Court of Ill Repute
A tale of litter and litigation
By Dennis Francis Lawlor
There I was, on April 30, at the local community dispute
panel in the Excelsior.
I had been arrested for battery after reprimanding an
apparently unenlightened newcomer to our fine burg for unwrapping her
daughter’s Popsicle in front of our house and tossing the wrapper at our
feet. I handed the offending wrapper back to her while suggesting she
set an example for her child. She promptly walked several feet, cursing
me. Then, to my amazement, she again tossed the wrapper into the wind.
My response, although louder and more animated, was in
no way violent, and she most certainly was not intimidated, as she
cursed me and my friends in Spanish and broken English.
As I returned to the house, one of the teachers from the
school that the mother and daughter had just left came walking toward
me. I asked her if she was aware of the sale of products literally
outside the schoolgates which could be seen littering the streets in its
proximity. She mumbled something about that being the parents’
responsibility and continued walking as I stood dumbfounded.
Fifteen minutes later, two police cars barreled up to
the house. As we stood inside the basement, the police pointed to me and
told me to get on the ground.
After questioning my friends, who told the officers that
I had made no contact whatsoever with the young woman, they loaded me
into the squad car to deliver me to Ingleside Station.
As I sat in the station awaiting some semblance of
sanity from someone in blue, I was told that in fact a second woman (the
teacher) had phoned them to report the screaming maniac who had thrown a
beer can at her. He apparently missed but spilled some of the beer on
her, prompting my second charge of battery against a woman in the last
The citing officer seemed genuinely sympathetic but,
with orders from his captain, charged me with the two separate counts of
battery. I was cited and released within a half hour.
So there I was at the Bayview Bank building, as I had
agreed to have the condemnation heard by members of our community.
Surely, they would see the lunacy involved and inquire as to my detailed
account of the events that day.
As I entered the room, the members of the panel rose and
introduced themselves. I mentioned that I thought this to be a fine and
progressive way to handle such court-bogging incidents and that their
participation was to be commended.
The officer present read the police report out loud and
stated the charges. I was then prompted to read my own handwritten
statement to the panel. When I was nearing the end of my brief but
sarcastic description of the charges I faced, the chairman stopped me,
saying, “How much longer do we have to listen to this?” Strangely
enough, I had been listing my many community involvements at the time. I
was not offered the opportunity to finish my statement or to question
this obvious breach of protocol.
The panel’s questions were accusatory and inflammatory.
“Had it been a man, would you have done the same?”
I was explaining my prior professional boxing experience
when I was again interrupted with a panelist asking, “So violence would
be an alternative?”
“No,” I stated. “But being neither a bully nor a coward,
I would not be intimidated by any such offender, regardless of gender,
race, or girth.”
Another panelist asked the officer present if the
alleged tossed beer can had been recovered.
I had already explained that I was returning to the
house from the confrontation with the young woman and held nothing in my
hands. Nor had I been drinking. The officer confirmed that my coherency
was not even questioned by the arresting officers and that I had been
released immediately upon citation. No can of any kind had been
submitted as evidence. I finished by stating that any community service
given as punishment should be directed to those, like the young woman
litterer, who might consider cleaning the city streets as punishment.
Since I pick up trash while standing at the bus stop, as others stare in
amazement, I was still hoping that the panel of supposedly compassionate
and deliberate local folk would dismiss these seemingly insane
allegations. I was then asked to leave the room while the panel came to
Upon my return, the chairman asked about my employment
or lack of it. (Too much time on my hands?) I explained my pending
workers compensation and thus my inability to perform community service.
As I had predicted, “anger management” was offered as an
alternative. I said I would, upon the completion of a civil etiquette
class attended by the young mother. Perhaps even an anger management
class, as her daughter had an obvious and recent black eye on the day I
was arrested. Both my friends and I had questioned officers that
afternoon on the condition of the child and asked if they had inquired
about the cause of the contusion. No response was forthcoming.
My case has since been resubmitted to the DA’s office,
as I refused the invitation to learn how to sit quietly while our city
is further ruined. I do not look forward to spending more time defending
myself against these humiliating charges, but at least this time I will
not be prejudged and will be treated with respect by the court. This
panel of my alleged peers offered no such luxury. Thanks for nothing,
Dennis Lawlor is a delegate to the San Francisco
Building Trades Council (Painters Local #4) and former financial and
recording secretaries for Panters Local #4. He is a member of the
Citizens Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Committee, Pacific Heights
Residents Association, Friends of Webster Street Historic District,
Ocean Beach Historical Society, San Francisco Beautiful, Church of St.
John Coltrane, and Northern California Veteran Boxer Association. He
regularly volunteers at Laguna Honda Hospital and Juvenile Hall.