On July 21st, after leaving a lovely evening at Tuesday Night Cafe and then Weiland Brewery, my friends and I spotted a man laying face up on the sidewalk next to a car. We were on Traction, off of Alameda, and the area being what it is, the thought did spring to mind that this man could have been a member of the Skid Row community, but when he didn't respond to our multiple calls of "Hey man, are you alright?" we decided that the right thing to do would be to try to find him some help.
Being three women, we were worried about our own safety and decided to request help from those employed by our tax dollars. When I called 911 from my cel phone to seek help, I encountered an automated menu. We realized that it would be faster to just track down the police officers who regularly "patrol" in front of Starbucks and Yogurtland.
We pulled up behind two police cars and pulled the officers, I'm not sure whether there were four or six of them, away from a conversation they were having with civilians. They were reluctant at first, saying "He's probably just drunk," but they got into their squad cars--without asking us exactly where the man was. We followed them to Alameda, where they harassed a man who was obviously homeless and sleeping until we yelled to them "Not him! The guy over there!" and lead them to the passed out man we saw.
It was already frustrating at that point. What happened next was infuriating.
The officers approached the man on the ground, and one of them yelled "HEY NACHO!"
From inside my friend's car, the three of us watched in shock as the officers then began to kick him. We could hardly believe what we were seeing and were frozen. In hindsight, I wish that I had found the wherewithal to get out of the car and intervene somehow. When the man finally got to his feet, my friend asked the officers whether they knew him and they all shook their heads "No." The man got up and began walking east on Traction and we left.
This deplorable treatment of a man, a human being, by officers of the law was something that I don't think any of us had ever witnessed first hand before. What's worse is the sense of disempowerment we had-- we didn't challenge the police, we didn't know how to stand up to their authority.
What shocked me further was that beneath my initial shock with the officers' exhibition of racism in calling that man "Nacho" and their violent treatment of him, I was not entirely shocked. I even attempted to rationalize their actions-- they're desensitized because they deal with this sort of thing every day-- before coming to my senses: no one should be kicked awake or be subject to racial slurs, whatever their economic or social standing, and an officer of the law should be trained not only to hold a weapon but to treat people with dignity.