I went yesterday to pick up a prescription at the CVS pharmacy on Lincoln Boulevard in Venice (California, less fortunately, but not so bad), and as I parked saw a police car pull up in front of the 99 cent store. Three young officers, two of them men, got out of the vehicle, triangle-cornered a short, squat, fiftyish Chicano just getting onto his bicycle with a green backpack, and guns drawn, told him to lie down on the ground. Guns drawn. No shit. They first ordered him to put his hands on his head, and as he was slow to do so, obviously shocked and frightened, with an apparent language difficulty, got him to lie down on the ground, in increments—I couldn’t hear what they were saying so all of this played out MOS—but first he was on his knees, then fully face down on the sidewalk, where they put his hands behind his back for him, cuffed him, got him gingerly onto his feet, and walked him to the trunk of their police car, made him lean against it, frisked him, and started going through his back-pack.
As it was outside the 99cent store and I had noted great congregations of homeless outside it the day before, I assumed they had been called for a suspected shoplifting. But guns drawn? Three of them, including the young blonde policewoman, holding their weapons with both hands and aiming it at him as if they were breaking into a meth lab.
The items they took from his back pack and laid on the trunk were indistinguishable little metal things, a navy blue sweater—he was dressed in a worn, bulky khaki shirt, and ill-fitting, dirty trousers that they also went through, not putting their hands inside his pants, which I considered judicious as he was so terrified he had probably soiled them. Then they pulled from his sack a ‘Cup a Noodles.’ And I wondered if he had had it with him for the hungry times to come, or if he had stolen it, and if a man could go to jail for a Cup a Noodles.
They marched him over to the blank wall next to the store, and the young sandy-haired officer, the one who could speak some Spanish, badly, pointed to a place on the wall he was facing and said “OJOS AQUI!” I could not see if his eyes went there where he pointed, as the policewoman came towards me at that point and, glaring, a look that didn’t sit well on her otherwise pretty features, said “Can I help you with something?” As I myself was carrying a linen bookbag, everybody official seemed to be in a very unpleasant mood, and I had read in that morning’s account of the Gates blunder that the protocol in some places is to arrest and handcuff if a crowd is gathering, I thought it a good idea to move away from there, even though I was white. So I went into the drugstore and picked up my medicine.
When I came out they were gone, as were police car and bicycle. I asked a few people what had been the outcome. Somebody told me they had taken him away in the police car. Somebody else told me they had let him go, and apologized. I asked the security man inside the 99cent store what had brought the police there, what the man had done or they’d thought he’d done, and he said he didn’t know anything about it, he’d just come on duty.
The rest of my vacation in Santa Monica has otherwise been peaceful and uneventful, warm breezes lightly salted with air from the Pacific, just across the boulevard from my hotel. Mostly I have been keeping my ojos aqui, focused on what’s inside my head, where they belong.
GWEN DAVIS is a novelist and playwright. She lives in New York.