[Homestead] Police State U.S.A.
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Sun Sep 19 14:19:19 EDT 2004
Forget about your fictitious constitutional rights.
* Heckling a Yankees fan landed editor in a Baltimore prison hell *
by Joe Schaeffer
SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Friday, September 17, 2004
What could be more American than heckling at a major league baseball game?
Not anly longer. Opening your mouth at the ballgame can now be dangerous
to your health.
Texas Rangers pitcher Frank Francisco made national headlines this week
after being arrested on a felony charge for throwing a chair into a
crowd of fans during a game at Oakland. Fan heckling was an integral
part of the story.
What average fans may not realize is that their own experience at a
ballgame has been forever changed because of such highly-publicized
incidents. I know because last year at Camden Yards in Baltimore, some
good-natured banter almost destroyed my life.
All of America seemed amused when Randall Simon, then of the Pittsburgh
Pirates, was arrested in Milwaukee after playfully tapping a giant
sausage mascot on the head during a Pirates-Brewers game on July 9,
2003. The absurdity of the act, combined with the seemingly hilarious
overreaction of law enforcement and MLB officials, all made for a
pleasant offbeat summer story.
Only it wasn’t very funny to me. You see, only eight days earlier, on
July 1, 2003 at Camden Yards, I, like Simon, was led out of an MLB
stadium in handcuffs. And what happened over the next 27 hours wasn’t
the least bit hilarious. In fact, it was the worst experience of my life.
I should have known it wasn’t going to be my day when I was stuck in
traffic on Pratt St. right in front of Oriole Park around 5 p.m. I had
left work early to try and beat the traffic into Baltimore and park at
my friend’s house in the Canton section of the city, not far from the
ballpark, but I got there later than I’d hoped. In the shadows of the
stadium, with traffic at a standstill and my windows open in the summer
heat, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see a female
police officer, asking, “Sir, is there a reason you’re not wearing your
seat belt?” BAM! Twenty-five dollar ticket, welcome to Baltimore. The
fact that I got a ticket for not wearing a seat belt is minor enough,
but to be tapped on the shoulder while sitting in an unmoving car was a
bit unnerving and should have been a harbinger of my future interactions
with the Baltimore Police Department.
I eventually got rid of my car and made my way to the the park and was
seated in Section 86 of the left-centerfield bleacher seats along with
my friends Mark and Nick. We immediately noticed that we were within
shouting distance of the visiting Yankees' bullpen, but for whatever
reason none of us were much in the mood to heckle the New Yorkers. We’d
all been to work already, we’re all over age 30 and, well, to tell the
truth, we didn’t have the energy to do it. Pathetic, I know, but that
really was our mindset the whole time: to just chill out, kick back and
watch a ball game.
And that’s how we spent the next six innings, drinking a couple of beers
each, joking around and just relaxing. Though fairly quiet ourselves, it
struck me as an amazing thing that here I was at my first-ever New York
Yankees game after hating them all my life, as any decent red-blooded
American not born in the New York area should, and yet nobody was
heckling the Yankee bullpen at all. Closer Mariano “What’s it like to
lose a World Series on an infield popup?” Rivera was just standing there
within easy shouting distance for most of the game and not one taunt
from the O’s fans sitting in the bleachers with us. I remember thinking
how calm and actually quite boring the atmosphere was for a game with
the mighty, marquee Yankees in town.
But the home team was cruising, and by the time they were up 7-1 in the
seventh inning the game was all but won. And we were all in a good mood
because, hey, it’s always good when the Yankees lose. And about this
time a Yankee fan some 10 rows below us started standing up and yelling,
“Yankees! Yankees!! We’re still in first place! We’re still in first
place,” etc. etc. And he wasn’t really bothering anybody, he was just
cheering for his team in the face of defeat, no big deal. My friend Mark
stood up and shouted back at him, something mild and not particularly
offensive, and the guy didn’t seem to even notice.
Then, in the top of the eighth, the Yankee fan appeared to be heading
for the exits, along with most New York fans around us. And he was still
shouting out the first-place thing, and he was coming up the steps
towards us, and this is when I spoke up for literally the first time all
night. “Hey, Yankee fan, what’s the score? What’s the score, man, what’s
I didn’t stand up or gesture at him, flip him off or use a single swear
It was then as the fan exited behind me that I saw this usher leaning
over the railing and staring right at me. He proceeded to point
vigorously at me, and, literally red-faced, began screaming at me:
“That’s it! You’re out of here! You’re gone buddy. GONE! You’re
provoking, you’re causing trouble, and you are out of here! Officers!
