Panhandlers Take a Pummeling

We are where we are, which is why this is so effective.

At two minimarkets in Sacramento, Beethoven has been enlisted to do what no beat cop could do: drive off loiterers, panhandlers and drug dealers. For Good.

I suppose if you place a corpse, or a sack of bones, in front of a store that, yes, people might be a little discouraged from standing there. That and the prices of Chilean limes are so high right now. (How high are they?) They’re so high, I wouldn’t deal drugs next to a body, especially a composer’s rotting body.

In two separate cases, the Sacramento Superior Court has told markets identified as trouble spots by police to play music known to discourage loitering—classical music.

Oh, it’s the music. That’s what Beethoven is doing. Okay, that makes more sense. Still, the price of Chilean limes are so high. (How high are they?) They’re so high I don’t think I could afford both the limes and classical music. And apparently, neither can the panhandlers.

On the other hand, I’m a nearly-homeless musician always looking for a way to make a buck. And I think that, in the near future, I’d enjoy the musical wallpaper as I accost young mothers for change. I just hope they occasionally play some Stravinsky, you now, to mix it up.

Reviews of the violin concertos—to be audible for 25 feet around the store, the orders say—are mixed at the Oak Park and Lawrence Park convenience stores.

I’d have to agree. I thought that the first of the two recordings at the Oak Park store, played by Joshua Bell, was a little stilted and uninspiring, despite a superb effort by the orchestra to balance Beethoven’s unwieldy, Dionysian wind writing with the ferocity of the violin’s deeply engendering melodic lines; this guaranteed disappointment among drug dealers.

The police say the music is effective, along with other security upgrades.

And the Sacramento Police Academy’s music appreciation course was once taught by Karlheinz Stockmunchen. Go figure. I see why our tastes might differ.

While the tactic has been used around the world, some academics see its backing by a court as a cultural assault, similar to thumping panhandlers with a hefty volume of Shakespeare.

That sounds criminal. Instead of Shakespeare, what would these “academics” use? Nancy Drew? Dean Koontz? Barry Manilow?

“I think it’s a coercive act and it makes a mockery of our idea of classical music as a great cultural tradition,” said Robert Fink, a UCLA associate professor of musicology.

That’s why he’s an associate professor.

“It would be like reading ‘to be or not to be’ through a bull horn.”

I think that sounds like an interesting interpretation—better than the creepy Mel Gibson interpretation.

But Onkar Singh appreciates the tactic. He works at one of the affected stores, World Wines & liquors on Fruitridge Road just West of Stockton Boulevard.

You can reach him at (555) 782-2321. He fears heights and loud, crashing sounds.

From April 2004 to July 2006, police responded to 359 calls at World Wines & Liquors... The calls range from drug activity to prostitution to panhandling.

Barry Manilow definitely wouldn’t work.

In September, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Jeffery L. Gunther ordered that the [Prit Market] install exterior security cameras, employ private security guards and install high-intensity lighting.

Also ordered was the installation of a sound system to play music outside the building “known to discourage loiterers (e.g. classical music).”

While, yeah, it’s a little disappointing that a judge’s only recourse to stop potential crime and loitering at a convenience store is to order classical music to be piped through a sound system, I don’t really have any objection. As I see it, this is the cultural situation, one that has been brewing for some time now, a symptom of larger causes. It is just an effective means to disperse certain factions of undesirable people and practices, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Nor should it be viewed as an attack, or insult, on culture. This is what it is.

At Prit market, owner Jack Patel plays Handel, Strauss and Mozart on a seven-disc CD changer that pipes the music to the parking lot.

Strauss is offensive. Take that, crack dealer! “Man! My high isn’t so bright, now. Jerk.”

The fast-paced violin music was loud at the side of the store, but not where most cars parked or at the entrance Monday morning.

And, in case you forgot, “a respected litigation analysis firm estimates that 38% of robberies and 17% of sexual assaults on American workers occur while walking to or from their parked cars.”

Patel does not sing the sonatas’ praises.

I know, sonatas are so cliché. (How cliché are they?) They are so cliché that only associate professors write about them.

[Singh is] used to the classical music, he said, and likes the effect it’s had on panhandlers. They’ve left, he said, particularly insulted by the opera CD.

“I can’t take all these recitatives. Where are the big arias and choruses? I’m going somewhere else to find tricks.”

Gustavo Martinez, the supervising city attorney who oversaw the cases, said the order in place the longest—at World Wines & Liquors—seems to be working. He said the store went from an averaging 175 police calls per year to 10 this year [2007].

"That, to us, is very positive,” he said, crediting the Police Department with coming up with the idea to play classical music.

... who forgot to credit Karlheinz Stockburbon.

The idea has been used before, nearly always with positive results reported in the media, said Lily E. Hirsch, a Cleveland State University visiting professor of musicology who wrote an article about “Weaponizing Classical Music” in this month’s Journal of popular Music Studies.

She cited an example from Sydney, Australia, where officials piped Barry Manilow tunes into a park to ward off hot-rodders.

Barry Manilow: good for warding off hot-rodders, but not good for warding off panhandlers, prostitutes and drug dealers.

Officials said it worked. But in published reports, Manilow decried the tactical use of his tunes, suggesting they might drive some people to light candles or dance.

Those people are probably not hot-rodders. Maybe a few crack heads. But definitely not hot-rodders.

“What if this actually attracts more hoodlums?” he wrote in an article that Hirsch cited.

For all the drugged-out hoodlums who read The Detritus, would you be attracted to this? And would you light up candles or dance? Click here.

I thought not.

Hirsch did not entertain Manilow’s question...

Nor would I.

... but she did say that the music-wielding strategy is more about cultural cues than the music itself.

“If you’re feeling tough and want to do a drug deal, you might feel silly doing it to classical music,” she said. “It doesn’t fit your persona.”

Also, if you’re feeling tough and want to do a drug deal, you might feel silly doing it to this: click here.


Anonymous said...

This is the music I like to buy drugs to.


She has a blog, too.