Is This the Summer of Snitches?
Meet Burrito Bob, Permit Patty, and other vigilante informants
A man wearing a Hawaiian shirt on San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) went viral earlier this month after calling the cops on a man eating his lunch. A video posted to Reddit shows an angered passenger, who is now referred to as Burrito Bob, confronting another passenger on a BART train for snacking while traveling on the Dublin/Pleasanton line, close to the famed Fruitvale Station. BART currently has rules against eating and drinking; violations carry a fine of $250.
"You can't wait? A sign says no eating and drinking. You don't get it? You don't get it. You must be stupid. I've seen people like you on TV," he tells the passenger.
Bystanders look on and laugh when the man announces that he's going to contact authorities. Burrito Bob proceeds to use the train's emergency contact system to ask for an officer, saying: "Please, can you get a policeman on board? We've got somebody dining on the first car." While Burrito Bob waits, surrounding passengers encourage the man to "eat your burrito, bro," including one drinking from a nearly empty Starbucks cup. Burrito Bob continues to defend his position, saying that the passenger should wait to nourish himself in the appropriate venue.
Burrito Bob now joins a growing list of alliterative offenders who have attempted to use authorities to enforce petty regulations this summer.
BBQ Becky: In late April, a woman called police on black barbecuers at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California, after claiming that they were not allowed to operate a charcoal grill in the area. When police did not take the call as seriously as she'd hoped, she broke down into tears. Oaklanders threw a cookout called "BBQing While Black" in response.
Permit Patty: In June, a woman called police on a young black girl selling water without a permit. The woman later argued that she did so because the girl's mother was "screaming for hours." Some noted the hypocrisy of the call after it was revealed that she was the CEO of a "kind of like 'don't ask, don't tell'" pet weed business.
Pool Patrol Paula: Also in June, a woman threatened to call police after telling a black teen that his friends were "punks" who "didn't belong" at a community pool in Summerville, South Carolina. In a video, she's visible striking in the general direction of the teen at least twice. When investigators in the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office attempted to serve her a warrant for third-degree assault, she picked up some additional charges after fighting back.
Honorable mentions go to a Philadelphia Starbucks employee who in April called police on two black men while they were waiting in the coffee shop for a meeting and Ohio neighbors who called police in June after a 12-year-old cut the grass on their property by mistake—the young man's business ended up growing as a result.
Even CountryTime lemonade has gotten involved, promising to pay the fines of children who have the police called on them for running unlicensed lemonade stands.
These stories are a part of a phenomenon that Reason's Mike Riggs has dubbed the "Nation of Narcs." Riggs offers a number of solutions to scale back the problem, one of which is reducing the scope of government:
The second project is a political program: to drastically scale back the police powers of every arm of the state. Not just the police police, but the health police and the tax police and the zoning police. All those agencies work in concert. The person who refuses to pare back her garden gets a fine. If she doesn't pay the fine, she loses her driver's license. If she drives regardless, because her job or family needs her to, she gets arrested. The police state is a hydra, so let's treat it like one.