crime


Couple weeks ago I posted on LA Metblogs about the irony of that “Need Repairs?” sign pictured at right (that I saw on my way to work), screwed there by some brainiac handyman so damagingly — not to mention unlawfully — high up the trunk of a palm tree in Hancock Park. But this wasn’t just any palm tree. It was one of all of those trees on the median of Highland Avenue between Wilshire and Melrose, which collectively make up Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Landmark No. 94.

I wrote about calling the phone number on the sign, getting the person’s (his name is Jake) voicemail and leaving a message suggesting Mr. Fixit get back over from the 818 at his earliest opportunity and repair what he hath wrought.

He ignored me, as I figured he would. So at the same time I contacted him I also filed a request with the Bureau of Street Services that the sign be removed. They fulfilled my request about a week later.

Oh and I almost forgot! I also googled the gentleman’s phone number and wouldn’t ya know it matched up with a Hollywood-based construction outfit’s website, which in the wake of his noted unwillingness to rectify, made it all the easier to post up a review of his company’s negligent promotional strategy on Yelp:

The proprietor at Hopwood Construction may very well be one of the finest craftsmen around. But unfortunately all that’s known is that he saw fit to promote his business by screwing a sign advertising his services into a Hancock Park palm tree, which is not only unlawful but also damaging to public property.

In addition, he ignored a request to remove the sign, leaving it instead to our taxpayer dollars via the city’s Bureau of Street Services to do so more than a week later.

As said, the level of quality of this person’s work is not something that can be spoken of here, but this sign and his unwillingness to remove it, is something that speaks volumes and such willful negligence should be taken into account if hiring this person becomes a consideration.

Lastly while the sign was removed successfully by Bureau of Street Services personnel, they neglected to extract the seven ( seriously, seven!?) screws that held the sign to the tree, as you can see in the picture at left (click to enlargify). Though I pointed this out in the follow-up call I received advising the sign had been removed, I wasn’t given much hope that personnel would be in a rush to return any time soon and finish the job.

Nothing against the worker who got rid of the sign, but it was enough to bring to mind one of my favorite lines from  the movie Poltergeist: “You moved the cemetery, but you left the bodies, didn’t you? You son of a bitch, you left the bodies and you only moved the head stones. You only moved the head stones!”

So I expect that, while it might take a couple weeks, I’ll load my truck up with a ladder one of these Saturday or Sunday mornings and extract those bodies myself.

Unless of course, Jake beats me to it.

UPDATE (03.25): It crossed my mind that removing those and any other older screws embedded in the trunk might be detrimental to the tree’s health, leaving wounds that could potentially make it susceptible to infestation and disease. So I called the city’s Urban Forestry Division and spoke with a supervisor who advised that the only removals that could pose a threat would be those older foreign objects that the palm’s trunk has actually grown over. He said to leave those alone and just go after the screws and nails that are easily pried or screwed out without doing further damage to the trunk.

It was a little after 9 last night when I coast to a stop in the bike lane alongside a beater idling roughly at the red at National on Venice, which is pretty deserted. There’s a lot of smoke coming out of the old Chevy’s tailpipe. Rap music that’s almost all swear words along with a lot of smoke that’s not the cigarette kind comes out of the car, occupied by its driver and a passenger.

I get the immediate sense I should just just get the hell away and bail right onto National like that’s what I meant to do all along, but against my better judgment I opt to gamble that things’ll be cool, staring straight ahead for the few seconds until…

“That’s a nice bike, ” says the passenger to me over the lyrics that are mainly muthafuckin this and the muthafuckin that.

At face value that may seem a nice thing to say. But more often than not, such a statement is not a nice thing. More often than not, such a statement is not a compliment. More often than not it is not paid by a Century City lawyer or a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, but rather by some covetous lowlife, and it translates roughly into “I want your bike.” It’s a statement in the form of a demand along the converse lines that  “Where you from?” is a demand in the form of a statement. In short, it’s mostly rhetorical and arrives carrying a lot of baggage.

I give him a glance to find him presenting a general demeanor that would qualify as a definite lowlife. The hairs on my arms rise.

“Thanks!” I say too cheerily and I watch him looking over 8Ball like it’s another guy’s girl that he wants to get to know better 10 minutes ago. Looking away and ignoring him might have been the better tactic, But I didn’t employ it.

“What’ll you give me for it?” I ask and he takes his eyes off the bike and puts them on me and sits up a bit.

“How ’bout a beating?”

