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By Jessica Zang

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About this blog: I’m Jessica Zang, a Palo Alto-born, slightly cynical Gunn High School student who’s passionate about linking high school life to the bigger picture. What’s really going on in our high schools in Palo Alto? Everything a high ...  (More)

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My bystander's experience with PAPD

Uploaded: Jun 26, 2020
Disclaimer: this post is for clarification, and telling an account of what I saw. It is not meant to be an accusation, rather a way for my readers to educate me on things I could have missed in my experience of the incident.

Last summer, I witnessed a possible illegal arrest in our very own Town and Country. Although it has been almost a year since it has happened, recent events have made me reconsider this event in a different light. Palo Alto has long been one of the more educated cities in America. In general, we are a population of affluent, knowledgeable people who are open and tolerant. Whenever brutality or ignorance appears on the news, I am privileged enough to feel horrible for some time afterwards but console myself by knowing injustice cannot persist in a place like Palo Alto, where racism, sexism, and inequality are frowned upon and people are kind and fair. My experience last summer told me otherwise.

I will try to give the most accurate account of the incident below; I do not know the implications, but only wish to explain my experience as a bystander and a teenager who did not know what was going on, nor what do to. As I am trying to be factual, this will likely be a boring read.

I had just gotten off my shift from work at a restaurant nearby, and was eating a late afternoon snack with a friend when an older Black man walked by us. If I remember correctly, he had a slight limp and was moderately tall. We were eating outside, on one of the tables near the street. Later, that same man came back and stood near our table, looking as if he was waiting for someone. We kept eating, as this was not cause for any sort of alarm.

After a few minutes, a police car pulled up. A white police officer came out and pointed at the empty beer can on the ground. The can was sitting on the ground, inconspicuous and didn’t seem to blatantly belong to someone. It was sitting around 6 feet away from a few cloth bags that belonged to the man. I didn’t know this then, but it is unlawful in California to carry an open container of alcohol in a public space; it is a small infraction, with a maximum $250 fine and no jail time. However, it is legal to carry an open alcohol container for the purpose of recycling.

The officer asked the man if it was his, to which he replied no. It was his friend’s, and he was waiting for his friend to come back and pick it up. I don’t know if this is true or not, only that this was the only information given to the police officer for the time being. He then crushed the can and attempted to throw it away, but the police officer stopped him. He politely asked if he could go and find his friend to be questioned, then proceeded try to pick up his bags. The police officer stopped him, leaving the man very confused. I don’t believe he was trying to escape; it would have been impossible anyways, with his bad leg.

They spoke for a while and then another police car arrived. Another white officer came out, and they both questioned the man. This resulted in them dragging him over to their car. They put the bags into the backseat and made the man come to the front of the car, where they bent him over the hood, handcuffed him quite roughly, and put him into the backseat.

I watched and was confused; was there any background to this incident that I don’t know about? What if there was a friend who was coming back? We would truly never know if this man was lying or not; it wasn’t clarified in the ensuing questioning.

At the time, I was taking a summer law course at UC Berkeley. Seeing this arrest, I was curious to see if it was unlawful, so I took pictures and videos in case I needed to prove that this incident occurred to someone later on. I called my professor and detailed the scene to him. After a while, he told me that it was, based on what I saw, an illegal arrest. However, I don't know what circumstances could have changed my perspective.

After all this time, I am still unsure of what I could have done, and what the consequences occurred from this interaction. I’m open to opinions and any information that would be helpful in getting a better understanding of what happened that day. As a form of privacy, I will not be uploading the videos or photos that I took.

I still see those officers around, leading me to think back to that day. Yes, this incident was probably rather minor, but even minor crimes should be held accountable, regardless of which party committed them. This is my perspective that others can add to. For now, I wonder if such arrests are more common than I think, and if I actually did witness an illegal arrest last summer.
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Comments

 +   15 people like this
Posted by A Former Public Defender, a resident of another community,
on Jun 26, 2020 at 3:38 pm

Without additional details, this particular incident is difficult to ascertain. It could have been a homeless individual suspected of being under the influence of a controlled substance, someone with an outstanding arrest warrant, a loitering complaint from a merchant/cafe proprietor, or a person matching the description of a reported crime.

Probable cause provides the typical 'green light' for PD intervention BUT people of color tend to be detained for questioning more frequently than whites.

Whether this police practice is based on racism or statistical crime-related profiling is subject to debate.

Like traffic tickets, 'catch & release' is often at the discretion of the officer. Sometimes a warning suffices while in other instances, either a citation or arrest is warranted.








