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MONDAY, JULY 04, 2011
I have a friend named Dance - a Native guy who carves soapstone, draws, writes poetry, and makes other artsy trinkets - and who lives on the streetcorner outside my apartment on Commercial Drive. Despite being homeless, sleeping on the street year round, having practically no teeth (except for the long, spiky one protruding from his lower gum that gives him a slight lisp), keeping all his belongings with him on the corner (which means they get stolen all the time by other homeless people when he’s not awake or not there), and having the bones in his feet crushed beneath a very large truck while he was asleep many months ago, Dance is, without a doubt, the cheeriest person I know. He’s a testament to the powers of a positive attitude, and he’s become somewhat of an institution on the Drive. Just about everybody knows him, and those who do know him love him. His presence is a constant reminder to the community of civility between “poor” folk, and “regular” folk. And he’s a good influence that way.

It turns out, though, according to the police, I’m not a good influence on him. To explain:

Usually when I hang out with Dance at his place - that is, on the streetcorner - we just sit together, chat a bit (even though it’s tough to understand everything he says, since his lisp is compounded by his humble mumbling), and watch and talk with the people strolling by. And sometimes we smoke pot together. Sometimes it’s my weed, and sometimes it’s his.

One night, back in July, I was given some weed for free (I don’t buy weed much anymore), and so I went down to the corner to smoke it with Dance. It was 9pm and still light out, and even though we usually only smoke when it’s dark outside, we decided to get high together anyway.

Actually, I had already smoked, and so I was already high. So I rolled a smaller-than-usual joint for us, since I certainly didn’t need much, and brought it down to the corner.

It took a few tries to light the thing, and I didn’t make much of an effort to conceal what I was doing. After a while I joked to Dance that he should keep an eye out for cops. He smiled and said, “Actually, three cop cars just went by!”

I laughed, trying not to worry about it, said, “Thanks for telling me,” and passed him the joint, which was finally lit. Immediately a cop car pulled up beside me. The cop in the passenger seat, his arm resting casually on the rolled-down window, told me bluntly, “Excuse me. You’re under arrest for trafficking a controlled substance.”

I’m pretty sure I just smiled. “What? Really?” I asked, chuckling a bit.

“Yep,” he confirmed. “Once you passed that joint to him, that’s considered trafficking.”

Visions of being hauled down to the station. The phone-call to my parents. Court dates and the rest of it. What will Mom say?!

But the sheer absurdity of it all calmed me down. I stayed cool, if only because it was so damned ridiculous.

The cop pointed to the side of the car and said, “Stand over there.” So I stood on the corner, a few feet from the car, expecting them to get out and handcuff me or something. He said, “No. Stand there,” pointing closer to the car, in front of his side-mirror. “Oh,” I said. “Right.” I was stoned, remember. The instructions simply weren’t clear to me.

“So,” the cop started, talking fast and serious, “You’re smoking a joint on the street, with people walking around, parents with their kids, babies in strollers. You think that’s okay? I could arrest you right now for trafficking.”

I acknowledged this with a nod.

“What’s your last name?” he asked.


“Your first name?”


“Matt or Matthew?”

“Matthew, I guess.”

“Middle name?”


“Date of birth?”

“1982. January 24th.”

“Where do you live?”

I pointed to my apartment building across the street and said. “Up there.”

“Okay,” he started again. “Do you know what a trafficking charge would do to you?”

I didn’t say anything. I just looked over at Dance, who made an over-the-top “Oh no!” face at me

“It would ruin your life. It would pretty much ruin whatever you wanted to do. Is that what you want?”

“Um, nope.” I said.

He sighed. “I mean, think about it. Think about it from other people’s perspectives. You’re out here smoking a joint in public. I have a four-year-old. I wouldn’t want to walk by and have to see that. If you want to, you know, smoke in the privacy of your own home. That’s fine. Go crazy. But if you’re out here, that’s a different story. You know, you got kids going by, they don’t need to see that. They don’t need to smell that stuff. You’re out here, smoking a marijuana joint - and me and you, you know, we have- our brains are fully developed. But little kids, they’re still growing up. The smoke, it can do damage to their brain, you know?”

I nodded solemnly, trying not to crack up at his use of the term “marijuana cigarette”, and just said, “Yes, I know. You’re right. I thought about that.” I just hadn’t thought much about it.

“This could ruin you life,” he reminded me. “Depending on what you want to do. What do you do, Matthew?”

“I’m a student,” I said.



“What are you taking?”


He seemed disappointed, and thought about it for a moment. Half to himself he said, “Humanities. Well, this could potentially ruin you life.” Then he realized his plan of attack. “Do you want to travel anywhere around the world?”

“Sure,” I said.

Relieved to have something on me, he warned (threatened, really),“Well, with a trafficking charge you can pretty much forget about that. You wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere,” then added, conceding the reality, “you could still travel inside Canada,” then reemphasized, “but you wouldn’t be able to leave the country. You want that? You want SFU to see that you have a drug charge? What do you think they’ll think of that? Won’t look good, will it?”

