It was an extraordinary experience. As an 82-year-old American tourist, I never anticipated anything like it happening to me in Spain.
I had spent the early evening in the nearby Plaza Larga with friends I’ve written about previously. It’s become my favorite spot in Granada.
Together, we had done some Tarot Card readings and discussed Bob Dylan, the Frankfurt School of critical thought (especially Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization), conspiracy theories, the U.S. Federal Reserve, the images on the back of U.S. dollar bills, and the direction of “universal history.”
About the latter, I had recommended to Francesco, a brilliant intellectual and bibliophile from Italy, the work of one of my Great Teachers, Argentina’s Enrique Dussel. His work on universal history has been mind-blowing to me. Since he is also an historian, I was anxious to hear Cesco’s evaluation of Dussel’s work.
In the midst of such conversation, as if from nowhere the puta policia (“effin cops” as my friends call them) showed up. There were four of them. – all about the age of 40, around the age of my own children. (Actually, I could have been their grandfather.)
They frisked us all (including me!) and wrote us up in their ledgers. (I’m not sure what they’ll do with the papers they filled out. None of us was given a copy.)
It was a clear exercise of “power over,” of classism and discrimination against people simply because they are poor.
Earlier in the day, I had witnessed something similar in a place they call “El Huerto” (the Garden) where I spend a good deal of time. The Huerto is an extensive park very close to the Alhambra. The still snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada stand breathtakingly in the far horizon.
The park features a kids’ playground and exercise machines installed especially for elderly people like me. It’s also a gathering place for hippies and street people. Some of them sleep there overnight usually in sleeping bags. It’s also a kind of dog park as evidenced by dog waste lying here and their awaiting the morning visit of street sweepers who keep the Huerto relatively clean.
The place is also “decorated” with graffiti denouncing the puta policia, pledging love to Noemis and Rodrigos, and expressing support for Palestinians and Ukrainians. One of the inscriptions reads “I’m in the love.”
Anyway, I had just finished my morning workout and was sitting in the shade catching my breath.
A young African man sat off to my right, about 20 meters distant.
Then all of a sudden, two police motorcycles converged on him, seemingly from nowhere. They hemmed him in, though he made no effort to “escape.” The cops made him stand up with his hands in the air. They pushed him around a bit, had him empty his pockets, and then patted him down. I watched the whole thing thinking “I should be filming this.” I didn’t dare.
The young man offered no resistance and gave the impression of having gone through the drill many times before. He was harming no one.
I make that observation because my busker friend, Simon, constantly complains about gratuitous police harassment. It’s something I’ve previously written about here. Again, it’s all about classism and criminalization of poverty. When I later told Simon about what I witnessed in the Huerto, he said, “Of course, they harassed him. He’s black.”
In any case, and as I was saying these cops were suddenly on our case too – criminalizing us as we sat around a stone public bench not ten meters away from the outdoor Aixa Restaurant. That’s where I often take breakfast of tostada and café. Aixa’s patrons were enjoying wine, beer, and tapas.
“You know you’re not supposed to be drinking beer in public, don’t you?” the cops accused, ignoring the diners so close at hand and the fact that no one harasses normal tourists walking around the Albaycin with red-canned Cervezas Alhambra in hand.
“Empty your pockets, all of you,” they demanded. We all did so obediently. My friends demeanor showed me how to act. Eyes were cast down. No talking back. Serious looks on everyone’s faces. Wordless glances exchanged between us expressing exasperation about the whole reason for the unfolding process.
“They just don’t have enough work,” one of my friends growled sotto voce. He nodded towards the cops.
The latter were especially interested in examining and sniffing the tobacco pouches nearly all my friends carry. (All of them roll their cigarettes.) The cops were looking for marijuana. They found some. It was confiscated.
Then one of them turned his attention to me. “Stand up,” he demanded. I obeyed. “Turn around!” He patted me up and down and actually grabbed my genitals and squeezed them. Again, I’m 82 years old! I’m obviously a tourist. “Por favor!” I objected. The cop was unphased.
[By the way, I find interesting my internal reaction to that manhandling by the cop. I had never experienced anything like that. Afterwards I almost felt guilty – the way women who are sexually assaulted often report feeling. I thought, “Why did I let him do that?” Should I have resisted or pushed him away? But of course, I couldn’t. That’s because the cop wasn’t really looking for something hidden in my crotch. (What, I, this elderly American tourist was hiding marijuana or something in my drawers?) No, he was asserting power. That’s what law enforcement does everywhere to poor people. It tells people like my friends, “You’re nothing. We can do whatever we want with you. Never forget that. We’re the law!”]
“Show me your identification,” the cop ordered. I obliged producing my residential permit.
“You’re an American, right? Why are you here?”
“I’m a tourist staying with my grandchildren and their parents. We’re all here to learn Castellano.”
“Are these your friends?” the cop asked bruskly.
“Yes, they are,” I confessed.
“They shouldn’t be,” came the reply. “They’re bad people.”
“That’s not my experience,” I said. “They’re some of the finest people I know.”