I take a breath and hold it. At this point I should dismount and get my feet under me, because Rule No. 23 of My Personal Defensive Cycling Code states:

At the outset of any confrontation a cyclist should always and immediately dismount his bike because with any potential for escalation to violence it’s easier to defend against and counterattack an assault without a bicycle between your legs.

But I decide not to follow Rule No. 23 for two reasons: One, he made no move to back up his talk with any action of exiting the vehicle. Two, executing such a maneuver might have been interpreted as some form of “Bring it then, bitch!” and thus forced him to get himself all up in my stuff.

But none of that happens. I stay put and he stays put and the thug and I hold each other’s stares the way enemies might tensely hold a handshake until he finally rocks his head back and bursts into laughter that the driver joins in on until I get let in on the joke.

“Nah, man. I’m just fuckin’ witcha.”

And I look away, not just a little in relief. I remind myself to breath.

It takes another lifetime until our light turns green. When it does, the Chevy starts to pull forward, belching smoke.

“Besides,” yells the asshole, “bikes are for pussies.” The laughter recedes as the car does, getting smaller and smaller like the imploding house at the end of “Poltergeist.”

I just let it and them go, physically. Mentally I spend most of the rest of the quiet ride home dwelling on what it is that makes certain people think they’re entitled to antagonize cyclists, be it passive or aggressive.

When it was announced that LAPD Chief Charles Beck was to be in attendance at this week’s City Council Transportation Committee meeting Wednesday, I would have bet good money that he wouldn’t show. Nothing against Beck, it’s just that in the recent past there have been blow-offs by the department to requests by the committee for reports and presentations, so it wouldn’t surprise me if its chief suddenly found something more productive to do than placate a passel of cycling types.

Then I heard that that Carmen Trutanich’s office had declined to file charges against the suspect who struck cyclist Ed Magos on January 6 and then, after getting out and observing a seriously injured Magos on the ground pleading for help, got back in her Porsche Cayenne and left the scene. This absolution against someone so criminally culpable and morally bankrupt compounded the frustration I was already feeling when I’d heard that the suspect later turned herself in to police telling them that “I may have hit something,” only to have the police for all intents and purposes condone such reprehensible behavior by sending her on her way instead of arresting her for felony hit and run.

Come the morning of the committee meeting I was pretty much the grumbliest cyclist in the city and made the snap decision to take a personal day, telling my boss something along the lines that “an important and pressing matter needs my immediate and direct attention.”

Then at noon I pedaled over to Heliotrope and Melrose in East Hollywood to meet up with a group of cyclists organized by the L.A. County Bike Coalition who were heading to City Hall and the committee meeting via the route that Magos took the day he got hit.

One of the items on my agenda as an Angeleno has been to visit City Council chambers, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d ever task myself with speaking there. But despite how much I hate doing so, I knew I had to do more than represent physically. For better or worse I had to verbalize it as well.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the lectern mic with all the bombast I’d been planning to drop. Beck took the wind totally out of my sails by addressing the Magos incident specifically in his opening statement at the beginning of the meeting. He said he recognized that the ball got dropped and that people were pissed and as such had spoken with Trutanich’s office, which had agreed to take another look at the issue (whatever that means).

So whereas I had been planning on using loaded words like “abomination,” “insulting,” “ignorant,” and “wouldn’t know justice if it hit them from behind and fled the scene” to characterize what I saw as uninvolved and uncommitted police and prosecution departments, I toned it down a bit, as follows:

So I’m on 4th Street this morning, dutifully waiting for the green at Wilton like the conscientious and grown-up cyclist I am — a green that is always ooooh so slow to arrive. Finally, as if a gift from gawd the flashing red hand appears, and the countdown commences until I am morally and legally free to go.

But across the street on the southwest corner are two peds feeling decidedly less contractually obligated, the youngest of which just can’t wait those few more seconds so he jaywalks. A couple seconds after he goes, so does the older man who sets out at a more casual pace.

But then: bonus capture! Into the frame races a silver Ford Mustang running the red. Had the driver gunned it a mph or two faster or perhaps arrived across the intersection a second or two sooner there could have been a total collision with the second jaywalker. Conversely had both pedestrians waited for the green chances are one or both might have stepped off the curb and been hit. So for all concerned impatient lawbreakers, everything worked out. And fortunately for me I didn’t get to witness any carnage.

In this the day afterward of the disappointing (but not unexpected) result of my traffic court appearance yesterday, I’ve been sullenly grumbly and mumbly pretty much everywhere: at my desk, in the shower, getting dressed, on my bike commute today at work, at the office, in the bathroom, on my bike commute home, and back here at my desk.

