THE S.S. PERSIA: SHIP OR NAZI?
On April 3rd, 2005 I joined People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for a demonstration outside of David Letterman’s theater. Jennifer Lopez was a guest on the show that night and, while I like her as an actress, my PETA cronies and I have a few problems with the animal cruelty behind her recent fur-filled fashion line.
When asked about certain bad behavior among professional athletes, Charles Barkley said that he was a basketball player and that he never signed up to be a role model. While he might not have put his signature on the dotted line, once someone steps into the shoes (in his case, size 16’s) of a professional athlete or a big actress or singer they automatically become a role model for a lot of people and thereby have a tremendous influence on them.
I think someone should be respected for what kind of person they are and not for the particular job they happen to fall into, no matter how glamorous. I respect someone who cleans the streets with integrity and humanity much more than I do a celebrity that supports the torture of animals in order to boost her ego. “Jenny from the block” is almost as laughable as calling O.J. Simpson a black man. They have both removed themselves so far from their respective “blocks” that the only way I can hear that song of hers and not burst into laughter is if I try really hard to imagine her growing up on that special block in the Bronx where everyone is drinking Roederer Cristal Rose Champagne 1996 at a thousand dollars a bottle. But last I checked Beverly Hills was not in New York. The most torturing of animals that occurred on her block probably involved the occasional kicking of a stray cat and not the systematic anal electrocution, snapping necks and skinning of animals while they are still fully conscious.
Early on at the demonstration a police officer working the scene came up to me and asked me what I thought about zoos. We shared some back and forth discussion in a very friendly manner and he particularly agreed that seeing big animals in small cages was not right. He said that he agreed with the PETA group, that the fur industry was cruel and wrong. When he left, he told the next officer on the scene, “You don’t have to worry about that big guy,” referring to me. I appreciated that he saw me as courteous and respectful; I even kidded myself that his “big guy” referred to my big heart as much as my six foot frame. I respect a person who has honor, dignity and integrity. That officer had my respect as a person and not because of the job application he happened to fill out and get accepted.
I went around the corner on 53rd Street with my homemade sign that said:
JENNY FROM THE
and some leaflets from PETA about the procedure in which animals are killed for their fur. I approached the stand-by line for the show. As they probably had as much a chance of getting into the show as Dave Letterman has of getting voted one of People Magazine’s 100 Prettiest People, I figured they might be open for something to alleviate the monotony of standing still on a roped-off line that led to nowhere but to a loss of their afternoon.
I asked the people in the line if they were interested in the information I had, explaining about J. Lo’s latest venture into fashion. If they said they were not interested I went on to the next group. I was standing on the curb—not near the curb, on the curb—as I offered them leaflets to read.
One lady said that her father was a farmer and would grab chicken’s two at a time by the neck and snap them quickly. She said that we should follow what God put the animals on the earth for. I asked her to explain why she believed God put animals on the earth. She essentially answered, “For us to use and abuse how we like.” I said, “I disagree with your interpretation of God’s desires, but believe you have the right to voice it,” and went on to the next person.
Soon a couple of the mafia-looking older security guards for the David Letterman Show came with Officer Persia (#9979). Now I am six feet tall and Officer Persia towered over me. He seemed to be about 6’6” or so with a strong build. He said something like, “I rather you not be here handing out leaflets.” Rather than responding with, “I wish your head were not here blocking out my sun,” I instead asked him in a respectful tone, “Am I violating any law by doing what I’m doing?” I clearly wasn’t but when you start to challenge an egomaniacal cop about his job it seems to result in them resorting to a “might makes right” argument, might in this case being a blue uniform, handcuffs and a gun.
Soon he took me a little away from the line of people and told me that he agreed with what my group was saying but that he didn’t want me there, probably because the mob guards were bugging him about my presence. I asked him who his bosses were, the New York City Police Chief or the two “Sopranos” wannabes that led him to me; he assured me that he didn’t answer to them. What he seemed to forget is that he is a "public servant" and so I am as much his boss as anyone. He then leveled with me that he had to use the bathroom and pretty much just wanted to get to the loo without any problems. I told him that I was leaving in respect to his desire and not because I didn’t have the right to be where I had been. I knew that while getting between a man and his ego could get you arrested, getting between a man and his bladder could leave you in a world of hurt.
I then went back to the other PETA demonstrators and told the New York Grassroots Coordinator what happened. I told her that it was her show and if she didn’t want me to be around the corner I wouldn’t go back. She said that I could go around the corner and so I went.
