Homeless Man Unnecessarily Arrested After Being Profiled at Starbucks (Submission)

The following post was shared with the CopBlock Network by Dan Olson, via a message to the CopBlock Network Facebook Page. In addition to that option you, can also send us stories and/or video through the CopBlock.org Submissions Page.

The post consists of submission consists of a post Dan made to his personal website describing his recent arrest by police in Erie Pennsylvania. The format of the post has been edited a bit to better fit the structure of CopBlock.org’s own. Otherwise and in terms of the content, it has been reposted as it was originally at the “Communicating Convict” website.

As far as what is described in the post, people are free to decide their own opinion of it. However, it does raise several questions in relation to homelessness and the police, as well as business’ treatment of homeless people. Often times that treatment borders on, if not actually consists of, bullying and unnecessary hostility.

Starbucks certainly has the right to tell someone to leave their property, but is it good business to telling paying customers they are unwelcome after taking their money? If he was being disruptive that would obviously be a different story, but he appears to have been having a peaceful conversation with people that had themselves initiated those conversations.

Beyond that was it really necessary for him to be arrested by the police, once they showed up? One could argue based on the description provided that his real “crime” was not respecting their authoritah quick enough and simply for daring to question it. Anyone who has worked with or around homeless people on a regular basis finds out rather quickly that they are one of  the favored targets for bullying and harassment by police.

Another, bigger issue is that when you call the police, even for minor issues, it can become a death sentence for the person you call them on. That’s especially true if that person is poor and homeless. So, rather than doing that and potentially being responsible for the death of another person, wouldn’t have been better for the manager to have come out and spoken to them, even if they were still determined to kick them out? As long as they weren’t being disruptive or ultimately refusing to leave, why get the police involved in the first place?

Starbucks Calls Cops on Over Educated Homeless Activist!

It’s been awhile since I have posted anything and if you don’t know it’s because I have been in Erie County Prison for two months for the crime of being homeless in a public space and daring to ask a police officer what the law is. Ironically much of what I wrote on the day of my arrest in my previous post would come true. I was walking around Erie for a few days with a sign that read “Homeless will defy and eat politicians for food”. Tom Wolf was scheduled to appear in Edinboro so I created a new Facebook page with a status that read “The way I see it is this. Tom Wolf will be in town on the 14th. I want a pardon.

Since I am homeless in my bright red Edinboro sweatpants and Edinboro Communications Department “Keep Calm and Communicate” shirt the city of Erie can save some face by explaining that I am working with Edinboro and the City of Erie to raise awareness for stigma, particularly toward homelessness and mental health. I will accept an award for my great work and some cash, I will also also…since I am smarter and stronger than “conservatively” 90% of the local government accept a nice desk job with decent pay and benefits. If these demands are not met, (and most likely even if they are) my schizophrenic stroll will continue. Peace love and revolution….Erie.

If you believe these demands are actually reasonable considering the lifetime of abuse and trauma I have suffered, mostly from these institutions PLEASE LIKE AND SHARE!!! I was speaking with a close friend that morning and he expressed his concern for me. I jokingly told him “don’t worry about me, I’m on my Jesus Christ/Buddha consciousness raising awareness for the unfortunate. He replied it wasn’t me he was worried about rather the police I may interact with and how I could be “trapped”. In hindsight it was advice I should have heeded.

Homeless Food

One day the poor will have nothing left to eat but politicians.

I left the library and walked up to the Erie City Mission for lunch. On my way a black gentleman pulled over and offered me a dollar. I thanked him and continued on my way. When I arrived at the City Mission there was almost double the amount of people waiting to eat than last time I was there for a ”research paper.”

Homelessness and poverty must not be improving in Erie. Good thing we are going to pay thousands of dollars for some extra police to patrol the downtown and kick those vagrants to “better” pastures! Inside the place is packed and a couple of Edinboro nursing students are trying to sign people up for some kind of medical service. I make a few comments to them since I am rocking my EU sweats.I get a tray with some greens and a burrito and pass on the sweets.

People are engaged in the same interactions as before and possibly since the doors opened in 1911 (pretty impressive). After listening to a few arguments I shoulder my bag and make my way to the Mental Health Association (MHA) to see if I can score a shower. It’s only a little ironic that I was recently here with my family dropping off donations that my daughter collected for winter and filling out applications to work or volunteer. No work was available, but I could develop a men’s group if I wanted…

In order to be eligible for services at the MHA you need proof that you are receiving mental health treatment. “Luckily” for me I had a few appointment cards in my wallet from Stairways. They also require photo ID, all I have is an Edinboro Student ID since my licence was confiscated…which they accept. A man takes me into a side room and begins to read me my “rights”. You have a right to feel safe, you have a right to your own property, you have a right….he rattles off a few more and I actually feel good listening to it.

When he is done, I comment that that was nice, it must go along way for people suffering from PTSD after interacting with the police. He looks at me like he doesn’t understand the joke, or it wasn’t funny and leads me to the shower. The door does not lock…or I can’t figure it out and I eventually say fuck it I spent enough time in prison…I’ll just shower with this box cutter. After the shower I feel much better and I am grateful the MHA was there as I step out into a light rain.

I walk to Starbucks to enjoy a cup of coffee…as I have been doing for the past couple days. I purchase a coffee and sit down, my homeless sign is visible but I do not feel I am being obtrusive. It is impossible to raise awareness for anything unless you engage the public in some form, besides if you happen to be offended that I am homeless…well that makes two of us and we are one step closer to a “movement”. A few days ago I made some rugged slips of paper with words like Love, Adapt, Refuse, Defy on them with links to this blog. They were rugged and raw along with my sign because…well I really am fucking homeless and I can’t afford many of the tactics I might have learned in Communication Studies. I did have a theory that perhaps people are becoming turned “off” by well designed shit and typical ads and something like what I was doing might actually garner more attention.

