Public Comment

But of Course, It Could Never Happen in Berkeley--or Could It?

By Osha Neumann
Friday September 14, 2012 - 10:15:00 AM

Editor's Note: The Daily Cal rejected this op ed saying it was "a significant departure from our typical op-ed style," and they preferred "a written format as opposed to a script."

A weekday afternoon on Telegraph Avenue. The year is 2013. A young woman, slings her book bag off her shoulder, sits down on the sidewalk, and takes off her shoes. A policeman walks up, stands over her, and takes out his citation book:

The officer: Get up! Get up! You’re breaking the law.

The woman (incredulous): My feet hurt. See these heels. I know it's just vanity but I like them. Where is it written that a woman whose feet hurt can’t sit down and take off her shoes?

The officer: Get up! It is written. Right here. (Pulls out a little blue book from his pocket and reads)No person shall sit on a commercial sidewalk between 7 AM and 10 PM.” Here you can read it yourself. 

The woman: (He hands her the book. She reads) But surely there's an exception, for one such as me, a student you see, here's my ID. 

The officer: No exception ma’am. 

The woman: If only for a minute? 

The officer: Not for a minute, not for a second. 

The woman: But I’m tired. My feet hurt. 

The officer: Is it a medical emergency? 

The woman: (She thinks.) Tired feet? Does that qualify? 

The officer: Do you need an ambulance? 

The woman Of course not. For tired feet? 

The officer: Then it’s not a medical emergency” 

(Reluctantly, she begins to put on her shoes rubbing each sore foot before she does. Then she stops. She has had a thought.) 

The woman: I remember hearing about this ordinance. Something about Measure S. I don't pay much attention to politics. (brightening)I did vote for Obama. (sighs) But when I got to all those measures on the ballot I think I just zoned out. (Pause. She searches her memory.) Now that you mention it, I remember them saying that measure was all about homeless people. (triumphant)And I'm not homeless. I showed you my ID. I’m a Cal student. I live in the dorms. I never thought… 

The officer: Lady, we don't write laws that way. The law’s the law. You're smart. You should know that. There’s not one law for homeless people and another law for everyone else. 

The woman: But I'm not causing any trouble. 

The officer: Neither are most of the people I cite. In fact, I feel sorrier for the homeless kids than for you. You should hear some of their stories. They don't have any place to go. Sure some of them are pain in the butt. We've got plenty of laws to deal with the bad guys. Personally, I wouldn't have voted for this no-sitting law, but I just enforce them: I don't make them. 

(She’s up now. Gathers up her book bag and slings it over her shoulder. She walks off muttering.

The woman: Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. A lot of people standing up do stupid things. Why not pass a law against standing? 

(A passerby who stopped to watch the whole incident overhears her. talking to herself.) 

The passerby: 95% of violent crimes are committed by people who are standing up. 

(She turns and smiles at him.) 

The woman: That’s probably a conservative estimate. 

Roland Peterson walks by. He passes the empty lot where Raleigh’s and Intermezzo used to be before the fire burnt the building down; Mario's La Fiesta was on the corner before good old Mario was forced out of business because he couldn’t afford the rent. Across the street the Cody's building remains empty (now that was a great book store). Across the street on the other side—another vacant lot. Roland is the executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, whose members are commercial landlords. He's holding a copy of his Daily Californian opinion piece. He's got a satisfied smile on his face and reads out loud to himself what he has written. 

Roland Peterson: "The real oddity is that last year the ASUC Senate voted overwhelmingly to oppose any sit-lie ordinance… It might have been the most anti-student resolution in ASUC history—one that could negatively impact thousands. “ 

.(The woman overhears him,looks puzzled) 

The woman (to herself): And they say the homeless are crazy. That guy scares me. 

(the end)