This story was originally published at The Phoenix.
I wasn’t supposed to be sitting in a bar, my right elbow bent like a bastard, on the night of September 17, 2012. It was the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street – a movement I’ve been covering for about a year – and the plan was to be out in the streets, tweeting, taking pictures, and scribbling obscenities in my notepad. That’s what I do. I’m a reporter. It’s my fucking job.
But I wasn’t on the streets, recording so much senseless brutality. Instead I was a victim of it, having gotten viciously tackled and abused less than two hours after reporting for duty. I hardly planned for this; if I had, I would have left my weed at my motel. But having covered comparable actions in more than 20 American cities over the past year, I’ve learned how to get my story without getting bagged. Or so I thought.
I intentionally slept through the early morning Occupy efforts to troll Wall Street suits as they arrived at work. I’d been up late tailing protesters to Times Square, plus I’ve written about journalist mistreatment in such circumstances, and had an inkling that there would be mass arrests during the rush hour festivities. It turned out that hunch was on point; when I showed up at noon in Battery Park, most people were rapping about how ugly the AM actions got.
After surveying the crowd of several thousand in Battery and smacking back some water, at about 1:15pm I went to work, and headed north toward Zuccotti Park. But between the tourists, cops, and activists there, every slab of pavement was mobbed, and I didn’t even enter the old encampment. Instead I followed about 100 protesters – an intriguing mix of hardcore Occupiers and labor picketers – east on Liberty Street.
It was hardly different from any other hot situation that I’ve covered. Signs were held, chants were yelled, and after about 10 minutes of people lambasting Chase bank, cops ordered everyone off of the sidewalk. I was in the street – tweeting, taking notes and pictures – when a cop chased me across the pavement and away from the action: “YOU – GET ON THE [OTHER] SIDEWALK – IT’S THE THING MADE OUT OF CONCRETE.”
No problem. I went exactly where they told me to go. But soon after, so did the crush of protesters, who by that point had been joined by at least another 100 comrades heading north on William Street. Once there, they all began to pile into a courtyard up some steps, but I stayed on the sidewalk, obeying orders, and snapping pics of what seemed like an imminent dispersal. That’s when the ringleader cop in the white shirt and black leather cloves pointed directly at me. All I heard was, “CHOPPER – SICK BALLS!”
I must be a seriously fat shit because, somehow, my nose didn’t hit the ground as I was pushed, grabbed, and tackled while standing alone, with no one nearby to cushion the blow. It did hurt, though, especially since despite not battling back, I was repeatedly jabbed in the lower back and told to stop resisting. Pleas for my cellphone, which went flying when they sacked me, and my screaming “I’M A JOURNALIST” just made the fuzz angrier.
One reasonable cop did rescue my horn, but only after one of his colleagues grabbed my right arm, forced my hand far enough up my back to touch my left shoulder, and twisted until we both heard the uneasy sound of muscle tearing. At that, they stood me up and asked if I was “okay,” to which I just nodded and continued to repeat, loudly, “I’M A JOURNALIST.” Surrounded by more than a dozen cops, I doubt that any civilians or protesters heard me ask for someone to call my editors in Boston.
Nobody was happy about how much shit I had in my pockets. Not me, not the dimwits digging through my pants, and not the nice young cop who was eventually assigned as my “arresting officer” despite having little to do with my beat-down. As they cleaned out my jeans near the police wagon, I was yelled at several times for carrying a notepad, pens, a towel, my camera, and a small container full of trees, which prompted some serious hilarity. When asked why I was holding marijuana, I told the officers that I smoke it to prevent anxiety – to which the biggest dope among them said, “Wait until the media finds out that you were working and doing drugs. You’re finished!”
