Odolecki, Eyre's host for the evening, is more flushed and angry in his didactic rants, though he has brought a homemade cake with him tonight, baked and decorated with the Cop Block logo in frosting by his wife. The 42-year-old has a penchant for protesting DUI checkpoints — what he calls "Papers, please! Checkpoints" — near his Parma house and in surrounding suburbs. He'll find out when one's scheduled and then head down the road and hold up a sign warning motorists of the awaiting presence. Odolecki's anger is rooted more in vague distrust of The Man than Eyre's thoughtful questions about the legitimacy of law enforcement.
"Some smart-ass cop is going to call this a weapon," he says while pulling out a Leatherman multi-tool. Odolecki was arrested by Parma police during one of his protests for having a concealed weapon, but he wasn't filming then — a fatal flaw, he explains. Always be filming.
"I was pissed off at myself because I had to go through all this fuckin' shit," Odolecki says. "Community service, paying these people money — I don't want to support their criminal organization. And then I got in touch with Pete here, got it going in Cleveland and we're exponentially growing."
That's a common thread among a significant portion of the Cop Block crowd: pissed off suburban white men.
Jacob Frost arrives to My Friends with some friends and associates from back home in Bellevue, Ohio, where he leads the Ohio Cop Block chapter. The 22-year-old says he got into the organization and philosophy because "the only people who have ever harmed my life have badges."
"My brother got in trouble for hacking a few websites," he says. "I was 15 and they kind of took him from me, so I started Ohio Cop Block because my family member was affected."
His brother Mitchell Frost, a freshman at the University of Akron in 2006 and 2007, hacked into and temporarily took down the websites for Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter and Rudy Giuliani, among other conservative sites, "to prevent the hate and conflict and fear mongering from being seen by people." In a case that got nationwide attention, Mitchell was later sentenced to 30 months in prison.
"And then I got in some trouble and I really got dedicated to it," Jacob Frost says, referencing a January 2012 incident when he was busted by two Bellevue police officers and a Homeland Security agent after a package he ordered online containing methylone — a synthetic substance banned by the DEA in 2011 because it's used to create bath salts — was sent to his house.
"It seems like people only really care about rights when something happens to them," he says. "And it's happened to me since I was 15. The only people who have ever harmed my life have badges."
The head and sole member of the recently formed Columbus chapter, 28-year-old Aaron Parker, brings a unique perspective to the bunch. He's an Army veteran, having served in the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan.
"What really solidified it for me was I had the entire Whitehall police force pull their weapons on me," he says, after an incident not too far outside the Defense Supply Center. He didn't have his military ID on him and the guard wouldn't let him in without providing his social security number. So he left. "Next thing I know, seven or eight squad cars roll up on me, half of them with their guns drawn. Luckily their sergeant from the rear has some common sense asking me what's the problem. I don't know, I say. He's like, 'Well, we got a call someone was trying to force their way onto the base.'"
Some newcomers hang around listening to the battle stories, wanting to meet the guys for the first time. There's Chuck, who drives that old grey pickup truck with the middle finger saluting cops in the back window. He got to My Friends early and had been anxiously sucking down coffee at the counter until the others started showing up around 7. He says he's been trying to find some protest movement to be a part of "ever since the FBI managed to kill Occupy Cleveland."
Attorney John Gold drops by the restaurant. A 2004 Case Western law school grad, he's the area's de facto legal advisor to the cop blockers and a light-hearted, semi-voice-of-reason in a group so thoroughly devoted to libertarianism views of the law.
"How do you uniformly apply them across any spectrum of people without it being arbitrary at some point?" he asks at one point, playing devil's advocate. "That's my question. How is that better than what we have now where at least we have some sort of expectation or understanding of what is and what's not?"
His office in Sandusky is sort of an informal mini-headquarters for the group and the Peaceful Streets Sandusky folks (similar group, similar mission). He's been arrested twice for arguing with cops.
"A lot of people talk about how they want to fight for justice, but it just never happens," he says. "But I have weird circumstances: I'm twice-divorced, no kids, 40 years old — I'm a Corvette away from being a walking cliche — with 10 years of experience. What do I have to lose? They don't have any leverage on me. I don't have any family for them to threaten, no wife to wag her finger at me. Screw it, I'm going to do this!"
During a trip to Austin for the Peaceful Streets "Accountability Summit", the Sandusky group met with Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panthers. "He's talking to us and he said 'you know, we walked around with those rifles not to defend ourselves, but so the cops would know who we were. It would put them on edge and make them do their job right,'" Gold says. "[Seale] said, 'The phones you carry around with you today are so much more powerful than those rifles we were walking around with back in the day.'"
That's their new marching order, and that's what they shall do now — head out into the Cleveland night with cell phones and cameras to do some actual cop blocking.***
"We're going to take a little ride down to West Sixth," Odolecki says in the My Friends parking lot. He's still furious about what he read in Scene's March 7 cover story about Cleveland police officer Vincent Montague shooting an unarmed man in his vehicle on the street back in June 2013 for what amounted to a traffic violation.
We follow the spray-painted Cop Block truck downtown to find a parking spot for three cars and end up on Lakeside Ave. near the Justice Center, which is perfect for these libertarians.
Eyre pulls out a beige fishing vest from his trunk, puts it on and stuffs its pockets with pamphlets, and attaches a small video camera to a monopod. Odolecki swoops a chain holding a Cop Block badge across his neck; he's easily mistakable for a plainclothes police officer by people who don't read the anti-cop slogan ("Badges don't grant extra rights") on the back of his black hooded sweatshirt.
A couple of guys grab a stack of Cop Block cards that list the five "tips to remember when dealing with police: 1. Record your interaction. 2. Do not talk to the police or answer questions. 3. Ask 'Am I being detained?' If you are not, leave. 4. Never consent to searches, And 5. Be polite, but firm."
Odolecki spots a guy smoking a cigarette near one of the side streets on West Sixth and hands him a card. "We're with Cop Block and we're patrolling the area in case you get fucked up by the cops or anything. Get in touch with us." ("Awesome man, thank you dude," replies the gentleman.)
Frost tries to hand a card to a group of dressed-up bar goers — women in heels and dresses and men in sport coats — but they couldn't be bothered as they make their way past the Velvet Dog security towards the Top-40 music blasting inside.
As the gang makes its way through Public Square to East Fourth, the driver of a horse-drawn carriage driver stops them.