I nodded again.

“I mean, come on,” he repeated. “There’s people all over the streets, little kids and everything. If you want to smoke that stuff, smoke it at home, you know? People don’t need to see that.”

Perhaps a little peeved at my imperviousness, the cop - my guess was that he was in his early 30s and a second-generation East-Indian - kept turning to his partner in the driver’s seat - a late 30s bulky white guy - to ask him rhetorically, “Am I wrong? Am I making sense here?” He did this a few times, looking for reassurance, I guess.

Though I couldn’t see the other cop’s face from where I was then standing, I assume he backed-up his partner.

“So what are we going to do about this, Matthew?” he finally asked me, looking straight ahead, not at me.

“Well,” I said. “It would be really nice if this, you know, didn’t ruin my life. That’d be…nice.”

“Okay. Well, I’m going to have to report your name. I’m not going to charge you, but I don’t want to see you on this corner again. If I do you’ll be in serious trouble.”

“Look,” I said. “This is first time I’ve ever had to talk to the cops about anything. You could probably tell, since I wasn’t already in your computer system. I’ve never been in trouble with the cops at all. So I’d appreciate it if this didn’t, like, ruin my whole life.”

“Well, if we catch you hanging out on this corner again, it will.”

“But I live right here. I hang out with Dance and sit with him and talk to him. He’s my friend.”

“Friend?” the cop said, incredulous. “You’re down here giving him pot. And you’re his friend? He doesn’t need people giving him pot when he’s trying to get his life together. You know what? You’re a bad influence on him.”

Never mind that Dance prefers (or professes to prefer) living on the street, and never mind that he gives me weed just as often as, if not more than, I give him weed. And it may be condescending to say - nevertheless it’s pretty funny - but there’s something ironic about being told - by a police officer of all people - that you’re being a bad influence on a person who sleeps on the street. Like I said, though, Dance’s personality - if not his admirable minimalist lifestyle - isn’t anything but a good influence on people

Without looking at me, staring straight ahead again, blankly, the cop asked, “So, Matthew. Are we going to see you out here again?”

“No. I guess not,” I told him.

“Because if we do,” he looked up at me, “It’s not going to be good for you. I promise that.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding, sensing his moral outrage and guilt-trip coming to a close. “I understand.”

I suppose I could, or should have told him, “You know, my neighbour had a gun pointed at him and was punched in the back of the head, just yesterday, in our parking lot across the street. People are selling crack and stealing Dance’s belongings, and I’ve even seen a cop plant drugs on the street just to arrest a guy, on this exact corner.” And then I could have added the standard, “Don’t you have anything better to do than pick on a couple people smoking a little joint?” Or, if I was feeling particularly cocky, “I pay your fucking salary, asshole.”

But caution prevailed, for better or worse. I thought it best, at the time, not to press my luck. If I happen to get hassled for merely standing on the corner outside my home, then I’ll point those things out (minus the “I pay your salary, asshole.”)

And so the cops let me go on my way, warning me one last time not hang out down here with Dance anymore. Wanting to transcend the cop-perp dynamic we had going on up to that point, and instead leave on a person-person note, I said, “Alright. Thanks man,” rather than the insultingly (for us both) formal ‘Thanks, officer.’

Without thinking, I walked by Dance on the way back to my apartment, and said, “Alright, Dance. I’ll see you later.” Whether the cops heard that, I don’t know. And I’m pretty sure I don’t care.

For the time being, I guess I’ll have to invite Dance up to my place to smoke weed together, since where he lives he has to be constantly on guard not only for people looking to steal his few meager possessions, or for street thugs looking to shake him down for the spare change, cigarettes and weed that people give him, but now, thanks to my “bad influence”, for cops looking to bust “drug traffickers” like me.

(Co-)incidental epilogue: A couple weeks later, while having sex in a local park with my current girlfriend (who I’d met earlier that night), we were approached by two police officers. Apparently someone had called in a noise complaint. If that’s not crazy enough already, the cop who busted us was the same fucking cop that busted me for smoking weed with Dance!

He gave us a similar finger-wagging lecture, and told us that he could charge us with commiting an indecent act in public, but that he'd let us go. He didn't even confiscate our unfinished booze. We just stood (after I pulled my pants back up and my girlfriend's skirt back down), walked off with our booze, and chuckled at our luck, not knowing if it was good or bad luck.

I'm not sure if the cop recognized or remembered me, or if he was just letting me off the hook again, but either way, it was pretty much the biggest coincidence of my life. My only two run-ins with the law, in the same couple weeks, by the same friggin' cop. Something to tell the grandkids, I guess.



Other than telling you that you can't hang out with Dance on the corner anymore, which is ridiculous, that cop was actually pretty good to you. It's his job to keep weed off the street, and if someone calls the cops for your indecent acts then he has to warn you too. Think about it this way: Eventually a cop will have to answer to a call of you smoking weed or having sex in public. And you're lucky that the cop who answered the call is willing to let you get off the hook twice rather than getting one who loves showing off his power. He probably realizes you have no criminal intentions but your neighbour's complaint still needs to be answered.



