Walking around the downtown Riverside Festival of Lights last night I came across a saxophone player that was playing some beautiful music. He was sitting with family and a few friends and playing his instrument and the crowd could sense the beauty of the moment and even their loud roar of voices quieted a bit as they started to hear the melody playing above all the noise. I rested casually on a bench that was placed at the feet of a statue of Gandhi, with other statues of people who seemed to be in eternal quiet protest. I was playing around with the concept of the musician protesting the irreverence of the crowd and bringing order and beauty to our otherwise chaotic mass movement from shop to shop.
That was when I noticed the two Code Enforcement officers rushing to the scene. They were not carrying guns, but they had tactical gear, what appeared to be protective gear and police issues boots. Effectively emulating what you might call a “jack booted thug.” Now they had smiles on their faces and seemed pleasant enough while they threatened the musician with fines, fees, and then instructed him to take his music to the designated area several blocks away. They were there to crack down on this imminent public safety threat.
You see a few years ago, the City voted a compromise measure in place. The crowds had begun to swell in this area, because it is truly marvelous. A community otherwise devoid of anything outstanding had produced something quite astonishing. Actually, it was the historic mission inn that put on a majority of the display, with some private businesses setting up concessions. Over the years, petting zoos for raindeer, ice rinks and other attractions began to come in. Of course the City found reasons that those could not be allowed to continue, but the one thing that brings the crowds is that of the street performer.
For thousands of years pedestrians have been entertained by the street performers looking to entertain and collect a few coins in the process. This Festival of Lights has brought all sorts of people to this little area to play their talents. Blind, deaf, homeless, college students, and retired professional musicians all the same, sitting with their stool and playing their instrument of choice. There is even the distant wailing of the street preacher calling us all out as doomed sinners to accompany the music. Of course this attracts crowds and when you have that public safety concerns and with that you have city officials making decisions.
In this case, the sax player and all his friends are allowed to play only in a quarantine area where they are isolated and separated from the crowds of people. Public safety solved, free speech allowed or I should say contained.
The irony was not lost on me. A black man, playing his sax next to a statue of Gandhi, 100 yards away from a statue of Booker T Washington and about a block from the Civil Rights Walk of Fame is being escorted off to a roped off area in which he can then play after of course registering and most likely paying an admin fee. Honestly, I did not see any immanent danger surrounding thsi sax player. If anything he was calming people down. If I were to have a vote, I would vote for freeing the sax. Let the music play, I will take my chances with the disorder, disarray or other concerns that might arise.