Needless to say, the S.S. Persia didn’t take too kindly to this. He must have thought that I had agreed to walk away with the intention of walking back immediately once he left. I am not as backhanded as that; I’m much more forehanded. When he questioned me on what I had agreed to before I said, “I changed my mind.”
Now the S.S. Persia started playing “bad cop” on me, but without the contrast of a “good cop” it just came off as him being an asshole. He told me that he could arrest me for “disturbing the peace,” or something lame like that. I turned to the line and asked, “Am I disturbing anyone’s peace here?” Many heads shook no. I knew I was within my rights, utilizing my First Amendment right to free speech while standing on the curb where I was not violating any pseudo-law, like blocking sidewalk traffic.
The S.S. Persia went on to show that through paranoia, the good soldier duty of “protecting the public interest,” and desire, a cop could justify just about anything. I found out that the disturbance, that he acknowledged didn’t occur yet, was not so much me disturbing the people on the stand-by line but the potential that my actions—asking if anyone wanted information and if they said no walking on—could possibly, conceivably, by some slim chance of the imagination, result in an improbable disturbance during the Letterman Show. This explanation made about as little sense as the 9/11 Commission Report's findings. I suppose if one were to criticize the President, a good soldier like the S.S. Persia could justify arresting him for the fear that, “Someone may listen to the information and then could possibly decide to kill the President as a result.”
Seeing I wasn’t intimidated by size, uniform or illogic, the S.S. Persia grabbed my arm and started to drag me across the street. When my arm fell out of his grasp, he continued to walk towards me like an unwavering steamroller, disregarding the presence of my body, shoving me across the street. I said, “Are you arresting me?” He answered no. I said, “Are you detaining me?” He said no. He told me he was “helping me across the street.” I told him I didn’t want his help and that he didn’t have the right to manhandle me. This didn’t stop him from continuing to push me in the direction he wanted me to go.
As he continued to force me to move against my will, I raised my open palms up and shouted to the onlooking line, “Take a look. I am not doing anything. Look what he is doing to me!” When we got to the other side of the street, I called to the onlookers, “I may need some names and telephone numbers to act as witnesses to what just happened.”
There was a guy on our side of the street and he went up to the S.S. Persia and said, “I’ll testify.” At first I thought I had a fellow caring Citizen who didn’t appreciate uncalled for bullying by a police officer. He went on to say that he supported the S.S. Persia.
A guy in the line across the street who, if I may digress into judgmental condescension for a minute, looked and sounded like an uneducated redneck, shouted, “I’ll be a witness for the cop!” I shouted back, “You may disagree with the issue I am presenting, but I would hope you would defend my right to express it.” At that moment I realized that through selfishness, over-taxation and media brainwashing, people don’t care about anyone else but themselves and their own survival, even if that survival means shutting off the world around them and instead turning on their television sets. If their personal values or person are not being represented or violated, they couldn’t give two hooties and a blowfish. I wonder to what extent this would go; would their fear and self-centeredness lead to a moral justification for kicking a homeless person in order to provide their kid with “necessary entertainment”?
The S.S. Persia was telling me that if I went back to the line to leaflet that he would handcuff and arrest me. I asked on what charge. He said some nonsense regarding the disturbing the peace thing and when I questioned the accuracy of that charge he told me he could make it stick. I wonder when justice got flushed down the toilet and “making it stick” was the only thing left on the rim of the bowl.
I considered being arrested. I don’t have any problem having someone put handcuffs on me; in fact, I’ve had many erotic evenings involving just such a predicament. Spending a little time in a precinct over trying to exert my rights as a Citizen seemed not only noble, but a nice way to see a part of the city I had yet to explore. But I did have a client in an hour and, as business has been slow, I weighed being able to pay the rent with getting arresting for justice, especially when most of the people who I wanted to empower with their rights cared more about watching a gap-toothed comedian interview a heartless actress than they did about themselves and their rights. I sided in favor of paying the rent. Even if I did want to go across the street, as I had considered in order to write down some names and numbers as witnesses to what happened, every time I made a step in that direction the S.S. Persia stepped in my way. In some ironic way, he reminded me of the sole Chinese man who stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square, minus the fact that the only thing this Neanderthal was defending was the right of his testosterone to travel through his veins unchecked.
