So I talked to a police officer this morning
Neither of us enjoyed the encounter
I live just blocks away from Haight-Ashbury, a San Francisco neighborhood known for its history of, and being the origin of hippie counterculture. In 2017 that means bougie smoke shops and homeless kids sleeping on the sidewalk.
As a local, I had often sympathized with the neighborhood’s residents having to wake up everyday with homeless kids sleeping on their stoops. It’s hard not to have this perspective considering that it’s my own. Let’s face it: no one wants that to be their first morning encounter outside their door.
However, I often challenge myself to “be compassionate.” This usually means that I take a deep breathe and simply smile at the homeless. It’s nothing to be proud of and I’m no humanitarian.
This morning, on my way to work I saw two officers waking up a homeless couple on the sidewalk.
I don’t see this all that often and given that I’m still a bit salty from Proposition Q passing I thought I’d stop at a distance and just watch.
One of the two officers immediately shifted his attention from the couple to me with a “what the fuck are you looking at face.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I’m just curious…”
I said, in my most authentic tone (I’m honestly curious).
“You can be curious all you want,”
said the officer, almost underneath his breath. I could tell he wasn’t enjoying the exchange.
The officer began to walk away with his eyes fixed on me. I felt nervous, I didn’t want to seem that I was attempting to obstruct whatever was happening here so I slowly walked away as well and gently asked the officer,
“I’m sorry to bother, but may I ask what’s happening?”
He did not like that. The officer begrudgingly answered me,
“They have been here for a while and people have complained.”
This is true. I’ve seen this couple asleep on the sidewalk here for a few days now. They’re on my morning route through Haight-Ashbury on my way to Cole Valley to get on the N Judah.
“Oh, okay. Thanks. I just was curious. Have a good day.”
I walked away.
This was uncomfortable.
My experience with police officers is typical for a 30 year old white male who grew up in a suburb of San Francisco: I’ve gotten pulled over a few times. I address them with “Sir” or “Ma’am”. I’m careful with my tone and I often use the words “sorry” and “thank you” frequently. There’s a clear and safe ending to our exchange.
This wasn’t a typical encounter for me.
I began observing an officer while he was in the middle of evicting a homeless couple off of a public sidewalk. We engaged each other with the implicit agreement that neither of us wanted to. Neither of us were comfortable with how to end our conversation.
I’m still reflecting on this encounter.
When it began, I thought I’d simply learn what Proposition Q might look like. When it ended, my questions changed.
- Was it okay for me to observe the police officers?
- Did the police officer respect me as a citizen for doing so?
- If a 30-year-old-white-straight-cis-male-professional can’t do this comfortable can anyone?
No (…maybe my female counter-parts?)
- Holy shit, how do young black men feel when they encounter the police?
- How do I define what happened here and work to resolve it?
Fuck if I know
I’m not a journalist. I’m not a writer. I don’t consider myself an activist. I’m writing this to document and remember the experience as I feel it now.
I have no inspirational conclusion or suggestions for you.
This is uncomfortable.