Tuesday, September 15, 2015

On Cops and Conveyances

Today (after transferring from another bus in the Excelsior neighborhood of San Francisco) I boarded the 29 bus to get home, even though it is only about a 15 minute walk from Mission Street to my house. That walk is a gradual uphill, and it was the end of the day and I didn't feel like walking uphill for 15 minutes. But there was a small crowd of people at the bus stop, and that time of day the bus was bound to be crowded. I decided to upstream it, and catch the bus at the stop just before this one. It is a less busy stop and maybe I could find a corner of the crowded bus to stake out my territory before more people tried to pack in. NextBus – a smartphone app that tracks Muni – showed the bus was 4 minutes away, enough time to accomplish this. And it was urgent because the bus after wasn't for 18 minutes later, and was bound to be as crowded or more so.

I hustled up the street as clouds swirled above and a chilly wind blew – the first I had felt in several months, indicating that the earth was tilting and summer would soon be over. A handful of older men sat in front of an old-school bar, smoking, but not talking. Teenagers with sagging pants and baseball caps waved across the street to friends. Women with "granny carts" full of aluminum cans shuffled about. My neighborhood is one of the few in San Francisco that is not gentrified, or at least is not rapidly gentrifying. It can't avoid the upward pressure on property value in the Bay Area (which I have mixed feelings about as a home-owner), but despite single family homes selling for prices modest by San Francisco standards but insane by everyone elses standards, the Excelsior neighborhood has few condominiums and no trendy shops or restaurants to speak of.

Anyway, I get to the other stop and the bus rolls up – one of the new ones that the transit agency has been adding to the fleet. They feel brighter, bigger and better than the old ones, but as I suspected, this one was packed. I almost couldn't get on, but a few people by the open door shifted around and I, and one other, found a way. A handful of people weren't so lucky, but many more were waiting up ahead.

We departed and as we approached the more crowded, busier stop, the driver stopped before turning the corner and advised those who wanted to disboard to do it there. I knew what was up. I'd seen it before, but only when another bus was close behind. This driver was not going to stop at all. He knew it would be a disaster. People would get desperate and get themselves on the bus however they could. The doors wouldn't be able to close and he would get even further behind schedule. Future stops would be more difficult as people would struggle to get out. Hell it might even be dangerous and perhaps in violation of some policy or bus rule.

He stopped and started through the tight turn as he avoided hitting anything, but as he straightened up he moved right past the 30 or 40 people, mostly trying to get home. Some of them raised their hands in disgust. Some may have shouted, but headphone music was blocking the cries of "hey!" and "what the fuck!?"

Just a few days earlier I had caught the 29 at that same crowded, busy stop. NextBus showed a bunch of buses coming, so it wasn't so bad. A guy who I had seen many times standing there, was there as usual, with a portable stereo playing music and his bag on top of a trashcan. He never boarded the bus, but sometimes he chatted with friends or associates. On that day, half a dozen police cars and one nondescript (undercover) car suddenly pulled up to the busy, narrow area in front of the bus stop. A woman, an officer in plain clothes, walked up to him and started asking him questions about what was in his bag, among other things. Uniformed officers surrounded the two. He explained himself calmly as the 29 appeared around the corner.  It couldn't make the turn, the cop cars were in the way.

It upset me. I am not as lacking in privilege as most of the people I encounter on Muni, especially in the Excelsior. But, I experience the crowds, the bad service, even the physical challenges of riding transit in San Francisco on a daily basis. Even with the minor improvements, which do mean that you are more likely to find a seat and more likely to be in one of those new buses, it still is horribly inadequate for an extremely wealthy city. But police do not face cuts. The police force here, one of the best paid in the country, is coddled and expanded as politicians and newspaper columnists whine about an increase in thefts and homeless encampments. And the wealthy, who never have to take a city bus, set the priorities. There, on that corner, was a microcosm of all of this. An obviously poor person – a person of color – was being harassed by a dozen cops for some reason. Maybe he had harmed someone, maybe not; maybe the cops had good intentions, maybe not. But several city employees making six-figure salaries were harassing this poor person of color, while several other working-class San Franciscans waited for a bus that couldn't get to their stop. It was symbolic of what is wrong with the political priorities of both political parties and the corporate media cheering them on – even in the "socialist paradise" of San Francisco. There is always money for police, prisons and prosecutors but not for transit, not for welfare, and not for healthcare.

"You're blocking the bus," I said at a moderate volume, loud enough for the cops to hear, but not too loud to cause a scene. Two of the officers turned their heads slightly. "Do you really need all these cops for one guy?" I asked.

One of them turned to look at me. "Yes," he said.

"I doubt it," I responded. I was in a bad mood.

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