Soon the Grassroots Coordinator of PETA came over with another officer. She was playing it all nice, as she had just attended PETA camp where, besides kissing her first boy, she was taught that regardless of what happens at a demonstration, always supplicate yourself to anyone wearing a uniform—even if it’s a McDonald’s uniform. She asked, “In order to help us for the future, can you please share with us what it is that we are not allowed to do?” She was so saccharine that not even a gallon of coffee poured over her head could dilute the nauseating sweetness.
The other officer started utilizing the word “harassment” about as much as Junior Bush used the term “weapons of mass destruction.” Incidentally, both claims were false. I asked the officer to define harassment, testing not only his knowledge of the police code, but whether he even had a high school equivalency diploma. He said that if someone is stuck in line and you force them to listen to you that you are harassing them. I was offering information, for which I am neither getting paid nor have a financial stake in the outcome, and if anyone in my captive audience said that they were not interested or didn’t respond I moved on. This officer’s logic would probably put someone who asked a stranger for the time more than once behind bars. “Harassment”? Please.
We are already moving towards more of a police state due, supposedly, to protecting us from terrorism. I know of people who have been taken into custody for several days for no reason other than because they had an Arabic name. But when we start allowing police officers to define words such as “harassment” to mean basically anything that they don’t approve of, we’ve stepped onto a “slippery-slope,” to again quote our country’s royal family, where the only resulting twisted ankle is going to be our civil liberties.
Soon the Grassroots Coordinator and I walked back towards the rest of our group which was around the corner. I told her that I had asked in the past for the PETA legal team to check the laws carefully and know exactly what we had the right to do and where we could be so that we could quote back the very statutes of the law that these officers were supposed to protect and weren’t.
When the adrenaline buzz of the moment drained and we were close to the rest of the group, I told the Grassroots Coordinator that the S.S. Persia had manhandled me. I found myself getting very upset and felt I couldn’t deal with talking to anyone, as I must have succumbed to the “crying is for girls” media campaign that had been droned into my head like the brainwashing to the American POWs during the Korean War—my mistake, that was never declared by Congress to be an official “war.” (Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I guess the modern expression of love followed by our politicians is, “A war by any other name would kill just as foul.”)
I felt violated—my rights, my body. I felt betrayed—by the public servants who were supposed to be there to protect my rights, by the people on line who cared more about the pretend world of television than the real world on the street; by the animal rights organization to whom I offered my voice and my heart and found them engaging in polite “pass the salt, please” conversation when I had just been assaulted; and also by yoga, a philosophy that I have embraced which includes as one of its major pillars the principle of ahimsa, which means “non-violence,” the following of which seems to result in me getting kicked over and over in the gonads without even so much as a “happy ending.” I left to go off on my own, a crybaby who couldn’t contain his emotions and distress.
A little later I got a call on my cell phone, which I screened, not feeling able to talk to anyone yet. The call was from the Grassroots Coordinator, telling me that she hadn’t realized I’d been assaulted and that she was ready to go to PETA and have them file suit against the officer if that was what I wanted. I more supported by that and wanted us to pursue this avenue. (I was later informed that PETA would not support me in this venture. I was told in an email from the New York Grassroots Coordinator, “It would not help the animals [for PETA] to get involved with this.” I reminded her that without humans fighting for them, the animals didn’t stand a chance; I also told her that I would no longer be active with their organization. It seems PETA is more concerned with the threat of losing their tax-exempt status than the safety of their demonstrators. The result of this is if someone in any branch of the law says, “Jump,” they shout, “HOW HIGH, SIR!”)
What would I really like? I would like to live in a community where people care more about each other than about television shows. I would like to be able to have a differing opinion with someone without them feeling the need to shut me up or put me down, call me “anti-American” or send me off to a “free speech zone” if I want to continue exercising my Constitutional rights; last I heard, every piece of land in America is a “free speech zone.” I would like to believe that my brothers and sisters extend beyond my nuclear family and includes everyone I pass on the street, and that if I were ever in trouble that they would come to my assistance—even if it meant helping me from a tall thug in a blue suit with some brass on it.
John Lennon wrote in his song “Imagine,” You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. At times it seems that if I’m not the only dreamer, then there’s only a few of us. And after the media’s done labeling us with words much harsher than “dreamer” over and over again, no one really seems to notice what we have to share and they seem to care even less if our right to share our message is violated.
Asananda X is a yogi of truth. He leaves advocating for compassion or violence to others, instead seeking to inspire truth with humor. He can be contacted at AsanandaX@yahoo.com. He dedicates all his work to his blessed spiritual guru, Sri Baba Ganesh.