If you take anything from me, take this: Never show fear when dealing with the police. It is a hard thing, easily said, but not so easily done. The police are trained to instill fear in you, to take you by surprise in a moment of silent repose, and use your confusion as a weapon. There are laws designed to protect you, of course, but none designed to protect your mind from manipulation. All police desire one thing above all others: For you to willingly confess to a crime. It is wise, then, to prepare yourself in advance; to play out in your mind how you will react when you are engaged in some innocuous, though illegal, activity, and the pigs roll in to jack you up.
After I found that phone the other day, (The first one, for which I received 40$ reward from the owner, and 10$ reward from Baby Jesus) I was in the mood to party and relax. I went down to the homeless shelter, and, after a few short moments of bartering, scored three joints of weed and three sticks of K2. Then I went to a convenience store and bought some wine. Not some fancy-ass shit, but not Wild Irish Rose either.
After gathering my supplies, I headed to one of my favorite places in Austin: A hill where kids often gather to skate and spray graffiti. The location to which I refer is historic and steeped in mythic resonance. Kids have been skating, spraying art, and getting fucked up in this spot for many an idle summer. The sensitive mind, open to exploration, could easily be inspired to transcend into a state of pure bliss simply by virtue of proximity. I climbed up to a secluded nook of this natural gallery, cracked open my, not-quite-rotgut-swill, lit up a joint, and sat contemplating my roll in the greater scheme of existence.
I smoked for maybe an hour, watching the sun go down. I drank the wine and doodled in my notebook. Inspired by the high quality painting all around me, I tried to draw some comics about homebums living in a ditch. The writing was pretty good, but the draftsmanship left something to be desired. I finished my joint and got up to stretch and walk around a bit. I felt fantastic.
Like an alien manifesting itself from the mother-ship, he was on me. A jar-headed emissary of justice; a wife beating angel of consternation and inconvenience. APD materialized out of nowhere, flashlight blinding, and accosted me in the night, "Hi there. So what are you doing up here?"
My blood turned to ice, but I did not show it. If I had panicked at this moment, I would have been destroyed. I had, not one, but two, illegal drugs on me, and an opened container of alcohol in my backpack. The cops know that you probably possess such things, as is only human, and they rely on your shock at potential capture to get you talking. But I had run through this scenario many times in my head. If he wanted to mount some kind of criminal case against me, he was going to have to work for it, "I was just sitting here, soaking up the ambiance."
"Just soaking up the ambiance, huh? Sitting here just to sit here?"
"I find it a little hard to believe you're sitting up here in this dark, secluded area, just enjoying the night." He said it like it was the most ludicrous thing he had ever heard of.
This is an important point: I just wanted to be by myself, but
that, alone, is reason for suspicion. The herd mentality of this
society is so deeply ingrained that a desire for solitude is considered
subversive. (Of course, I was smoking a joint, but it is the prohibition
against smoking marijuana, not the act itself, that is evil.)
"I'm hanging out, drawing in my notebook and enjoying the night." I said, "That's what artists do."
"Drawing in your notebook, huh? Let's see."
The cop actually demanded to see my notebook. That was a new one on me. I pulled it out and opened it to show him my pages of chicken scratch and crude drawings. I looked at him and said, "Now, you're not going to judge me on the quality of my drawing, right? This isn't an art critic thing?"
"No, I'm seeing if you're telling me the truth."
Just then, another cop arrived. I guess when the first one saw that he had a sensitive artist to deal with, he figured he was going to need back-up.
"This guy says he's just sitting here, enjoying the atmosphere." trying to get the other cop into his mind-set. This is another tactic they love to pull: Talking to you for a moment, and then getting another cop to come in and hit you from a different angle. The most famous variation of this ploy is "Good Cop, Bad Cop."
I could see from the expression on the new cop's face, though, that he wasn't buying this weak bullshit. The fact was that, unless I admitted to some crime, there was nothing they could do. I was on private property that is opened to the public, so if they wanted to search me, they needed probable cause. Even more important, they knew from the way I was handling the situation that I knew this too. You must always let the police know that you are aware of your rights. If they think you're not, they might be tempted to forget about them also.
"You sure you don't have any drugs on you or anything?" said the second cop in a world-weary, resigned manner.
"I don't have any drugs. I just wanted to relax in a quiet spot."
"OK, get on out of here. Don't let me catch you here again."
And, with that, I hurried down the hill and into the night. I was ecstatic. Not just because I didn't get arrested, but also because I had stayed firm to my core philosophy and it had proven correct. The police have a certain degree of latitude, but they also have restraints. Understanding those restraints is your key to defeating them.
As for being banished from my favorite spot in Austin, I got on the internet with the owners the next day and got written permission to visit any time I want. I just had to promise not to vandalize the artwork of the professionals that spray there. (I would, of course, never entertain such a thing.) In my letter to them I said, "What is the point of having such an outdoor gallery if people like me are prevented from visiting? It's like a trap for folks who are interested in art, visible for miles around, luring us in. It's true, I do look like a street person, but it stands to reason that street people should be allowed to look at street art."
What could they do but agree? Now I have an unambiguous letter of permission to show the police if they ever jack me up there again. I'll update this post with new developments as they arise.