Opinion » Commentaries

Safe, but not sound

We are losing our freedom to protect it


Worked like a charm. The message, the motive, the means. I’m not surprised.
I don’t know about you, but drunk or sober, young or old, I wouldn’t find it fun getting shot at, or clubbed, or tied up. Nor would I like a trip to jail or paying triple fines. That just doesn’t sound like a good time to me.

If I were going to pay that kind of a price, at least it would have to be for some do-or-die worthwhile cause. Getting drunk and throwing rocks and bottles at armed police for the sake of being able to do it and then bragging about it later isn’t one of them.

Ever been in a riot? You always lose. Everybody does. When the tear gas stops burning, when the bleeding stops, when your head stops hurting, when your eyes and your brain begin to clear, all you see is what’s left behind of what was usually a stupid idea to begin with. And more often than not for nothing.

San Luis was going to have none of this again. Period. No more riots, no more parties, no more freedom. The wheels started turning not soon after last year’s Mardi Gras madness and lunacy. Other cities have done it … so can San Luis.

I remember the Halloweens at UCSB in the early ’80s in Santa Barbara. Students would bring out the couches in September. Everybody knew what was coming. Trick, not treat. Students got primed, couches were torched, the cops were fueled, the party was underway. Great TV, but bad press. The annual morning-after headlines crying, “Who’s in charge of Isla Vista?� eventually prompted a new county sheriff to put his foot down, and that he did. Shut it down, close it off, throw the book at ’em. Scare ’em, intimidate ’em, arrest ’em, fine ’em.

The party was over, as it would soon be for the Halloweens in Chico, for the spring breaks in Palm Springs, and as it has now come to be for Mardi Gras in San Luis Obispo. A police state in our quaint hometown. College students as terrorists. And I’m told it’s going to happen again next year.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain. Even though I was told where I could go, where I couldn’t, what I could do, what I couldn’t. Just for a few days and nights. After all, no damage, no injury, few arrests. No harm, no foul. Lots of money. Hey, that’s what it cost.

But something isn’t sitting well with me, despite the applauded effort by the boys in blue.

Giving police ultimate power makes me nervous.

And that’s what I feel the “community� did, proclaimed loud and clear by the Barnett-Cox advertising campaign. It’s the cops’ show. Think about it.

The vocal leaders of this crusade was the public information officer of the SLOPD, Rob Bryn, and the SLO city administrator Ken Hampian, amiable and able gentlemen of the highest order indeed. While Bryn was adeptly preparing the media for an excursion into the flashpoint, Hampian, who probably never got so much print or air time in his life, became the spokesman for the city. This allowed the mayor to go skiing during one of the most possibly volatile weeks in city history.

SLOPD chief Deb Linden, when she appeared, sounded like she spoke for everybody. Higher education masters Warren Baker and Marie Rosenwasser, always there for the kids, waved the okay from their ivory towers. Even the local media bought into it, from the editorial headlines to the visual support of the hometown TV news department. The police never had such community support and spokespeople. (Although when we asked Bryn what weapons and technology his force was prepared to use, he wouldn’t tell us. Said it would make the police appear “overly aggressive.�)

This got under my skin. I’m the community, and I wasn’t consulted. And I don’t appreciate it when it’s assumed or proclaimed that I was. And I feel unprotected when media watchdogs jump on the bandwagon.

Call me an aging paranoiac, but as a child of the ’60s and a Vietnam vet it has served me well to be a bit wary of government and police, even if either says it’s for my own good. Safety for the sake of the masses.

I suppose I should be getting used to it. Thirty years ago airline passengers first began to get screened to prevent skyjackings. Today it’s become a full-blown search. It’s inconvenient as hell, but you don’t really mind, do you, as long as you’re safe.

San Luis Obispo was saved this Mardi Gras weekend, fully protected by a barrage of barricades and badges, and by weapons against mass destruction. And by a “community� that cares.

But somehow I don’t feel as safe as I once did.

Managing Editor King Harris fights for his right to party, unless it’s past his bedtime.

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