Grumble. Grumble. Grumble.

So far the animals and my beloved wife have been pretty tolerant, but at one point this morning after Susan went to work and while I was getting ready to go I woke the dogs with a start going unannounced from my subsonic grumbly mumblies and ratzafratzins into a sudden and sharp and entirely out-loud Perry Mason-esque admonishment to the judge for failing to fully consider a discrepancy in the officer’s testimony yesterday. Replete with dramatic arm wave and punctuating finger point.

In other words I’ve yet begun to get over yesterday’s courtroom defeat. Surprise: I’m lost in a sea of frustration gambling at the Shoulda-Said table in the Hindsight Casino on the deck of the USS After The Fact. Waitress! Another greyhound — this time with more hound and less grey!

Ohhhhh yeaaaaaaah: I’m dwelling.

Ratza fratzin bratza scratzin.

But there’s hope. In what’s usually a sure sign I’m emerging from my funk, I wrote the following letter to the commissioner who ruled on the case… now if I can just remember his name:

Dear Commissioner,

Given the number of people and cases you encounter on a daily basis I’m certain you won’t remember me or mine, so by way of a reintroduction I was the first to appear before you in the afternoon session of January 11 in an attempt to obtain a dismissal of the citation received in June 2009 from an LAPD officer for my alleged failure to stop at a stop sign while bicycling in Larchmont Village.

While your ruling against me was a disappointment, I appreciated the time you spent questioning us both. Your decision proved my efforts futile, but not a waste as it allowed me to finally submit publicly something I’ve known for the six months that passed since the citation’s issuance: that the officer misrepresented his location at the time and place of my reported violation.

Personally, I thought I presented a pretty compelling argument that cast a reasonable doubt upon the officer’s version of events, but I did so knowing full well that barring a surprise confession by the officer and in the absence of indisputable physical evidence or unimpeachable witness testimony that could have refuted his written and verbal statements as to his purported location, it came down to you having to choose between the word of a civilian and that of a sworn officer of the law. As such, I can understand how it can seem practically your obligation to accept the officer’s testimony over mine.

Since I’m not disputing your choice, what’s the point of this letter? It’s two-fold. First, it’s for closure; to be able to relate to you what I couldn’t after you decided my guilt – out of respect both for the process and for your decision (as well as for the bailiff’s earlier instructions that upon rendering of a verdict defendants must essentially shut up and get out or risk being held in contempt). Second, because as a dedicated and conscientious commuter cyclist – one who travels with consideration and integrity more than 6,500 miles each year across Los Angeles – it is important to promote the positives of my chosen mode of transportation and to defend it against the bias I often encounter. It’s a prejudice seen firsthand not only from many of the civilian motorists I attempt to share the road with in my daily travels but now also by those in positions of authority such as the officer involved. Regardless of the outcome, I had no choice but to appear before you to represent and to argue that I was unfairly and improperly cited. It was all about the principle, not the penalty.

I close with a humble hope. That in the future when you and your fellow commissioners find cyclist defendants with the courage and determination (and trust me it takes both) to stand before you and beside their accusers vying for a respect that seems automatically granted the officers, should they present persuasive statements that call their guilt into question, do endeavor to provide them the full consideration they deserve instead of a rationed version of it. Because the decision you make between accepting their testimony or the officers’ should always be a choice, not a foregone conclusion.

Sincerely,
William Campbell

I fought the law and the law won.

I gave it a solid effort, but I knew getting my case dismissed would be a longshot if the officer was present — and he was.  Sure, the judge listened to the officer’s statement, listened to mine, which directly and relatively convincingly contradicted the officer’s statement, giving me a glimmer of hope that things might sway in my favor. But then the judge asked the officer some additional questions before allowing me to further rebut the officer’s statements. Then he found me guilty of failing to obey a stop sign. And that was that.

I refrained from any contemptuous outbursts because in the end it was — as it always is — a simple if infuriating matter of my word against that of a sworn officer of the law. And I’m sorry, but there is no way — without indisputable unimpeachable evidence — that any sitting traffic court judge is going to find for a civilian — worse: a civilian bicyclist.

Had I been in possession of my video camera sunglasses at the time I woulda coulda had that evidence. But I didn’t then and thus don’t now, thus: GUILTY.

My argument throughout this whole six-months since the ticket and in front of the judge this afternoon has been that the officer did not have a clear and unobstructed line of sight. This because when I made my right turn eastbound onto Clinton from Larchmont he was heading westbound on Clinton Street, away from me, watching either from his side or rearview mirror. Watching while in distracted motion and unable to see the stop I made.

