Berkeley’s Good/Bad Cops and Me
by Steed Dropout
Feb. 23, 2015
BERKELEY REPORTER IN RESTROOM BEEF WITH POLICE AT CAFFE MEDITERRANEUM
Those cops coming through the doors of the Caffe Mediterraneum, as they do hella lot–those cops were coming for me.
Minutes earlier, I had been photographing upstairs at the Med. I have been publishing my photos–in several Berkeley publications–of inside the Med,since 2011; my eye caught a strange scene at the restroom upstairs. Med owner Craig Becker was seemingly about to enter an occupied restroom with his master key. He didn’t knock.
A street Jeweler outside the Med, told me yesterday, that Becker had barged in on him, too. “It’s upsetting,” the young street-artist complained.
Across the avenue at Moe’s Books, it took Moe Moskowitz 25 years to regulate his public restroom. Even if you have a Moe-approved token and the restroom lock says vacant–you are asked to knock. You have to stop at the cashier’s register to get a token.
I raised my camera instinctively; experience has taught me to shoot first, question myself later, when I consider erasing the shot. My preview of the shot showed only a shadow inside the restroom. After being developed, my shot showed a back pack.
Apparently there was a student in the restroom, too. He wasted no time calling police.
I offered to show the shadowy photo to the student and erase it before his eyes, but “I’m pre-occupied” he said, perhaps as he pulled up his pants.
Soon I was being interviewed by the good guy cop, who looked right out of central casting, while the bad cop hammered Becker on the balcony. According to an eye witness, who overheard bad cop’s interaction with Becker. Becker, reportedly, tried to explain his actions to bad cop. Becker’s restroom was constantly being used for bathing and drug use, Becker told bad cop. The eye-witness overhead bad cop repeat, “illegal”and “you don’t have the right….”
The kid, no more than 23, who had been walked-in-on, then called police, told bad cop he was a customer.
But a counterman told me the kid had not bought anything.
DOWNSTAIRS WITH THE GOOD COP
The good cop was into the films of Lars Trier and of Trier’s Dogma theory of film. He told me he lived in Sonoma and had pulled the Telegraph Avenue shift, almost by accident. I told him I’d lived in Berkeley 40 years and had been photographing inside the Med for years, with what I thought was approval.
I told a baseball story, adding that my photo would have been good police evidence if there had been a serial killer in the restroom. Cal cops once caught a most-wanted perp on campus. Who knows? I once got a request for my photos from Berkeley Police Internal Affairs.
Shoot first, question later.
MORE ADVENTURES WITH BAD COP
Soon bad cop was in my face. Apparently, Becker had said I had no permission to shoot in the Med, when he meant to say, I had de facto permission to shoot inside but did not have permission to shoot into the restroom, which he had invaded. He saw me at the restroom with my camera. He may have seen me raise it.
Why did Becker invade the restroom? He told me he heard a lot of paper towels being pulled and went in unannounced. The student said he was cleaning crap off the toilet.
The Caffe Med restroom is a colorful hub of South Side–smelling less like a latrine than a marijuana dispensary wafting in the perfume of the world’s best buds. Within its four walls reside some of the South side’s best graffiti-art. In the course of a day, scores of non-customers, many of them outside street kids, will visit the Med Restroom.
Cafe Med restroom customers have walked into various awkward situations; people bathing, semi-nude, or just squatting. They often apologize for forgetting to lock the door, just as you are apologizing for walking in.
The restroom floor is always wet and customers throw paper towels on the stream lets that form.
BARKING AT COPS
“You could be sued,” barked bad cop, who had come downstairs to berate me before leaving. For taking purvey restroom shots? I wondered.
“Sue me,” I barked back. Let our legal dept. deal with this, I thought.
“Officer just let me ask you one question,” I weaseled.
“No,” he stated.
The question I wanted to ask was: what if a mad killer had emerged from that restroom brandishing a knife, or what if it was a child abductor, like the one famously arrested by Cal cops several years ago?
Bad cop also, understandably, refused to view the seemingly harmless photo I took.
If the world is just a stage and we–mere players, we have five mere players here: good/bad cops, enraged student-aged self-proclaimed customer (obviously locked out his mother and would be shocked if she ever broke in on him), cafe owner driven-to-the-brink by his troublesome cafe restroom, and over-the-top-photographer still trying to make his chops.
All of us are ready for our scene, Mr. Demille.
More photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/berkboy/