Monday, September 06, 2004

How I was arrested, part 2

We sat in the park for a little while longer, and then we got a text message saying that people who had gathered on the steps of the New York Public Library were being arrested. At this point, we decided to get up and walk around a little. The text message for the street party came at around 6:10 and told us to meet in the southeast corner of Union Square. We headed to Union Square, and when we got there we saw some friends and went over by them. Another text message told us to look for festive signs, and then someone came up to us and gave us a flyer which told us to follow the tin man. When we looked around, we saw that there were a few different painted signs, one of which was the tin man from the Wizard of Oz. The march started at around 6: 50, and we headed up Union Square East. People walked in the street, and the Infernal Noise Brigade helped to lead the way.
At 16th street, the police said that we could no longer go forward, and instead that we had to turn down the side street. J said that this was what happened with the bike bloc, but B and I were rather swept up and confused. We continued down the street and at the other end, the police were blocking the street with barricades. Some people pushed through, and others sat down peacefully in the street. We got caught in the middle of the people sitting down, but we decided quickly we didn’t want to be stuck like so. J, B, and myself all tried to get back to Union Square East, but it was blocked off as well by the time we got there. We were therefore effectively trapped on one block.
The police pushed everyone on the street onto the sidewalk, and then separated us into groups by how radical we looked. The three of us got pushed into a liberal group, meaning that people who were in it were wearing Kerry/Edwards stickers. We stood surrounded for quite some time, and the police packed us in the smallest area possible, causing people to fall onto the bike and bike rack that was behind us. The group to the side of us was wearing black bandanas over their faces. Wearing a mask of any sort is illegal in New York City, unless it is for a theatrical production. These boys were not in any performance, and thus their bandanas merely singled them out as likely anarchists. The police are not such fans of anarchists, even though throughout the last century, anarchists have been the most peaceful political group. The police rushed at the boys in masks and everyone behind them, and started beating them up some. I was in the second line of people of my group, and J, B, and I had all linked arms so that we wouldn’t get separated. I wasn’t able to see everything, but the police definitely were rough and more violent with members of the more radical looking group. The police were also pretty rough with the marching band. I could hear instruments clattering to the street, and see a lot of instruments that looked damaged and were just disregarded by the police.
In a few minutes, the police told everyone in our group to sit down, which was a difficult task having so little space. One other boy who had accidentally gotten confused in the liberal group told us that they were singling him out because he was part of a group that organizes speak outs in Union Square. I forgot exactly what he said the speak outs related to, but they were obviously political. He continued to tell us that all the other members of his group had been arrested already, and as the police started arresting people, they definitely pulled him out of our group first. Next they pointed at the three of us. (I’m not quite sure how they could tell–was it J’s tattoos, or just being a little less than clean cut?) They started shouting, "Get the one with the glasses. Get him right there." B was the only one wearing glasses, and the police grabbed him next. There was a bag filled with liquid on the ground behind him, and the police were like, "Grab his bag of piss too." A rumor had been propagated in the media that the anarchists were going to throw bags of urine at the police. Personally, I had never met anyone who had planned to do anything related to that, and I know that B definitely did not have a bag of liquid with him earlier in the day. Thus, the police had planted it there during the confusion, and then singled B out. When I spoke to him later, he said that nothing ended up happening with it, which was really lucky.
They grabbed a few more guys–one who looked like Jerry Garcia, was wearing a Peace Love shirt, and told us that the police wouldn’t arrest us if we just sent out a healing vibe. A Democrat behind us had also been saying that the police couldn’t arrest us; however, the police shouldn’t arrest us, they’re not supposed to arrest anyone in a crowd without first giving a warning to disperse. There was no warning, there were just indiscriminate arrests. People that were just walking home from work, or from the bookstore, grocery shopping, and even tourists were all arrested. Neither Jerry Garcia’s positive energy or the Democrat’s pleads could stop them from being arrested. I was also singled out as one of the next ones to grab. They were like "Get that one with the yellow bandana." (Which, may I mention, was on my head, and not around my face.) So I was taken forward from the sidewalk, and placed in front of a car that was parked on the street.
First they took my backpack and searched it without asking, and without receiving any consent. I took out my cell phone, and placed it in my shorts. Next, they put my hands behind my back, and handcuffed me with plastic flexcuffs. Flexcuffs are not like normal handcuffs, they are adjustable, and you slide them to fit around the person’s wrist. Most of the cops slid them too tight, and they did that in my case, but not as bad as others. My wrists were definitely swollen the entire time I was in jail, and I have bruises around them too. I was then propped up on the car next to the radical looking boy that was in our group. They pulled him away pretty quickly, and I was stuck next to Jerry Garcia who tried to make the cops smile. On my other side, they brought over a legal observer. Legal observers are there to witness the proceedings, and act as witnesses. They were from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and wear bright green hats, thereby making themselves easily identifiable, and usually less arrestable. This man told me that they grabbed him, he thought, because he was making too many phone calls.
During this whole time, the police were also walking around with video cameras and taking pictures. This filming is highly illegal, but like the whole situation, it was going on anyway. There’s only so much of your face that you can hide when sitting, handcuffed, surrounded by police, especially when masks are illegal. I called my mother, and told her I was most likely going to be arrested, and I also had called my roommate and told her that I wouldn’t be coming home and she should call the NLG and tell them my name. As we were sitting there, they placed all our belongings in large clear plastic garbage bags. The whole proceedings took about 2 hours, and eventually they arrested J. There was a woman sitting further down from me, and they were trying to separate everything by gender. They pointed at her, and she was wearing a hat and glasses, but the police were really confused by her gender. They pointed and were like "Female?" And she was like, "Yeah." She got placed next to me, and then eventually we were moved to sit next to another group of girls. We were moved from there, and I was placed in a group with one other girl, and the rest were guys. They moved us down the street, and then took pictures with our arresting officers holding up our bag of belongings. They took three pictures and then led us up to a city bus.
