Police Raid Booksigning
Police Raid Booksigning
It's a few minutes before midnight, on Friday night on 3/8/2002. I'm in San Diego, and I have just escaped being arrested by the San Diego police. This book tour keeps getting more surreal, but the last hour has been unlike anything I have yet seen.
I have come to San Diego to speak at an event organized for my book ("Stupid White Men"). The event is being held at a middle school in an auditorium that seats about 800 people. I have spent the week in California, pretty much at my own expense. Weeks ago, the publisher informed me that they would not be sending me to this state if they had to pay to get me there.
So I called up my friends at "Politically Incorrect" and asked if they could book me on the show and bring me out there. They were more than happy to help out. I can't believe the crap this show has had to endure because its host one night, early on in "America's NEW War" had the guts to state the truth as he saw it. Now advertisers have dropped like flies, affiliates in DC, Columbus, and other cities have canceled the program, and ABC seems eager to deep-six the whole hour it shares with "Nightline." But, for now, they have come to my aid, and I am grateful.
In the past six days, I have spoken to 15 separate mobs of people. I don't know what other word to use because, quite simply, wherever I go, there is this unbelievable pandemonium. Every day, every night, hundreds -- or thousands -- jam themselves into halls, arenas, churches, auditoriums to listen to me talk about my book and whatever else is struggling to make its way through my brain. Forget about standing room only -- these venues look more like breathing room only. A clever fire marshal could have made a small fortune tailing me across this state. As I look out at the crowds of humans doing their best to impersonate sardines, I worry not that some deranged person may shout "Fire!" but rather that someone may belt out, "There's an extra six inches over here by the radiator!"
I have visited the most out-of-the-way places in California and, no matter where I go or how right-wing the congressman is that represents their district, all sorts of people are desperate to get inside to be with the thousands of others who want to be part of "United We Stand Against the Thief-in-Chief." Grass Valley, Hayward, San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Ukiah, Arcata, Berkeley, Westwood, East L.A., Koreatown (L.A.) -- I wish all of you could see what I have seen. In every town, at every stop, huge throngs of Americans who are sick and tired of the silence that has been demanded of them, lest they be thought of as "unpatriotic" should they dare to question the actions of George W. Bush and company. That's what this tour is all about. It's time to come out and start acting like Americans again.
And then there was San Diego.
Over a thousand people are packed inside the 800-seat auditorium. Outside, another thousand people are on the lawn trying to get in. The traffic on the street is tied up and the stream of San Diegoans keeps filing up the sidewalk. I tell the organizers that I am going to spend a half-hour outside here speaking to the people who cannot get in. They are, after all, like me -- slackers who are habitually late. The crowd outdoors is wired and jazzed that they are being honored for being tardy.
Then I go inside, give my usual talk, and begin to sign books. There's a 90-year-old lady whose granddaughter has driven her down from Orange County. There's a union organizer from the antiunion San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper who announces that his grandfather was a sit-down striker with my uncle back in 1937 in Flint. Some punk-poet kid tries to finish me off for good by offering me two Krispy Kreme donuts. Hundreds line up to have their books, their "Awful Truth" DVDs and, in one case, an Iron Maiden jean jacket, signed. I am told that we are getting close to the time when we will have to leave the school, as it has only been rented until 11pm. That is not good. Hundreds are still in line. I don't think any of these signings this week have been over before midnight.
Somewhere around 11:30pm, I hear a commotion at the back of the auditorium. I see people start to scatter. The San Diego police are coming down the aisle, their large flashlights out (the auditorium lights are still on, so we all understand the implied "other" use of these instruments). The police are telling everyone to "VACATE THESE PREMISES IMMEDIATELY OR YOU WILL ALL BE ARRESTED!" I cannot believe what I am hearing. "YOU WILL NOT RECEIVE ANOTHER WARNING. LEAVE NOW -- OR FACE ARREST!"
The cops approach the stage where I am signing the books. People are visibly frightened -- and about half the book-line bolts toward the doors. I stand up and speak to the officers. "I am the author of this book," I tell them politely. "These people are only here to get a book and all I am doing is signing them. We will be done shortly."
"I don't care who you are," they reply. "We have received a call from the school district and we have been told to remove you. You were supposed to be out of here at 11:00pm." We had apparently violated our curfew.
"C'mon guys, you can't be serious," I said. "Are you saying that you are going to arrest me for signing people's books, and arrest the people who are here because they want to read this book?"
"I don't care what you are doing -- this is your last warning. I am ready to arrest you and everyone else."
"Who is your superior?" I ask.
"I'm it. Only the Chief is above me at night, and I am not going to wake him up. This has already gone through many channels. We are here because this has already gone through many people in the last half-hour, people in authority, and the decision has been made to clear you out of here or arrest you."
I have never been arrested, strange as that may seem. I could not believe that, of all I have done, all I have stood for over the years, that it has come down to this -- and I was about to be hauled away for autographing books!
"OK," I said. "We'll leave." I then mumbled something about the last time I checked, this was still the United States of America -- even if we were just five miles away from where it ends. They escorted me and the few remaining souls out of the building. The brave lady who was the owner of the independent bookstore and who was there selling my book, leaned over and whispered to me, "I am willing to go to jail for this if you want me to." Ya gotta hand it to the independent bookstores -- they've been through hell lately, so much so that they are now ready to be led away in handcuffs!
I walked outside and about 40 people ask me if I would still sign their books in the dark of the parking lot. A girl gets out her pocket flashlight. A guy runs over and turns on his headlights. I remark that it feels like we're in some sort of banana republic or East Berlin, secretly meeting so we can have our little book gathering. "Sign quick, Mike, here come the police!"
I finish the last book and hop in my sister's car. She remembers to give me a plaque that had been presented to me in abstentia (while I was outside talking to the people who couldn't get in). It was from the city councilwoman from the area of San Diego we were in. It read "Official Proclamation: City of San Diego Declares -- March 9, 2002, 'Michael Moore Day.'"
"Maybe we should have shown this to the cops, " she says. We drive to her house where I catch four hours sleep before I get up and head for Denver.
Michael Moore Author Filmmaker NonEvildoer