Free Food in Flagstaff, Arizona —
“They stole our banner,” whined a young white girl in an odd sort of white rasta tam from behind a couple large pots of food and a bowl of fruit salad sitting on a brick wall in Flagstaff’s Wheeler Park. By “they” she meant the police. I filled up a plate with green beans and beats and fruit and bread and sat down on the brick wall to eat.
Two young volunteers were holding up a contingency banner that read “Food Not Bombs” and had a painting of a carrot clenched in a fist. It is apparently forbidden to lay such brazen banners down upon public property in the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, so it had to be held up by hand.
The police apparently came and swiped a banner out from under pots of free food and stole it from a bunch of kids in the park. They could not find he proper ordinances to prevent the handing out of free food, but they could find the legal means to gank their home made banner. After the grand seizure, the police were now sitting in their cars, perched and ever ready to spring into action if the second banner was to be set down on city property. But two kids boldly stood up and resolved to hold on to their flag throughout the feeding, as a group of twenty people ate heartily from plates of free food.
“I punked those cops,” boasted an 18 year old boy with a green mohawk, “I told them ‘Hey cop, can’t you find anything better to do?’ and they said ‘Yeah, do you have ID?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I have ID,’ and they said, ‘Can we see it?’ and I said, ‘No!’ and they just walked away.”
The crowd that was gathered around the Food Not Bombs serving laughed a little, but the 18 year old with the green mowhawk laughed a lot. He evened the score: Cops – 1, Punks – 1.
Food Not Bombs is a loosely assembled organization that prepares and distributes food that would otherwise be wasted to any hungry person who may able by their serving locations. The group generally serves food during lunch on Saturday in public places in cities across the USA.
To get a free lunch, just search for the park that Food Not Bombs serves in and fill up your plate. The chapters are generally made up of youngish, super liberal idealists — save the worlders, you may say — creating pale splotches of a better society one plate of food at a time.
The police intervention was the talk of this FNB gathering. Each person who came for food or to volunteer would get the story: “The police stole our banner.” It was the second banner that the police confiscated in as many weeks. One Food Not Bombs volunteer was even ticketed last week for illegality billing a public space: he put up a banner with his organization’s name on it near the location where they were giving out free food.
“We asked the police if they would take down a yard sale sign,” the girl with the rasta tam spoke to another volunteer — the place where the banner was hung was a location often bespeckled with yard sale postings — “and they said they could if they wanted to. So I asked them if they have ever confiscated a yard sale sign and they said no. So I asked them, ‘So content matters?’ and they said yes.”
By the police officer’s own admission, the banner was confiscated because it bore the name “Food Not Bombs” and not because of its placement.
All children have an inherent sense of justice. Every little kid knows what is fair and, conversely, unfair. One of the great things about American culture is that we, collectively, have not out grown our little kid notion of fair play: We still believe in an ideal of justice. This is how we are raised, and this is how we stay — well, until the roads of life lead us to other pastures and we see clearly that justice is but an underhanded jest, a token gesture, in the world of politics, law, and public administration.
I, too, believed in justice. I, too, once stood in the streets and volunteered with Food Not Bombs in Buffalo and Tallahassee. I, too, once thought that I lived in a balance world where good would overcome evil, and the rectors of liberty would rear their heads and triumph in the final moments.
Then I got the crap beat out of me by the police and thrown in jail more times than I care to remember. Civil order is based upon force which only wears the sleazy smirk of justice.
I can no longer believe in justice, it is simply a non-applicable notion — the idea is a facade which only serves to make its believers feel slighted at every turn.We learn how to play fair as children, we learn how to take turns, only to be told that the “world is not fair” as adults.
I am jaded, perhaps wantonly. When I first arrived at the FNB serving and the rasta tam girl told me about the outrage, I just shrugged my shoulders — “Yes, that is just what the police do” — I could not be bothered to think twice about the issue. I sat down and ate my meal without a sense that the world was out of balance, without a glimmer of conscience.
This is normal: the police do what they want anywhere in the world. The best societies that I have traveled through are the ones where the police do the least — if you report a robbery in Costa Rica everyone will laugh at you, as such action is futile. I also know that the most fearsome places in the world are the ones that boast an active police force — such as in the USA.
I learned how to deal with police the hard way: you don’t deal with the police. If the police want to man-up and bully a group of 20 year olds who care about the community they live in, if they want to steal their banner, then that is what they do. This is normal, there is nothing exceptional about this.
I can remember one incident while defending myself in court when my lawyer turned to me and stated, “The police are just a bunch of high school football players who were too dumb to make it through college.”
But the girl with the rasta tam continued, “They can’t do that, it is not legal, they can’t just take our property. I want my banner back.”
I ate my green beans and beets and fruit salad and bread and appreciated that the cops just sat there watching me do so. I appreciated the fact that they did not also confiscated my half way chewed up green beans to be use as evidence in the case of the mislaid banner. I was happy that my green beans were going into my stomach to be freely digested.
But I imagined the newspaper headlines reading:
Flagstaff Green Bean Eater Brought to Justice, Half Chewed Green Slop Retrieved as Evidence
A 28 year old man from New York was allegedly caught by police on Saturday in Flagstaff’s Wheeler Park eating free green beans in proximity to a banner that was illegally placed upon a brick bench near the war memorial on the west side of the park. Police confiscated the banner from the perpetrators, a group known as Food Not Bombs, and were also able to consolidated a portion of what may prove to be chewed up vegetable matter from the mouth of the suspect, which will be used as evidence against him in court.
The Flagstaff chief of police stated, “Our boys did their job bringing the green bean eater to justice, and even managed to extract evidence from his tightly clenched mandible. This should go out as a warning to the citizens of Flagstaff that the police will no longer tolerate the consumption of free green beans in proximity to illegal banners on city property.”
The arresting officer on the scene said that, “I saw a bunch of dirty kids handing out free food to hungry people in Wheeler Park on Saturday morning, and I was immediately called to attention. There I saw the offensive banner placed near the war memorial and I sprung into action. I confiscated the banner easily enough, but later had difficulty knocking the green matter from out of the suspect from New York’s head. I had to resort to a police maneuver known as mandible evidence extraction. He should have known better than to come into our city and eat free food near an illegal banner on city property.”
The man from New York, the allegedly half chewed vegetable matter, and the illegal banner will appear in district court on . . .
Vagabond Journey Series on American Culture
[seriesposts orderby=date name=”usa culture” ]