 +   10 people like this
Posted by Jessica Zang, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jun 26, 2020 at 3:59 pm

Jessica Zang is a registered user.

Hi @A Former Public Defender!

Thank you for your expert opinion. This is definitely an open ended post since my account is definitely incomplete and there are many factors out of my knowledge.

Reach out to me if there is anything else I should know!

Thanks for reading my blog!
Jessica


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Bill, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jun 26, 2020 at 4:52 pm

We have a family member working at Town and Country. Shoplifting and petty theft is a common problem there. It frequently involves alcohol. Merchants will call PAPD and ask that the offender "be admonished and warned not to return" by police. Since the store will almost always refuse to sign a complaint and prosecute the offender, these calls are lower priority with low visibility. The merchant won't confront the offender or stand around while "they let the police handle it."

To be fair, most merchants there will look the other way for ordinary food items and won't call the police. But when alcohol is involved, even for a single can of beer, it almost always generates a call to the PAPD.

PAPD hates these kind of calls, but they have to answer them. The department had a SET (Special Enforcement Team) they used to deal with the chronic offenders. They would take the offender and spend the time to get them into some kind of program. But, SET was disbanded due to budget cuts.

Thank you for your story. We would be very interested in knowing your ideas on how to better handle incidents like this. Obviously, this isn't a good situation for anyone.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Southeast Asian, a resident of Esther Clark Park,
on Jun 26, 2020 at 8:14 pm

Really appreciate A Former Public Defender and Bill helping to fill in this story.

Had it been published last year, fine. But given the tensions and irrationality today, this could have provoked a riot at Town and Country.

Solutions? Bring back Special Enforcement Team, also Restraining Orders.

A suggestion for future column, please - recent high school graduates are facing multiple issues due to COVID such as Online-Only (seems to be devaluation of college experience, and many are questioning why pay the full tuition), reduced services and classes, and lack of job opportunities.

Glad you have a job, it will be good for your resume. My child's employer was forced to shut down in March and may be facing bankruptcy.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Jessica Zang, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jun 26, 2020 at 9:12 pm

Jessica Zang is a registered user.

Hi @Southeast Asian!

Would you like to email me some specifics on this issue? As my sister is a graduating senior, I am very aware of these issues. I'd definitely be interested in interviewing your daughter!

In addition, this article wasn't meant to provoke any kind of violence or rioting, only to seek answers to a question I've had since last summer. I doubt this incident would be major enough to cause any kind of disruption, considering the low amount of viewers I have and my readers' clarifications to my question.

Thank you!
Jessica


 +   17 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Jun 26, 2020 at 9:38 pm

With all due respect Miss Zang, it's officer discretion. Please tell me you don't really believe the can "belonged to a friend." Let police officers do their job. If you don't trust the police, that's your right -- but you're only hurting yourself.

Not that it matters, but I've seen incidents like this a few times. I mind my own business.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Jessica Zang, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jun 26, 2020 at 9:44 pm

Jessica Zang is a registered user.

Hi @Jennifer!

Thanks for reading! Seeing as I had many questions about the incident, I thought it was right to clear up my confusions with the help of readers like you.

I did mind my own business as it was happening, but I had suspicions that I wanted to be educated on. Thank you again for commenting!

Have a nice night.

Thanks,
Jessica


 +   11 people like this
Posted by VS, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Jun 26, 2020 at 11:23 pm

VS is a registered user.

I like that you are sharing this story with the community, and asking for community input. I find that refreshing and constructive.

You mention you would like to know how you could respond, so I offer this possible learning opportunity. FYI, there is a group in Oakland working on community initiative called "Alternatives to Calling the Police". While this effort does not oppose calling the police, they offer suggestions that community members can take to de-escalate situations.

Many reasons for police calls are mental health or addiction-related. On Saturday, June 26, an online session will focus on effective community response to mental health scenarios in particular. . Their approach is based on the Anti Police-Terror Project Sacramento 's pilot program. This training prepares Mental Health First responders for dispatching to assist folks experiencing mental health episodes and other crises. It includes mental health first aid, basic first aid, and cop watch. No experience necessary. Medical and mental health students and professionals are encouraged to join. For more information go here:Web Link

I'm not suggesting you are a first responder, but I think it might offer a perspective on alternatives to policing, and also ways to respond that are constructive.

Thank you so much for thoughtfully sharing your experience.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by VS, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Jun 26, 2020 at 11:43 pm

VS is a registered user.