Officers! GET HIM OUT OF HERE!”
All of a sudden, just like that and to my total, total shock, I was
being escorted out of the section by two armed police officers with
“Camden Yards Detail” patches on their Baltimore Police Department
uniforms. And this usher led us out as well, still yapping at me, his
face red and contorted, acting as if he’d just discovered Osama bin
Laden hiding in Section 86. And if the police officers said anything to
me on the way out I honestly didn’t hear it, I was just staring in
amazement at this usher having a fit because I said “Hey man what’s the
score?” to a Yankee fan. At an Orioles HOME game.
So the two cops led me to the section exit, and with an “Out you go”
told me to leave. I turned around on the way out, spied the usher and
said, (exact quote), “Old man, you’d make a good Bolshevik.” The usher
had graying hair and looked to be in his early 60s, and I was ticked at
his utter and complete stupidity, so that’s where the remark came from.
Still, I wasn’t livid or hostile, didn’t say it in a menacing way at
all, and was still more shocked than anything. As I walked away I simply
shook my head with a smile on my face, thinking “In 20 years of going to
sporting events I’ve never seen someone thrown out of his seat for
saying something like that.”
But the overwhelming thought in my mind was that this was no big deal,
this was nothing. And I was also thinking, “this is my first Yankee
game, they’re getting killed, and dammit, I wanna see the last out. I
wanna see the official end: Yankees lose! Yankees lose!” Again, there
was no great scheme here, no malice-aforethought, the idea just kinda
popped into my head. And so I thought I’d walk a couple of sections up
and duck back in and see the end of the game, still not believing that I
had been thrown out of my seat in the bleachers.
I walked about two minutes, took a couple of steps to go back in and was
immediately slammed against a wall and handcuffed very harshly by one of
the two officers who escorted me out of Section 86. The officer spun me
around to face him, and with a look of indescribable glee on his face
that I will never forget, said, “So, you got any more smart comments to
make about that old man?” And that’s when I knew I was in trouble.
I could not believe these officers were taking this so personally, but I
cooperated completely, didn’t even try to complain even though I knew I
hadn’t done anything the least bit serious, and was led away in
handcuffs while 38,000 people were exiting the stadium all around me.
The looks on people’s faces were hilarious, as if I had just punched a
cop or something. I asked the officer as he was leading me away into the
bowels of the stadium, “How did you guys get there so fast. You were
right on top of me. Were you following me or something?” And his blunt
and honest reply was “Yeah, you looked like the kind of guy who'd try to
go back in.” And I’m thinking, “If you knew that I was gonna do that and
you knew you were gonna arrest me for doing that, couldn’t you have just
called out to me, ‘Sir, don’t go back in or you will be arrested?’ ” But
no, these two officers just chose to walk 10 feet or so behind me for
two full minutes and then jump me as I tried to go back in. Unbelievable.
But I didn’t say anything because, again, this still didn’t seem like
that big a deal and I didn’t want to make it worse. I figured a ticket
would be issued to me and I’d be on my way after not too long a delay,
with plans to phone the Orioles with my complaints first thing in the
morning. But that is not what the arresting officer had planned for me.
No, that is not what he had in mind at all.
I was placed in a cell beneath the stadium, and after a half-hour or so
was told a paddywagon would pick me up to take me to Baltimore Central
Lockup. Total shock took hold of me once again, and I asked the officer,
“Is this a big deal? How long am I gonna be there?” And he looked at me
with that same gleeful smile he had when he cuffed me and said, “Oh,
it’s only a misdeameanor charge, you should be out in an hour or two.” I
was angry as hell at this point, but still not particularly worried. It
still didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me.
I was then taken to Central Lockup, a depressing venue that somehow
managed to look both dark and dirty and bright and antiseptic at the
same time, where I had my mugshot and fingerprints taken. I can still
see the CO in charge there asking me my height and weight, and when I
replied “6’0”, 160,” I saw her write down “6’1” 185”. That’s the first
time I got really, really scared. I asked again how long I would be
there and without even looking up she muttered, “No more than an hour or
two. It’s only a misdemeanor.”
