Comes now a YouTuber who goes by the handle of “Bay Area Transparency,” with 147k subscribers, who travels around Northern California getting into arguments with the police, dancing up to the very line of what is legal in order to demonstrate, with his body, that the line exists.

The other day he dropped in on Arcata to conduct what he calls a “First Amendment audit” and to see what kind of fun he could gin up for his loyal fans.

Jackpot! As he films in the Arcata Police Department parking lot, an officer walks out and asks Bay Area Transparency to step to the side while he gets into his patrol vehicle. Our man refuses, on the grounds that he has the right to be there, and to film, and that he is not obstructing the officer’s entry into the car. Several minutes of stupid ensue, during which backup is summoned and both sides try and fail to reach across their rhetorical divide.

Bay Area Transparency seems like not such a bad sort — a little doofy, but earnest. Is he correct about the law? Yes, he is correct. Is the officer being ridiculous? He’s being at least a little bit ridiculous. Are some cops bluff and imperious, sometimes, when they probably have no need or right to be? News flash: Yes.

But is our YouTuber making things better? Is he contributing to peace and amity and the overall happiness level of everyone involved, and of the world at large? Despite his absolutely correct illustration of various laws governing police-civilian interaction, it’s difficult to see the case.

Look at it this way. If a homeless person said, politely, that they’d feel more comfortable if you were to move three steps to the left and you had no reason not to, would you do it? Of course you would. You’re not an asshole. You wouldn’t refuse that small request simply to agitate the homeless person, and then to film the homeless person getting worked up to make some content for the YouTube channel you pretend not to have.

For me, it seems obvious that the unspoken actor in this silly drama is: Guns. The officer doesn’t want his hands occupied with door handles, nor his body in an awkward getting-in-the-car position, while a person acts oddly in front of him. Is this unreasonable? Not completely, especially when you consider that an odd-acting person muttering about cleaning the Mexicans out of McKinleyville opened fire on Arcata police officers only a couple of months ago. (You’ll say that it’s easy for you to tell the one type of odd-acting person from the other. Good for you.)

So this video is a little parable of America in 2021. You have a righteous kid traveling the state to provoke cops for YouTube content — and to teach them lessons about the law, and life! — and you have a cop irrationally (but maybe not completely irrationally?) fearing for his physical safety in small moments as he tries to go about his day. The good guy with the gun must constantly be at the ready to draw, lest the other guy get the drop. Great job, everyone.

For his part, Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn put on the hair shirt when the Times-Standard contacted him for the story. “The culture that I’m trying to instill here within the organization is such that we would have managed that contact differently,” Ahearn said, promising a complete and thorough investigation of the incident. “And because we didn’t, it clearly tells me that I have failed.”