PS to my previous post. I focused on the possible mental health aspect of the situation because you mentioned alcohol. But I hear you that you are questioning this situation as it happened to a Black man, which could be racial profiling. Questioning what you saw, the background of the situation, and whether the escalation was appropriate is what we all should be considering. Thanks for taking the lead.

In terms of what to do, the camera is always our friend.


 +   15 people like this
Posted by A Former Public Defender, a resident of another community,
on Jun 27, 2020 at 12:31 pm

One word of advice to those confronted by the police... since 'qualified immunity' clauses (i.e. regional legal protection/exemption from prosecution) are still actively in place, do not RUN, FLEE or RESIST arrest when being detained and/or questioned by the police as it often provides law enforcement an EXCUSE for taking drastic and oftentimes questionable measures like physical abuses including the shooting of individuals they may SUSPECT of being armed and/or perceived as 'dangerous'. This legal window provides a certain degree of latitude and indiscretion on the part of the police...in essence a 007 'license to kill'.

Police bodycams often (and suspiciously) 'malfunction' during these incidents so it is imperative that civilian citizens with cell phones record certain improprities on the part of law enforcement.

In other words, HOLD LAW ENFORCEMENT accountable whenever possible as there is absolutely no reason for them to be shooting suspects with live bullets (oftentimes in the back) unless the suspects are actually shooting at them with a legitimate and identifiable firearm.

The physical abuses on the part of police often go unchecked but can sometimes be averted by cooperating with them when/if stopped for questioning.

In other words, dont' give the cops any further opportunities to get away with the well documented accounts of their misbehaviors and/or lawlessness.



 +   2 people like this
Posted by A Former Public Defender, a resident of another community,
on Jun 27, 2020 at 12:31 pm

One word of advice to those confronted by the police... since 'qualified immunity' clauses (i.e. regional legal protection/exemption from prosecution) are still actively in place, do not RUN, FLEE or RESIST arrest when being detained and/or questioned by the police as it often provides law enforcement an EXCUSE for taking drastic and oftentimes questionable measures like physical abuses including the shooting of individuals they may SUSPECT of being armed and/or perceived as 'dangerous'. This legal window provides a certain degree of latitude and indiscretion on the part of the police...in essence a 007 'license to kill'.

Police bodycams often (and suspiciously) 'malfunction' during these incidents so it is imperative that civilian citizens with cell phones record certain improprities on the part of law enforcement.

In other words, HOLD LAW ENFORCEMENT accountable whenever possible as there is absolutely no reason for them to be shooting suspects with live bullets (oftentimes in the back) unless the suspects are actually shooting at them with a legitimate and identifiable firearm.

The physical abuses on the part of police often go unchecked but can sometimes be averted by cooperating with them when/if stopped for questioning.

In other words, dont' give the cops any further opportunities to get away with the well documented accounts of their misbehaviors and/or lawlessness.



 +   8 people like this
Posted by Ray, a resident of Professorville,
on Jun 29, 2020 at 10:58 am

Hi Jessica,

There are, as you can see, a number of ways of looking at this incident and you have received a lot of information, some of it instructive, particularly from people who know the law. One thing about what you asked and your responses to various commenters is extremely clear. You are a perceptive, mature, and intelligent young woman. Stay on track. We need you.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Mark, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Jun 29, 2020 at 11:48 am

Jessica, wonderful to see you taking an interest. We need more citizens of all ages noticing the way Black people and other marginalized groups are treated. And more people agitating to change racist laws and institutions.

I wanted to note that "letting police do their job" is a troubling attitude when that job has a history of being implicitly and explicitly racist. E.g. Even if the gentleman were violating loitering laws, those laws themselves have a very long history of being enacted precisely so that marginalized people can be forced out of sight. See e.g. this very approachable visual guide from CityLab: Web Link

Keep asking questions and taking an interest. It's the only way we can change things.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Jun 29, 2020 at 12:43 pm

Letting any professional do their job without interference is common courtesy. What's "troubling" is the far left's obsession with race and race baiting.

I understand why the criminal element has a problem with the police. They don't want to be arrested and jailed. If the left/far left keeps up their hatred of the police, no one will want to be a police officer, and we'll ALL be in trouble.

Quit committing crimes, and quit resisting arrest. Problem solved.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Midtown Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Jun 29, 2020 at 1:36 pm

Black while standing in a shopping center?

Black while picking up a piece of garbage?

Black while hanging out? (Well, that's what Paly students do. This is apparently loitering.)

