A couple of cop stories

Houston, Sunday

According to this story, at 12:30 a.m. this past Sunday, Houston cops descended on a parking lot and arrested almost 300 youths, charging them with criminal trespassing. Of note are the facts that it was a parking lot for a K-Mart that is open 24 hours a day and that the lot adjoins Sonic, a drive-through restaurant that was also open at the time.

The people arrested say that they were simply shopping at K-Mart (they even showed the officers receipts for their purchases) or eating at the restaurant. They even arrested a 10-year-old girl who was having dinner with her father at Sonic and took her to juvenile detention. Many of the arrested pleaded guilty to the charges because they didn’t have the money to post bail and didn’t want to spend another night in jail.

As for the cops, this follow-up report says that the raid — which was supposed to be about stopping drag racing — “went to Hell in a handbasket”. One supervisor remarked that “There are all those kids now, who have a criminal record, and don’t deserve it.”

A friend of mine down in Texas informs me that he’s not surprised. He says the Houston police “are notoriously stupid and corrupt” (apparently their prosecutors are slime, too.) They’ve been known to do things like bust everyone on Westheimer (a popular street in Houston) with no probable cause. He also told me of one particularly shocking incident where drunk off-duty officers out of uniform and in an unmarked car tried to pull someone over — the situation devolved into a gunfight, killing the woman they pulled over.

The captain in charge of the raid, Mark Aguirre, has often broken from the Houston Police Department’s policy many times in his 20 years of service. Perhaps this is the incident that will get him tranferred permanently to meter maid duty or just drummed out of the force.

I’ll bet that MP3s of the old Body Count song, Cop Killer, are making the rounds in Houston right now.

Toronto, 1991

Corner of Yonge and Dundas, circa 1991.

For the most part, my own personal experiences with police have been good. When I was going to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, some “townie” broke into our house and made off with our ghetto blasters. By the time we’d called the police, they’d already hauled the little punkass off to jail and recovered our stereos. More recently, when someone stole my Honda CR-V two years ago, the Toronto police found it in less than 48 hours. The perp smashed the window to get into the car and left it parked outside his house with the window still broken.

There’s only one bad encounter I’ve had with any Toronto cop, and as luck would have it, it’s an amusing story.

It was the summer of 1991, and I had a job working for Mr. G.’s auction house. I hated working for Mr. G., but I needed the money to pay for school for the fall. I’d been kicked out of Queen’s engineering school the previous September (appallingly bad grades), but on the strength of my computer science marks (which were always good, even when I was operating at maximum slack) I had negotiated my way back into the school under double-secret probation.

I told my folks — who’d paid for my first go-round at higher education — that I would cover my tuition from that point on. A co-worker at my Monday-to-Friday job told me that I could make extra cash at Mr. G.’s operation, and three weeks into the job, I had grown to despise it.

Mr. G. ran a scam that only looked like an auction. He had a warehouse full of overstock bought from suppliers and retailers at a serious discount; most of it were cheap low-quality items such as off-brand walkmen, shoddily-made luggage, ugly ceramic lamps and “Swiss Army” (more like Taiwanese Navy) knives that fell apart after about three week’s use. He’d hold an item up for bidding and wait until the bid price was high enough to allow him to make a profit; the item would often go at a 400 to 600 percent markup. The highest bidder would get the item, but then he’d say “I have a few more of these items at the same price…who else wants one?” It wasn’t an auction; it was a discount store with bidding. He even planted shills in the audience to force the bid price higher.

Mr. G. was also a bigot. He paid me more than my co-worker T. because T. “was a gook who couldn’t speak English.” Mr. G. was one of those people who said “ever since we came to this country, we’ve had nothing but trouble from the immigrants.”

“He’s Laotian, not Vietnamese, Mr. G.” I said, “so technically, gook isn’t the right term. Maybe slope is the slur you’re looking for.”

“Ha, ha, very funny,” he said. “For a goy, you’re almost all right. Now get back to work.”

When we got paid, I gave T. a cut of money so that we were paid evenly. T. and I did the same work and while I could’ve always asked my folks for money, T. was here on his own with a family to support.

At that time, Toronto still had Sunday closing laws; it was actually illegal for most stores to be open on a Sunday. You were exempt from this law if you closed up shop on Saturday, but Mr. G. ran 7 days a week. On one particular Sunday, a cop strolled into the store while I was watching the front door.

The cop looked at me with a grin and said “Hey, Hop Sing! I need to have a word with you.”

Hop Sing from Bonanza was played by US-born Victor Sen Yung.

(For those of you who are a little behind on your Pop Culture Studies, Hop Sing was the Chinese cook for the Cartwrights on the TV series Bonanza.)

My first instinct was to counter by calling him Barney Fife (the sheriff’s deputy on The Andy Griffith Show, played by Don Knotts). I bit my lip, because the last thing I wanted to do was get a cop riled up, especially when I was working for a fraudulent operation that was open illegally. The TV references must’ve triggered the television plot memory centre in my brain, because I suddenly remembered a plot from All in the Family where Archie was riled that a Polish immigrant couldn’t be arrested because he couldn’t understand the Miranda rights being read to him.

I did what seemed like a good idea at the time: I used my best fake Oriental accent..

“We’come to Mistah G. auction! You rike buy some-a-thing?” I said, doing my best Long Duck Dong from Sixteen Candles.

“Hop Sing,” said the police officer, slowing down and pronouncing…each…word…very…slowly… “I need to speak to boss man. He is breaking the law by opening on Sunday. Sunday bad. You savvy?” If I ever find this guy’s address, I’m leaving a flaming bag of horse manure on his doorstep on Hitler’s birthday.

“Yessah! I get Mistah G. right away!”

I went over to Mr. G. and told him about the cop. He had a five-minute conversation with the cop and got off without being charged. I still don’t know what he said.

As the cop was about to leave the store, he turned to me and said “Thanks, Hop Sing!” with a laugh.

I replied using my regular, white bread North American accent. “Hey, officer!”

He turned around, surprised.

“Any time you want, just drop by and I’ll make sure you get a nice discount. And by the way, the name’s Joey.”

He frowned, shooked his head, and stormed out.

Don’t mess with us Filipinos, we know many ways to cook a pig.

I popped my cassette recording of Body Count’s then-new album into my walkman and fast-forwarded to Cop Killer.

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