Street Crackdown Berkeley-Style

by Steed Dropout
June 5, 2012


Berkeley, ca

Here in the People’s Republic of Berkeley, Berzerkeley, Fuck-you capitol, and world of whacked — nothing runs normally. You can see it in the angry eyes of visiting motorists, who moralize with honking horns as jay-walking Berkeleyans stop them cold in their tire-tracks.

Traversing business-district streets downtown and on Telegraph Avenue compares to going on safari — dodging a mob of monkeys.

If you don’t find mine-field walk ways part of Berkeley’s charm, or are not a slum-tourist, or reporter, you will tell anyone who will listen that you are fed up.

Let sleeping dogs lie. Photo by Ted Friedman.

In fact, Berkeley’s mayor, who is sponsoring a November ballot measure to take back Berkeley streets, says he hears lots of complaints about the state of Berkeley’s business-district streets when he’s on the streets.

Berkeley’s last ballot measures to regulate street conduct went after smoking, aggressive pan-handling near auto-tellers, and lying down on walks. Now voters will decide whether to outlaw side-walk sitting, or, as opponents to the measure put it, overriding the “right to sit and sleep” in Berkeley.

Whether or not opponents of a sit-lie ordinance are exaggerating what they call civil-rights issues, the debate over sit-lie started last year, before there was even a draft-version of the ordinance. Now that a version of the measure has been published, Berkeleyans can expect another round of anti-sit-lie demonstrations.

Followed by more talk on a subject that has been talked to death, then regurgitated for another helping.

How liberal is this? Photo by Ted Friedman.

Next week’s city council meeting is sure to be a confrontation between radicals trying to re-claim the streets, and what only-in-Berkeley would be called law-and-order supporters. Not that this scene has not already been staged at Council last year.


A well-known People’s Park founder and civil liberties attorney told me at one of last year’s small anti-sit protests — protesting a measure that had not been written — that the measure was already being enforced, perhaps in anticipation of its passage.

He said this as protesters were sitting and lying on the walks before the eyes of police watching nearby. The attorney introduced me to a client “cited for sitting,” but the kid took me to the scene of the crime, marked clearly with a no-trespass sign.

Since then, I have been on the look-out for a crackdown, Berkeley style (token, or for real), and all I have for my reality checks are a few photos of people sprawling illegally and getting away with it, and many more lying-on-the-walk scenes, so common I didn’t bother to shoot.

Smoking within 25 feet of businesses, banned by ordinance, is rarely enforced.

A street-tramp, as they call themselves, was cited recently for not having vaccination documents for his dog. That citation was part of recently resumed police walking patrols on Telegraph, dormant for more than five years.

Street tramps downtown display belongings, as Block by Block cleans walk. Note bus shelter, right. Look for it next pic. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Police report seven arrests and seventeen citations in the first week of the patrols.

The Berkeley Telegraph Ave. street has noticed a reduction in objectionable street behavior, especially the absence of a mob which has encamped outside an empty Teley building where a new no-trespassing sign is now posted, and enforced.

But at least one prominent Teley businesswoman, a critic of People’s Park, says change has been “slight.” A Teley beat cop has noticed no change. With students gone for the summer, Teley has become a ghost-town, making an assessment of change difficult.

Police foot patrols are an addition to brown-shirted host-ambassadors (two on the ave), who are paid by Telegraph property owners through their business district association.

Downtown, where a franchise of Block by Block, private green-shirted “security ambassadors,” fields a much larger (and better equipped) force, a band of street tramps has moved out of a busy rapid transit exit to alongside the Berkeley library, two blocks South.

Street kids regard both the brown shirts and the green shirts as cops, but these “cops,” are unarmed, unable to make arrests, relying on what the green shirts call, “a high level of engagement with workers, residents and visitors to improve perceptions of safety.”

Street tramps perceive that they have been “moved along,” although one kid admitted that security cameras trained on them up the street led to a voluntary shift; some Berkeleyans, in their zeal to defend civil liberties, perceive the ambassador programs as threatening.

There’s your crackdown, Berkeley-style.


You decide what to call Berkeley’s constant re-hashing of a proposed measure (finally) that would, according to the mayor, “bring Berkeley citizens back to socialize in our public spaces and regularly patronize our businesses,” and to “generate increased tax revenue that could be reattributed to providing quality of life services.”

The lying-on-the-walk guy at right is part of street tramp scene in previous street tramp picture. 'Security ambassadors' let this sleeping dog lie, as they cleaned up around him--'Crackdown, Berkeley Style.' Photo by Ted Friedman.

The editor-in-chief of the Berkeley Daily Planet (Dropout’s chief as well) has dubbed Berkeley’s relationship to sit-lie, “Groundhog Day,” a ’93 film in which one day replays in a “time loop,” from which we cannot escape. In the film, there was nothing the character could do to escape the loop — even suicide. ‘It’s making us crazy,” my chief complained in a recent column.

But still another construct, from Alice in Wonderland via Grace Slick whose ’67 mega hit “White Rabbit,” spoke for a generation of druggies, may also shed some light on states of mind here in the People’s Republic.

“When the men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go” — Slick.

Those men have been telling us where to go — and repeatedly — for some time now.

Aw shucks. “it’s just Berkeley.” Or Chinatown, the film.

Dropout readily admits the film and song allusions are weak.

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