Hard to know exactly what happened ... but my best guess is some excuse was used to remove a poor Black disabled man from the T and C shopping center, so it wouldn't deter hi-end shoppers from loitering - excuse me, I meant standing outside, enjoying a latte.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Onrosewood, a resident of Midtown,
on Jun 29, 2020 at 2:50 pm

Onrosewood is a registered user.

@Jennifer,
There are a number of videos online that you should probably watch.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by A Former Public Defender, a resident of another community,
on Jun 30, 2020 at 10:29 am

> "Letting any professional do their job without interference is common courtesy."

^ If by 'professional' you are referring to the police...then it is also a 'professional' responsibility for law enforcement to extend reciprocal professional courtesies towards ALL citizens regardless of their ethnicity.

Many police officers do not practice this 'common courtesy' and therein lies the pervasive problems we are witnessing today.

A 'shoot first & ask questions later' mentality along with various bullying and intimidation tactics are UNACCEPTABLE tactics when it comes to carrying out the law.

If a sizeable number of PD officers are now quitting or retiring due to increased public scrutiny of their various misdeeds...then GOOD RIDDANCE.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Lennie, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jun 30, 2020 at 2:43 pm

If I understand Jennifer's last comment, the police are professionals who just want to do their jobs without interference from "far left" people who may want to impose unreasonable standards of behavior on the police. Well I am a professional who pays very high taxes every year and who expects all police to behave as professionals when they interact with the public they are supposed to serve. I don't think this is asking too much of the police but it is a standard that many police don't seem to be able to comply with based on a large number of well documented incidents over the past many years. This situation has to change and it has nothing to do with left vs. right politics.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Jun 30, 2020 at 4:08 pm

I believe he was probably a homeless man under the influence of controlled substance, or he had warrants. Or both. I've seen it happen, and none of the individuals arrested were black. Get over the "everything is a racial issue" mindset. If I was homeless (or not homeless) I can be arrested too. It happens all the time. It's called the LAW.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Jun 30, 2020 at 4:33 pm

Also - if they called for backup, something was going on. And it wasn't because of "high end shoppers" in Palo Alto. Teenagers might be too young to understand why police officers call for backup, but mature adults aren't.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by A Former Public Defender, a resident of another community,
on Jun 30, 2020 at 4:36 pm

> "I believe he was probably a homeless man under the influence of controlled substance, or he had warrants. Or both."

^ The police intervention surrounding this incident has never been established.

You can BELIEVE whatever you choose to hypothesize.

'PROBABLY' is a convenient excuse too often used by law enforcement.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Jun 30, 2020 at 6:22 pm

This is a blog where people share their opinions, not a court of law where lawyers argue facts.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by A Former Public Defender, a resident of another community,
17 hours ago

> "This is a blog where people share their opinions, not a court of law where lawyers argue facts."

^ You are correct...but under direct and diligent cross-questioning, you would most likely be removed as a potential jurist in a case involving the prosecution of a police officer for
his/her role in a misdemeanor or felony.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
15 hours ago

I understand your point. My point (again) is cooperate with the police. If you have a ***k the police attitude, things won't go well. You have to be polite and respectful when dealing with the police whether you're pulled over, stopped on the street or a suspect. Sadly, too many people don't want to do this. You have to get to the root of the problem, and the root is cooperation.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by A Former Public Defender, a resident of another community,
15 hours ago

> "My point (again) is cooperate with the police. If you have a ***k the police attitude, things won't go well. You have to be polite and respectful when dealing with the police whether you're pulled over, stopped on the street or a suspect. Sadly, too many people don't want to do this."

^ Concurring...if you scroll back, you will notice that I made a similar comment regarding cooperation with law enforcement when stopped for questioning.

BUT...

The police often escalate a potentially volatile situation by way of their all too common inherent bullying & intimidation practices/tactics.

And as a result, the police tend to perpetuate a 'f*ck you' attitude on the part of citizenry by their very demeanor.

'To serve and protect' is the mantra of most police departments but when law enforcement begins pushing it's weight around, all bets are off.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jeniifer, a resident of another community,
14 hours ago

I agree with everything you just said. If you can come up with a solution (besides cooperation) that will effectively deal with male to male testosterone, a weapon, a criminal with an attitude, etc. you're a heck of a lot smarter than I am.

Keep in mind police officers are HUMAN, and if you're a man, you know a heck of a lot more about testosterone than I do. I'm on the receiving end, and I go with "don't push his buttons." Testosterone and attitude are oil and water. They just don't mix.

If Newsom doesn't let me out of lockdown soon...


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