Soon after I was led to a holding cell along with 8 or 9 other guys, and
we were then immediately moved to another cell where I was to end up
spending the next 17 hours. The cell, which looked like it could
comfortably hold three people, eventually contained 11-15 of us at one
time or another; it’s hard to remember the exact number because it kept
changing over the hours, though it was more a case of people being
shuttled from one holding cell to another. Nobody seemed to actually be
The cell was cool and dirty. Somebody said it is intentionally kept cold
to discourage inmates from fighting. I was told by cellmates that by law
we all had to be processed within 24 hours. When I told them that I was
told I’d only be there an hour or two, they just laughed and said “They
say that to everybody just so you don’t freak out at first. Sit back,
man, ’cause you’re gonna be here a while.” And then they all laughed and
it started to dawn on me just how screwed I was.
Hearing why some of the others were in there with me did nothing to make
me feel better. Did you know the city of Baltimore locks people up for
over 24 hours for not paying parking tickets or for having an open
container of alcohol in public? Neither did I. This whole time I was
thinking this cop who arrested me had it in for me because he thought I
was a wiseass or something and it turns out they just treat everybody
this way. Nothing personal. And no effort to get you out and on your way
with any speed. For the entire 17 hours I was in that holding cell no CO
would explain when we might be processed or how long we had to wait. The
cynical indifference wasn’t surprising considering how tough a job they
surely have but it’s still upsetting to be stuck in a cell for that long
a time with no answer to your question as to how long you might be in
After a couple of hours most of my cellmates just sprawled out wherever
they could and went to sleep, and I was glad to see that I wasn’t in any
immediate danger, at least not for the night. As for me, there was no
way I was going to get any sleep. I remember having to just stand there,
motionless, as one inmate with his pants around his knees started
masturbating in his sleep some 10 feet away from me. Disgusted, tired
and angry, I tried to remain unfazed by the situation but that wasn’t
really possible. Nobody else in the cell seemed the least bit taken
aback by the sight.
Eventually morning came and still nothing, no word on when I would get
out or anything. And after sleeping and eating and even more waiting and
waiting, the cellblock started to get more agitated and lively. And
that’s when the threats came. It didn’t exactly come as a shock that
skinny white guys like me are going to get threatened in jail, but it
did shock me that as much as 20 minutes could go by without a guard so
much as walking past my cell. And so what do you do when, after having
overheard hours of casual conversation about stabbings and beating
people over the head with baseball bats, etc., etc., you’re told by a
group of men, all of whom are bigger and stronger than you, that they
are going to rape you in one hour? Maybe they were just trying to
frighten me, who knows, but you know what, who cares? It’s still gonna
scare the living hell out of you and it was just such a bizarre, surreal
experience to be standing there powerless, knowing that I could easily —
easily — have my life literally destroyed at any time. It just didn’t
seem real to me, which looking back I have to say was a good thing. In
between Our Fathers and Hail Marys all I could really think was “What’s
the score man?” “What’s the score?” as these guys kept telling me
crudely and pointedly that they were going to assault me in one hour.
After letting me sweat that out for a while, the ringleader of the group
(i.e., the guy with the biggest mouth) decided to ask me what I was in
for. And when I told him, he started to laugh, apparently finding the
whole thing terribly amusing. After attempting to terrify me some more
by telling me stuff like “People die here all the time. Who knows, you
could die here today?”, he seemed to calm down, talked a little about
himself to everyone for a few minutes and then looked back at me with
great deliberance and said “Don’t ever come back here again.” And that’s
when I knew I wasn’t going to be raped in that holding cell.
Finally, around 8 p.m., or about 21-and-a-half hours after I was first
arrested, we were all moved to a larger holding cell to wait to see a
commissioner, who would decide if we were going to be sent upstairs
without posting bail, would be allowed to post bail or would be released
on our own recognizance. About 40 of us were placed in this cell, where
the sexual taunts and physical threats intensified, but my fear lessened
because there were COs constantly entering the cell to escort somebody
to see one of the commissioners. And so after hearing “See you upstairs,
bitch” for the hundredth time, I wasn’t worried too much because, again,
I was confident that there was no way I was going upstairs, surely I
would be released on my own recognizance for such a minor, ridiculous
Finally, I was led to see a commissioner at about 10 p.m. It had been
almost 24 hours since my arrest and my nightmare seemed to be nearing an
I was ushered into a small phone-boothlike room and told to sit down.