You have compassion. Thanks to this, I'm late for school. Although, I don't have to be there for nearly another hour. *If* it were my normal schedule, I'd have been late.

I liked the part where he said, "Friend!?" I kind of snickered a bit.
I wish the cop was a rent-a-cop, so as he walked away he could've shoved his walkie-talkie into his pocket or pants to create the illusion of a bigger bulge. Would have been better.

Nonetheless, Mr. Police Officer seems like he's got a heart, even while on the job. I agree though, he's a dolt to tell you not to hang out with your friend, yet I think he meant just on that corner. I'd suggest being cocky and hanging out a little ways down from the corner, since it's not that corner, but the law is the law. Imagine fighting it and winning? Hehe.
Getting down in the park works in the middle of a field at night. Anyways, I'm blabbering because I need something to eat.



I once got in trouble with a security guard for lying down. In my university library, students usually lie down on couches for a nap between classes. One time I was with my boyfriend and while he was sitting up doing work, I decided to lie down on my side of the couch. I barely touched him and didn't have my head on his lap or anything. Had anyone seen is you would have thought we could just be friends. Anyway, as I lied there with my eyes closed the security guard woke me up and said I had to move to another couch. I asked why and she said my boyfriend and I couldn't lie beside each other, in her words: "We're not that kind of place." What kind of place? There was barely any physical contact between us, I was just napping while he was studying! She wouldn't leave until I went on a separate couch, so I went to the other side of my boyfriend to a couch that was 2 feet away and lied on that.... that was apparently decent.



Replying to Alamir:
You're right, Alamir. The cop was actually pretty nice about the whole thing(s). Maybe I was too hard on the guy in my rendering the experience into a story. He gave me a break, after all, so why shouldn't repay the favor? I just hoped it was implied, that I am indeed grateful to the cop, who could have been a real asshole, especially if had remembered me the second time.

There's an ambiguous sense in which you want cops to be like robots - doing exactly as they're "supposed" to, what they're "programmed" to do according their "duty" - and, on the other hand, in which you don't want cops to be like robots. Where cops should be like robots is when they're, say, arresting some dispicable person (e.g.: child molestor, rapist, serial murderer, oil company lobbyist (I kid...)). In these cases (and I can only speak for myself, not being a fan of personal vengeance or bloodthirsty revenge) I think cops should restrain themselves from doing what a lot of people might applaud them for (and what the cops might actually want to do), which is beat the shit out of the guy. In these cases they should act like robots, that is, arrest the person like they are supposed to without letting their non-robotic, "human" emotions get involved by taking out their disgust and aggression out on the guy they're arresting. I'm a believer in innocent-until-proven-guilty and due process. I'm not a big fan of police brutality, even if, as some people might say, "the sick son of a bitch had it coming to him."

So, conversely, where a cop shouldn't act like a robot (and maybe I'm biased about this one) is when they're dealing with someone like me, who's obviously harmless. My only crime was stupidity. In my case, and others like it, the cop now should exercise some human judgement, and let me (or anyone else) off because the spirit of the law (rather than the strict, robotic code of the "letter of the law") is simply about preventing harm and reducing danger in society. The robot cop would have taken me down to the station, which, in any case, would have been a lot less efficient and more pointless for everybody involved.

Incidentally, isn't the idea of a Hal-9000-esque "flawless" computer (or robot cop) such a scary idea precisely because it would inevitably lead to those absurd situations that could only be solved with non-robotic, human common sense? The computer would be uncompromising, totally unmoved by common sense argument (let alone compassion), and would stick to the code, the letter of the law, and haul you downtown for whatever minor offence it was, because, like Eichmann, they were "just following orders."

In the robot' defense, though, I should say that at least they wouldn't beat the crap out of anyone they arrested, no matter how sick a son of a bitch they were.

So, when it comes to cops (who are human after all), sometimes they should be like robots, and other times not. And it's being human in the first place that makes it possible for them to make the decision, case-by-case, that is suitable. Robots, on the other hand, could only ever be robots. They have no (dare I say it?) existential freedom to choose, which is, of course, what makes us human.



Replying to Keshiaaa:
Compassion? Maybe. Stupid? Definitely. I haven't been smoking weed in public or having park-sex lately. And it was like 4 in the morning, and it was in the middle of a big field. Not big enough, I guess, that the local residents couldn't hear us...

Yeah, if it was a rent-a-cop I think I'd have been even more snarky. But I like being "cooperative", thought. That's even more aggravating, because they expect you to be a jerk. Or not. What do I know?



Replying to Lilian:
One word: jealousy.



Replying to Hogan:
It's only in Vancouver that I remember smoking weed in public as just a slap on the wrist. I might be wrong, but I just don't remember it being done in public in the East as much. It was done indoors plenty of times and probably just as much as it is in Vancouver...but not as much outdoors. My point is whether that would make the question of whether cops in the East more "robotic." But now I'm getting into the whole "wrong/right is relative" debate. I agree with your final point that cops need to handle everything case by case.

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