On the citation and in front of the judge the officer claimed he was stationed near the limit line facing east on Clinton at a full stop and had been for some time, which was a fabrication. On top of that the officer initially testified that he was situated in his vehicle immediately behind the limit line, but then later changed his testimony to indicate he was parked some 50 feet behind the limit line.

The judge paid no attention to that discrepancy.

I asked the judge to consider that the officer should have been able to stop me almost immediately, had he been in either of the two positions that he claimed, but that instead it took two blocks for the officer to apprehend me — the reason being because he was in motion and headed in the opposite direction and had to turn the vehicle around.

The judge, pained by my contention then somewhat sheepishly asked the officer to answer my charge and the officer demonstrated upon a chalkboard that he was where he said he was, because in this case the burden of proof is not on the prosecution, but on the defense.

The judge asked if I had anything final to add and all I could do was remind him what I’d said at the outset of my defense: that the officer was misrepresenting his position and he was not stationed at Larchmont and Clinton. Having passed me northbound on Larchmont less than a block south of Clinton, there was simply no physical way for the officer to arrive at the intersection, execute a left turn onto Clinton, then make a three-point turn-around, and fully park his patrol vehicle in the few seconds it took me to arrive and stop at the intersection.

But it was all just a waste of air blowing out of my lungs past my gums.

“I find the defendant guilty,” the judge said, burying his face in the paperwork, unwilling or unable to look me in the eye.

Yeah Judge, well I find you and the officer guilty, too.

UPDATED (01.12): The question has been raised: Did you in fact make a full and complete stop at the stop sign, and if not just STFU? Fair enough. While I can waste time qualifying my answer by saying that I made what I consider to be an entirely appropriate “stop,” one that involved my slowing from 15 mph to a crawl through the crosswalk, giving myself enough time to look left and right and clear the intersection before proceeding with my turn, the truth is according to the strict letter of the law: no, I did not make a full and complete stop as defined by the California Vehicle Code. Some will see that as the end of the story, and that’s fine. In fact, had the officer been in the position he insisted he was, I wouldn’t have wasted a day from work going to court to fight it. But I simply could not ignore that the officer so drastically misrepresented his location of observation to his benefit and my detriment. In fact I felt it was nothing less than my obligation to stand up in court and point it out. If nothing else, the officer knows what he did, and might think twice before so failing in his duty again.

So I checked email this morning and found a comment to a two-year-old YouTube video clip I posted of an encounter with wrong-way cyclists, one of my random and occasional “This Is Why I Hate” series.

YouTube User “Berlitz777” wrote:

@wildbell  I live in L.A. and it really irritates me to see you people riding all over the right hand lane in traffic. I often imagine running you over and speeding away. I think if I ever have the chance to hit one of you on Sepulevda blvd; you know, that long stretch of road near Skirball Center where it sometimes get’s lonely? If I ever have the chance to hit one of you and get away with it — I’m gonna do it. Free Christopher Thomas Thompson.

To which I responded:

Thanks for the comment Berlitz, but I don’t think it’s going to help free Dr. Thompson. It does reinforce the need for me to be triply careful when I ride. I’m pleased you haven’t yet acted on such an irrational and violent impulse to injure or kill someone simply because they ride a bike on the streets that you do, and I hope for your sake and for the sake of bicyclists in Los Angeles that you continue to vent your hate-filled venom online rather than on the streets.

As you can probably tell my considerate reply was through clenched teeth, but one executed successfully because of my personal goal to promote peace — too meet evil, with good.

But don’t go  congratulating me for my insane ability to meet fire with nice,  because I am no Ghandi. Not by a loooooooong shot, what with my first impulse being to invite Berlitz777 up to that lonely stretch of Sepulveda near Skirball Center where I’d promise he’d have no trouble finding me because I’d be the determined looking motherfucker with the bike on the side of the road and a crudely crafted cardboard sign hoisted over his head of which one side would read: “Hey, Berlitz777! Your Momma Rides A Bicycle!” and the other side: “Berlitz777! Queen Of The Gassbags!”

And the main reason I didn’t go that route? Not for lack of hackle-fed motivation, but rather because taking the hate bait from such chickenshits of the city accomplishes nothing but a waste of my time. So instead of behaving reactively and meaninglessly calling him out, I opt to proactively recognize that he did me a favor in reminding me that he and other 120-pound cowards driving 3,000-pound egos like him are out there somewhere, and to be that much more alert, cautious and considerate when I ride.

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