Without even being given an opportunity to talk, I was told that I was
being charged with a crime and that I would have to post bail. I would
not be allowed to post bail until the following morning, so they were
going to keep me here another night. Upstairs.
And that’s the exact moment when, to quote Cool Hand Luke, “they broke
me.” Twenty four hours of mind-numbing, fear-laced tedium waiting to see
this guy and he’s got all the paperwork filled out before he even sees
me, and he tells me I’ll be staying another night. Tears welled up in my
eyes, I wouldn’t say I was sobbing, but I was whimpering for sure and I
basically started begging this guy to let me go, telling him over and
over how I could lose my job if I missed another day of work without my
boss even knowing where I was.
The commissioner, seeing how distraught I was, then asked me if this was
the first time I had been arrested, and I nodded yes. He then asked me
where I worked and I said The Washington Times newspaper. Then he
finally asked me what I did. All he saw was “Misdemeanor Trespass” for a
charge. When I told him he began to laugh and asked me why I was thown
out of the game. I told him and he said “Is that all you did? That’s
nothing.” Then begrudgingly but with an air of mercifulness, he tore up
the bail papers, changed them to release on own recognizance and kept
telling me not to worry, that this was no big deal at all. And I was
very grateful to finally hear it from someone in a position of
authority, but I couldn’t help thinking, “You were going to put me
upstairs where the long-term inmates are for another whole night when
I’ve already been here for 24 hours and now you tell me it’s nothing?”
But again I remained silent, thinking it was the best policy.
And this commissioner kept talking about The Washington Times, how Rush
Limbaugh was always saying good things about it, and asking me what I
did there. So I guess I have Rush Limbaugh to thank for keeping me from
being locked upstairs for the night with a bunch of guys who had been
threatening me for over two hours in a cell right next to these
commissioners and whose idea of “roommates” was undoubtedly far
different from mine.
Relieved beyond belief, I was led to another holding cell to wait to
receive my wallet and keys. This would amazingly take another three
hours. While there I talked with a guy who was also being released on
his own recog who had been there about 19 hours after being arrested
because he didn’t pay a citation for drinking alcohol in public. He
showed me his incident report and told me that they don’t just put a
warrant out for your arrest in Baltimore for not paying a citation, they
go and get you. He told me he was arrested at his home at 2:30 in the
morning by a squad of cops banging on his door. For an open container of
alcohol. What the hell kind of city are they running up there?
When I told him how happy I was to finally reach this point, the last
stop on the way out of this hellhole, he then gave me the last big scare
of the whole disgusting experience. “Oh, before they let you out, they
scan your name for outstanding warrants. If you have a ticket you didn’t
pay or something, they take you all the way back to the beginning and
you go through the whole process all over again.”
Feverishly I scanned my brain wondering if I’d gotten any parking
tickets in the state of Maryland that I’d forgotten about, but
apparently all was well and around 1:30 on the morning of July 3, some
27 hours after I was first arrested at the stadium, I was finally
released. I caught a cab to my friend’s house and proceeded to take the
longest five showers I have ever taken in my entire life.
Telling this story to friends and acquaintances over the following weeks
I heard plenty of very believable horror stories about this happening to
other people in Baltimore. Apparently it’s quite routine. The worst
story by far involved a young woman who was... well, she was mugged.
Some thug came along, shoved her to the ground and ran off with her
purse. Shaken and understandably upset, she reported it to a police
officer. The officer took down her report and then ran her name through
the system. Turned out she had an unpaid ticket. This officer then took
this woman, who had just been the victim of a crime, handcuffed her and
took her to the same Baltimore Central Lockup rathole I was placed in,
where she remained for 30 hours. For a traffic ticket. I can’t even
imagine what kind of human being can do such a thing to a person in
distress, but I damn sure know it’s not the kind of human being who
should be walking around with a gun and a badge.
So you can see, then, why I wasn’t amused by Randall Simon’s arrest in
Milwaukee. If you recall, Brewers’ executive VP of business operations
Rick Schlesinger called Simon’s playful-if-ill-advised tap of the
sausage mascot “one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever seen inside
a ballpark or outside a ballpark”, adding that “It sickened me to see it.”
