Two More From Philly’s Finest

  • Two cops “trained to deal with mental-health issues” kill “an 18-year-old man with mental-health problems” with a Taser.  Apparently the cops felt threatened because the man “armed himself with several sticks and tried to set them on fire.”  Oh, and they’d been called to this same house 14 times before.  According to the article: “‘The cause of Johnson’s death is under investigation,’ [Lt. Frank] Vanore said.”  I don’t know, but I’m thinking the fucking Taser may have been the cause of death.*
  • A 51-year-old woman is beaten by the police for refusing to stand outside—in the rain, at 4:00 a.m., in her pajamas—while the cops searched her house for “guns and gunmen.”  (This is after they had already searched the house, without a warrant; they wanted her to stand outside while they conducted a more thorough search.)  Instead, she suggested that they all wait inside while the cops got a warrant, and when she went to light a cigarette, one of the cops threw her against the wall and grabbed her by the hair and smashed her head against the wall several times.  They also beat the woman’s 52-year-old sister for attempting to defend her sister.  Both women were arrested for, no shit, “resisting arrest and related offenses.”  The cops, of course, dispute the sisters’ story.  They say their records show no indication of any injuries or medical treatment needed.  Case closed, I guess.**

*In a follow-up piece, the cops justify their actions by saying that the kid “lunged at them” with the sticks.  Doesn’t sound terribly life-threatening to me, but what do I know?   I don’t wear a uniform and carry an array of lethal weapons around with me, so I guess I’d have no way of knowing how frightening such a situation could be.  Even better, though, are the comments below the article.  There you’ll find the usual assortment of victim-blamers and police-abuse apologists.  The logic goes something like this: The cops shot/Tasered/beat somebody; therefore, he/she deserved it.

**During their search, the cops found and arrested the woman’s son, who was accused of being involved in some kind of incident involving a gun.  The article also mentions that the women had past connections with the mafia, and that this may have had something to do with the cops’ animosity toward them.  Also, the police claim that the women had originally been outside, and that when they were allowed to go inside to get some warmer clothes, they tried to shut the door on the police, and one of them kneed a cop in the balls.  Whatever.  I only mention this stuff because no doubt the apologists are using it to justify the cops’ actions.  Point is, though, there is no justifying their actions.  And to top it off, they wound up getting a search warrant after all.  So what was all the fuss about then?


Let a thousand hot dog carts bloom

But despite the resurgence of interest in street food, local regulations still thwart would-be vendors. Glaeser cites “complex licensing and zoning regulations” in the case of Boston, but such restrictions apply to most of America. Police in San Francisco’s Mission District, home to one of the nation’s most vibrant street food scenes, have been cracking down on vendors who haven’t shelled out $1,000+ for the proper permits and licenses and untold thousands for approved equipment. In Los Angeles, has noted an underground industry of bacon-wrapped hot dot [sic] vendors who serve a product that the city has jailed others for selling. Even legal vendors are at risk, as evidenced by last week’s call by restauranteurs in the trendy DC neighborhood of Adams Morgan to shutter the two-year-old Latino market that takes place in a local park on weekends. The food may have changed since the 19th century, but the arguments against street food – it’s unfair competition, it’s not clean, it’s run by illegal immigrants – have not.

“Deregulating food,” Market Urbanism

Whenever conventional liberals talk about deregulation, it’s usually to denounce it as a ploy by businesses to weasel out of having to concern themselves with things like workers’ safety or consumer or environmental protections.  Which it often is.  But what’s rarely discussed is the many ways regulations serve, in effect, to prevent poor people from making a living for themselves, often at the behest of those same aforementioned business interests.

In the case of food the rationale is always safety, but as the article quoted above points out (or as common sense, or having worked in a restaurant or two, would tell you), just because a place has the proper license hanging on the wall doesn’t mean they’re actually following any of the rules they’re supposed to follow.  As Anthony Bourdain says in Kitchen Confidential, if you want to know whether a restaurant is clean, check out the bathrooms.  If they can’t be bothered to clean the bathrooms, which they know the customers are going to see, there’s a good chance they’re not too concerned about their food-handling practices either.  Food regulations and licensing are as much about creating the illusion of safety as they are about actual safety.

Politics and safety issues aside, though, a vibrant food culture is, to me, a sign of a vibrant society (and, conversely, an over-regulated society is a sterile society).  I’d like nothing more than to see entire city blocks filled with street food vendors and open-air markets, “legal” or “illegal,” whatever.  I’d rather see a Mexican selling tacos from a cart than another one of those dreadful corporate franchise shitholes, with their faux-cheerful atmospheres and dull, focus-grouped menus.

One of my most persistent memories from a trip to Italy seven years ago is of a meal from a street cart my wife and brothers and I ate on a sidewalk in Atri, the town where my great-grandfather came from.  Atri is in Abruzzi, not far from the Adriatic coast.  It’s one of those medieval towns built on the top of a steep hill, surrounded by a wall, with a church in the center square and cobble stone streets winding in all directions.  The cart sold roast pork sandwiches, an entire pig turning on a spit, its skin a glistening amber.  The setting is part of what made it so memorable, no doubt, but I can still recall eating the sandwich, the crunch of that pork skin, while standing around a wooden bench and being circled by three or four stray dogs.

(Via Rad Geek.)