The buses were being used during the RNC specifically to take prisoners to jail. My arrested group, which consisted of 6 people, 2 guys and 4 girls, sat in the way back, with PO Allen. J was also placed on my bus, but B was long gone. J sat next to me, and we all talked to PO Allen. Some people asked him questions, and he told us that he thought it was good to be arrested for what we believe in, or in other words, to be arrested for our beliefs (like, for example, freedom of speech and freedom to assemble.) He continued to tell us that if his daughters were out there, he would have arrested them too, and felt no different. I just want to make a little comment here about the police. I don’t like making generalizations, and so I will try not to about the police. There were some officers who were just sadistic and awful, and others who were generally caring. Also, the police in general did not want to be there either, working over 12 hour shifts, in a horrible environment (Pier 57) and the city government hasn’t even given the NYPD a contract, from my understanding. I don’t know the specifics of the situation, but I know that many police officers were not even getting paid for overtime. The majority of the people I talked to were also able to and willing to see the situation from the side of the police as well, and feel compassion for them. However, the people who were brutalized horribly, most definitely and most understandably, felt less compassion, and didn’t like the violent feelings they did experience towards the police.
We drove to Pier 57 in the city bus. I saw some friends of mine as we were stopped, and they performed the banana dance for me, which was amazing. They had not been arrested, luckily. J and I waved at other people on the street, showing them our hands in their flexcuffs. Eventually we pulled up to Pier 57 and sat in the bus for some time. I saw one of my friends outside waiting in a line to be put in a pen. Eventually they let us off the bus, and were stood in a line. Every two people were placed under the "protection" of an officer. They held our arms, and walked us in a line. My cell phone rang, and it was my roommate again. I picked it up on speaker phone, but someone higher up than the officer I was currently with took it away from me with the rest of my property. I was then led to a large pen.
Pier 57 is a large warehouse on the Hudson River which during the RNC obtained the nickname Guantanamo on the Hudson. The pens were like cages, with large metal fences with razor wire on top. There were no benches, and nothing placed on the ground. We were not given any blankets or anything of that nature. All we had were the clothes on our back. The ground was absolutely filthy, and if the general dirt wasn’t enough, it was full of toxic chemicals. There was diesel fuel and grease on the ground, and talk of asbestos that had never been properly cleaned. Since we were there at night, many people were tired and upset, and so laid or sat down on the ground. People were absolutely disgusting, black from head to toe. Anytime I touched my leg or arm, underneath my fingernails would just be covered in black dirt. I had showered in the morning, so this dirt was pretty much solely the result of Pier 57. Also, looking around, there were signs stating that it was a raw chemical storage area, and noted the names of some of the chemicals. Furthermore, there was a sign stating that people shouldn’t be back there without protective gear. I was wearing shorts and a tank top, which is definitely not enough to guard against the chemicals that were there.
When I got in the large pen, I saw my friend M from school, and we talked for a little bit. He told me some more about people that had gotten away, and people that hadn’t. I stood with him and J in line for the bathroom, and they ended up splitting up the line into men and women’s. The line led to 2 port-a-potties, a small water cooler, and a few moments of freedom from the handcuffs. Many people stood in line in the hopes that the police would put the cuffs on looser since they were already losing circulation. I stayed with them in the men’s line, and then eventually transferred to the women’s line. J came out from the men’s line, and his policeman had put his cuffs on loose enough so that he had been able to take them off. The line was moving at an incredibly slow pace, and so he went away for a bit, and when he came back he said his arresting officer had seen him, and tightened them so that they were incredibly tight. He left for a moment, and I talked to some of the women around me. One was a stand-up comedian/actress/writer who had recently moved to NY from Los Angeles. There were about three older women around me, and by older I mean, white/grey hair and one had a cane. They were not at the street party, but at a die-in. The majority of the people came from either the street party, Herald Square, the die-in, the public library, or just the general Madison Square Garden area, where they were arresting anyone and everyone.
I finally got into the bathroom, and when I came out, and had a few glasses of water, they were ready to put my cuffs back on. I told the officer that I had a circulation problem, and so could he please put them on less tight. He stated that he would double cuff them, which means linking two so that there is more leeway in between. He did that, and I twisted my head so that I would be able to watch, but he refused to do anything until I turned my head around. He told me he wouldn’t "help me out" unless I faced front. He made one somewhat more loose, so I was able to slip my hand out, but the other one was too tight, so unless I broke my thumb, I couldn’t get out of it.
J had been taken away by the police and I couldn’t find him anywhere when I came out. I sat with M and another boy, G, from my school. The group I was arrested with was all sticking together, and we were told that since our group was mixed gender it would take us longer to get processed. The police seemed to have no idea what was going on, and there seemed to be quite a lot of bureaucratic activities that no one understood. The police were from all the different boroughs and precincts. The two guys in our group were taken away first, and I had tried to fall asleep by sitting and leaning up against the fence. I rested somewhat but couldn’t get comfortable on account of being too cold.
By this time, a large number of people were milling about, and I recognized some medics. Medics are people trained in taking care of people at demonstrations primarily. They had balm for people’s wrists, and they carry around supplies in case someone gets pepper sprayed, or shot at with rubber bullets or pretty much any injury. The medics are very skilled, but since they are on the side of the activists, they are given no immunity from arrest. The entire marching band gathered together. I didn’t see as many people I knew as I thought I would, because they either came earlier than I did and were already separated by gender, or they came later when the Pier was too full. Someone joked and said it was like an RNC pre-party, except without any alcohol, but obviously the situation was much more serious than that.

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