Braindead MLB Commissioner Bud Selig later chimed in with an “official
statement” saying “Major League Baseball deeply regrets the incident
that took place at Miller Park last night and extends its regards to the
victims. We are reviewing the situation pending the disposition of the
criminal charges against Randall Simon of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Obviously, the type of behavior exhibited by Mr. Simon is anathema to
the family entertainment that we are trying to provide in our ball parks
and is wholly unacceptable.”
It all sounds so ridiculously funny until you experience for yourself
just how dangerous an inner-city lockup can be, and you realize that
most of Cadillac Bud’s corporate playhouses are located in urban areas.
In short, this kind of idiocy is downright dangerous to American sports
fans, as I learned to my dismay. Take it from me, Simon’s crime against
humanity isn’t humorous at all when you’ve been run through a wringer
yourself for doing absolutely nothing the least bit malevolent at a
But in retrospect didn’t this have to happen? Isn’t this the perfect
example of the overreaction to a serious problem that happens when
incompetent people run a high-profile business? Because some shirtless,
tattooed freaks assaulted a first-base coach on the field at Chicago’s
Comiskey Park in an infamous incident in 2002, we have to deal with
Stalinist ushers treating all fans as potential lethal weapons. And
that’s why I don’t apologize for calling that usher a Bolshevik. It was
the perfect description of the bland tyranny I was faced with in the
bleachers. This was a guy who, if he were walking down the street, you
wouldn’t look at him the first time, but put him in an orange hat and
he’s a rabid pit bull.
And yet his actions are almost understandable. Whipped into a frenzy by
baseball officials’ determination to crackdown on “unruly fans”, this
guy was looking for someone to take down. You could see it on his face.
Sadly for me, I just happened to be in the wrong section with the wrong
idiot at the wrong time. But it wasn’t just him. The ultra-aggressive
security posture during that Yankee series was simply stunning.
By what now seems a remarkable coincidence, my boss happened to attend
the Monday June 30 Yankee-O’s game as part of a Washington Times’ group
outing. Not being a big sports fan, he doesn’t attend many baseball
games but after hearing my story he told me how surprised he was himself
at the aggressiveness of the ushers behind each section of the stadium
that he could see. He told me how he watched for minutes on end as one
female usher stared down a woman who looked like she might have had a
bit too much to drink and was being a bit loud, gazing sternly with the
appearance of being poised to spring into action at any moment. He also
noticed these Orwellian signs on the Jumbotron, tailored in pleasant
corporate-speak to mask the authoritarian message: “We hope you are
enjoying your stay at Oriole Park. Please report any unpleasant
experiences to the nearest usher immediately.” Neighbor reporting
neighbor in the stands at the good old American ballpark. Isn’t this how
Stalinism flourished for all those years?
And really now, doesn’t Bud Selig just strike you as the type of guy
who, if he wasn’t so horribly miscast as commissioner of baseball, would
be principal of some nondescript public school outside Milwaukee
extolling his zero tolerance program to fight crime. You know, the type
who expels the kid on the honor roll because he brought a plastic butter
knife from the cafeteria back to his locker?
Fortunately, the rest of the legal process in Baltimore was remarkably
decent, with the prosecutor agreeing to “sentence” me to five hours of
community service in return for having the whole thing expunged, i.e.,
leaving me with no criminal record. I wanted to fight it on principle
but a lawyer friend of a friend in Baltimore advised me it wouldn’t be
worth the trouble and I wasn’t likely to get a better deal anyway.
So on a very pleasant Tuesday in September, 2003 I reported to a
community services center in the Pigtowne section of Baltimore to
complete my rehabilitation. Three other community service peons joined
me, and we were assigned the task of mowing, raking and cleaning up
three small vacant lots near the center. It was really all too perfect.
The location turned out to be just a couple of blocks from Camden Yards,
and I could see the light stantions from Oriole Park as I did the work.
And so as I was bagging grass cuttings in a urine-stenched lot while
staring at the twinkling spires of one of Bud Selig’s golden palaces of
greed, I could only think how this was such a fitting farewell to Major
League Baseball and the incompetent fools who have driven yet another
fan away forever. What’s the score, Bud? What’s the score?
/Joe Schaeffer is the News Editor of The Washington Times National
Weekly Edition. He can be reached care of rjm at worldtribune.com./
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