Stolen Belonging: “My Dad’s Ashes …”

Thief: The City of SF – DPW, SFPD and Caltrans

Interview with Crystal by the Stolen Belonging team, January 31, 2019, Bayview District, San Francisco.

Crystal: My name is Crystal and I’ve been here since 2002, but I grew up in the North Bay. I’ve been in every district and neighborhood in the city at one point or another.

The sweeps really suck. It’s happened a few times in the last month or two. The last time… they just came in and they just wiped everybody out. My stuff was down there as well, so they got my backpack, my ID, my birth certificate, my dad’s ashes.

It was the highway patrol and SFPD and Caltrans down there. And there’s this one cop, every time he’d see me he’s like, “I’m going to shoot your dog. I’m going to shoot your dog,” for no reason. My dog is so super friendly, dude. He doesn’t harm people.

Crystal, a long-time San Franciscan, gestures as if she’s holding the most beloved possession that the city has stolen from her in the sweeps: her dad’s ashes. Photo by Leslie Dreyer

He was a big, tall guy who goes down under the bridge over there by the car wash and he jacks everyone up. He zip ties everyone up, throws them in a line and takes a picture on his phone and writes down their name, and then, “If I ever see you here again…” yada yada.

He can’t arrest me because I’m on a public sidewalk. What the f*** is wrong with you? Really? I mean, you can take me in and detain me for some bullsh**, but you can’t arrest me. It’s not going to stand. It’s not going to hold no water.

So yeah, I don’t know. But, you know, cops do whatever the f*** they want to do anyway.

Stolen Belonging team: Tell us about some of the items that were stolen, particularly the ones that you use day-to-day to survive.

Crystal: My laptop and my phone, my portable chargers and my power banks, clothes, drawers, my toothbrush. I mean, you have to start over fresh every time they do it because they get everything.

And you know, going to DMV and going to the Social Security office and doing all that is a pain in the a** after awhile. Really, how many IDs or driver’s licenses does one person need in a year? They really need to find a way to fix that.

Stolen Belonging team: What was it like living without those things?

Crystal: Well, I can’t get a job and can’t work, right? But it’s hard to work when you’re on the streets anyway, because you can’t shower every day and can’t sleep all the time because you got people who steal your shit. It’s just a big fucking circle. Everyone knows the story. It’s the same story. It’s been tested time and time again.

San Francisco used to be all right. You used to be able to go to Golden Gate Park and have a spot up there for a few months or whatever, or go out to the ocean, pop your tent up every night, pull it down.

You can’t even do that anymore. It’s like they just want everybody out. But see, I think … by trying to push people out they’re making it seem like they’re trying to do something, which they’re not.

Stolen Belonging team: Can you tell us about the items that are more of personal significance that were taken?

Crystal: My dad’s ashes. They were in an urn, a marble urn. My brother gave it to me years ago. My dad died 15 years ago and I’ve been carrying them around. They were at my friend’s house. My friend said he was going to toss them because he didn’t have the space for them or whatever. So, I went down and got them and I’ve been lugging them around, and it’s a heavy a** urn. I was thinking about just taking them out and keeping them in a bag, putting them in a paper bag or something, but it’s your dad. You can’t really do that… I really miss him.

Stolen Belonging team: And the agency who took it again?

Crystal: It was the highway patrol or Caltrans, SFPD and DPW, of course, or “Doing People Wrong”.

Stolen Belonging team: Were there any other sentimental items that they also took?

Crystal: My phone, pictures, SD cards. They destroyed all the letters and notes that me and my husband wrote back and forth and posted on the walls and sh**. You know? Like, really?

Stolen Belonging team: Reflecting back, how do you think that the city should compensate you for the loss of all your possessions, or how could we hold them accountable?

Crystal: I don’t think they should just go and grab people’s sh**. I mean, really, I think that they should have a training program to instill some type of morals or some type of system for these people. I mean, especially people that work with DPW, and everyone knows that the cops need more psychological evaluations and stuff like that before they come on the force.

But, I really think that a training program for the city workers … I mean, because there was a lot of yelling and screaming when that was going on and they didn’t know how to handle it, so they just zip tie people up and throw them in a car, throw them on the sidewalk, tell them to shut up.

No, that’s not cool. You don’t do that to people that are mentally unstable anyway. Come on. And probably up for a few days or whatever the case is.

I think there should be some type of mediation or some type of resolution program or something in place for those people. That, I think, would be really cool.

But my dad’s ashes, those aren’t replaceable. And as far as going down to that agency to collect your property, it’s a crock of sh**, because you go down there and they don’t really label it. They’ll put the street address and the agencies, they may bag and tag it, but they don’t say, “Oh, this bag belongs to so-and-so…” You know what I mean? So, everything’s kind of just jumbled up and everybody’s stuff is as mess.

But you don’t even really see that. You see a dumpster and all your shit going into the dumpster anyway. You could have $50,000.00 worth of stuff and everything will go in that dumpster or compacter or whatever. So, I don’t know, compensation-wise I would want … If it was a dollar amount… I mean, my dad’s ashes alone and those pictures and stuff … I don’t know. It’s crazy.

Stolen Belonging team: What would you say to a housed person or city worker to help them see this from your perspective?

Crystal: I think that maybe if they just took a breath and maybe opened their mind a little bit, got another perception or something, I don’t know, maybe they’d figure it out that life isn’t easy and most people are one f***ing step away from being homeless too.