After the dumbest cop of all accused me of trying to escape – while tied up, with my belongings in their custody, in the middle of a police state – the wagon doors were slammed, and I sat alone with no ventilation or air conditioning for about 10 minutes. Between the lack of oxygen and plastic cuffs choking my hands, I was sure that I would puke or pass out, but then the doors opened, and in came Tyler. A 21-year-old day trader from a wealthy Connecticuit family, Tyler was not a protester or a journalist. He was just a pedestrian who happened to be passing by when I got sacked, and who made the mistake of pulling out his cell phone to record the craziness.
Tyler was absolutely freaked. On his way to lunch near Battery Park, his day had taken a dramatic turn, and by the time he wound up in the meat wagon with me, dude was really bothering the cops. I told him to shut the fuck up – several times – and for the most part he followed my directions, except for when he asked, half-seriously, if we were going to be water-boarded. To diffuse the situation and calm him down, I made a joke about there being seat belts in the bus, which only a contortionist could possibly fasten while cuffed from behind.
While in custody, I made it a point to tell every cop I came in contact with that I’m a journalist, and was either ignored or ridiculed each time. One steroid fiend with a pre-school education quipped, “So you’re one of the blogger idiots who thought you wouldn’t get arrested protesting.” Another cop at the station took my business card to a superior officer, who looked at it, then glanced at me, and determined there was no way that I was really a reporter.
After a not-so-awful booking process in which my balls were barely grazed, I was led into the holding cell where about 75 protesters were hanging and chanting. I realized right away that they were entertaining company, not to mention a diverse scrum if there ever was one. Before long I was trading arrest stories with New York anarchists, a senior citizen from Maine, two teenagers – aged 15 and 16 – who had come down from Philadelphia, an NLG volunteer who still had his green cap on, a minister from Somerville, two Veterans for Peace, and an aspiring MC who spit all types of flames for us to nod to.
If there’s one thing I’ve always found about Occupiers, it’s that they know how to flip shitty situations inside out. This was especially true in the can, a despicable 800-square foot dungeon with flickering fluorescent lights, two turd-filled toilet bowls, and a broken telephone. Given those conditions, activists used the slices of American cheese from our stale sandwiches to cover the security cameras. And when the five-gallon water jug was finished, they used it as a bongo until one of the steak boys came in to confiscate it.
Other highlights included seeing such familiar faces as Noah McKenna from Occupy Boston, and John Knefel, a fellow journalist who does the internet show Radio Dispatch, which I’m sure will be waxing about this. And how could I forget the New York Occupier who, through the bars, kept berating a cop who was watching movies on his phone? Or the officer who entered the pen to tell the 16-year-old from Philly that his father had been contacted, and that his parents were extremely pissed off. We all got a real kick out of that one.
After roughly five hours of watching officers struggle with tall piles of paperwork – the NYPD apparently has yet to upgrade from pens and pads to computers – my name finally got called. So with Tyler and another new friend – Paul Mayer, an 81-year-old Catholic priest from New Jersey who had been in since about 8am – I collected my belongings (though they kept my weed) and walked with a desk appearance ticket for December 5, when I’ll argue that if anyone was guilty of “disorderly conduct,” it was the pack of Neanderthals who rammed me into that “thing made out of concrete.”
It should go without saying that, while I didn’t get to report as planned, the day was hardly a waste. Though half of my cellmates expected to be arrested for civil disobedience, an equal number had been fucked like me, and assaulted, cuffed, and stuffed because some dope in a uniform disliked the way they looked. Hearing their stories reinforced everything that I already knew about the extreme savagery that’s been aimed at this movement, especially in New York. To quote Mobb Deep, “There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from.” No woman either, as it turns out.
As for Tyler – he was kind enough to offer me some bong hits at his apartment near Union Square, where we got wicked stoned and ate tacos before I got to writing this. At 2pm yesterday, he was an aspiring broker who was walking to lunch, when he got violated by people who, up until that moment, he thought were there to protect him. By 4pm, Tyler was chanting in solidarity with a horde of Occupiers. And by the time that we got out, he was itching to head back towards Zuccotti and get more footage of police beatings. If that’s not the best birthday present that Occupy Wall Street could ask for, then I don’t know what is.