). Someone says something like “I thought you weren’t going to arrest anybody today.” Does the BID Patrol have planned arrest-free days? What are these people talking about? Weirdos.
Further reading: For much more on sidewalk-blocking arrests as a tool of institutional racism in the United States, see Matt Taibbi’s essential book The Divide, specifically pages 106–114. Read about Andrew Brown and his arrest for blocking pedestrian traffic by standing in front of his own house at 1 a.m. after he got off work. Read about how it took him almost a year to get to court, where the case was finally dismissed because the arresting officer admitted under oath that there were no pedestrians present to be obstructed. As they say, the process is the punishment.
- In its brave and admirable opinion in Jones v. City of Los Angeles.
- The BID Patrollies claim they’re not cops, and they’re not only in the fact that they’re not (yet) subject to civilian oversight. For all purposes other than that one they’re cops.
Image of man not blocking the sidewalk and about to be arrested anyway is a screenshot from a video which is a public record.