Earlier, I had pinned some of these to a board at the Blasco Library, and at a local laundromat. I had these papers sitting at my table with my coffee but never made any active attempts at solicitation. A few people stopped to talk to me such as Scott McGrath gentleman I participated in a “Love Letters to Erie” art event whose artwork can be seen here. At one point I noticed an old acquaintance and I stood up to actually greet them, I heard it is a polite thing to do. In this exact moment a Gannon student names Shayla Jones approached me and informed me that I was the subject of her Social Movements class and she had to come and speak with me.

Naturally, I was ecstatic to hear this news, it was the most validating thing I had felt in a long time so I quickly exchanged contact information with my acquaintance and sat down to speak with Shayla. She expressed both knowledge and interest in “Mass Incarceration” and the difficulties with re-entry so I knew she had read some of my blog and was sincere in her approach.

In a short time, a barista approached our table and rudely interrupts our conversation saying “sir you cannot solicit customers.” I reply I have not solicited anyone, in fact the only person I have approached I in fact knew personally.” She then tells me that she “seen” me hand a piece of paper to someone. Shayla intervenes and says something to the effect of recognizing me and the person were acquainted with each other.

The barista ignores both our testimonies and claims she needs to look after the safety of the customers. I look around and see a couple I know is homeless, a young man I know is homeless, an older schizophrenic who talks to himself more than others…and also has a bag…and Jessie and Ricardo as all the other customers. I begin to feel discriminated against and I say as much. I reply “if I was wearing a business suit you would not even dare to speak to me.” I am feeling harassed and would like to speak to your manager.”

Starbucks’ website claims ”It happens millions of times each week – a customer receives a drink from a Starbucks barista – but each interaction is unique. I guess I was about to learn just how “unique” these experiences can be. According to the police report, the manager rather than coming to speak with me informed this junior coffee cop to call the police.

Unaware that the police have been called, I continue talking to Shayla about some of her personal struggles and perceptions of social issues from poverty, racism and what movements are having positive effects such as Black Lives Matter. My moment of validation and perhaps even congratulations of a apparently successful public action will be short lived when two police officers walk in the door.

The first officer recognizing me as the man who was singing “Kumbaya” behind the courthouse has that classical “oh, no you again look”, and he basically says as much while walking through the door. The second officer has a different approach and locks onto me with a pretty aggressive and meant to be intimidating gaze and says “You. Up. Now.” in a manner meant to illicit immediate obedience and submission.

I have a notepad in front of me and garbed in my Edinboro “Keep Calm and Communicate” shirt I reply “Officer I am a researcher and a scholar could you please tell me what law I am breaking?” Officer Ryan M. Onderko, in a de-escalating (sarcasm) manner responds…I am going to break your fucking head in a minute. With all the education Edinboro has provided me and self control I can muster, I recognize that this officer is looking for an opportunity to be violent. So in the international symbol of preparing to take my leave I rise up and begin putting on my jacket.

While doing so I say, “officer I really will need to know what law I am breaking if I am going to be an informed law abiding citizen.” He then grabs my arm, which caused my body to go tense because it was unexpected and says, “you want to know the law I’ll show you the law, put your hands behind your back.”

I hesitate because I am in shock and disbelief that I might be going to prison, PTSD and a multiple of other symptoms flood my brain. Sensing this Onderko in a real manner again to de-escalate says, “if you resist me you are going to get hurt bad.” I do not resist and allow myself to be cuffed to which Onderko then says “Don’t you ever question me, I don’t care how big you are. I will cut you down.” I respond, “if you are going to threaten me you might as well just kill me, because I refuse to walk around afraid of the police.”

I am escorted outside and Dan Zmijewski follows us out to the police car. The officer looks towards Dan and says “you get out of here, or you are going with him.” Dan says something about his freedom to stand on the sidewalk and Officer Onderko releases me and lunges towards Dan to grab him.

Dan speeds up his walk and almost begins to run when Onderko perhaps recognizing he can’t just leave me unattended calls off his pursuit of Dan. Even from my position of being cuffed I can’t help to be both amused and happy that Dan managed to “escape”.

In the process of checking my pockets for weapons and “contraband” he asks if I am on probation. I reply that yes I am and he says “that is all I need to know.” In America, while on probation the law is less concerned about the truth. When they are prepared to detain you, all they need to say is “probable cause”. You are arrested on a whim…and if you are lucky released after an extensive second thought…typically taking 3-6 months.

This is the story of my “arrest.” Next I will relate some of my experience and interactions while incarcerated at Erie County Prison. I will leave off today with a quote Lenin apparently told a young poet in a coffee shop shortly after the Bolshevik “Revolution.”

Every man must rely on himself. Yet he should also listen to what informed people have to say. I don’t know how radical you are, or how radical I am. I am certainly not radical enough. One can never be radical enough, that is one must always try to be as radical as reality itself.

Intractable conflict, radical conflict and power is what I live and study. I must wonder if my problem is not that I am toooo “radical” for Erie…rather I have not yet become radical enough.

Peace, Love and Revolution to you all.

– Dan Olson

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About Kelly W. Patterson

a lifelong resident of Las Vegas, who's been very active in local grassroots activism, as well as on a national level during his extensive travels. He's also the founder/main contributor of Nevada Cop Block, served as editor/contributor at CopBlock.org and designed the Official Cop Block Press Passes. ____________________________________________________________________________ Connect with Kelly at these social networks; Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

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