Recently I was arrested in Brooklyn while driving a van outfitted with a projector. Long story short, it was pretty horrible; friends and fellow activists have encouraged me to set down precisely what happened and put it in the public record.
If you don’t know, there is a van with a heavy duty projector that comes out of the roof like a turret. It was created by an OWS offshoot with funding from Ben Cohen, and was named The Illuminator. Some months ago, ownership and control was passed on to a campaign called the Stamp Stampede, created by Ben Cohen, and was referred to as the Project-O-Van.
A month ago, Animal New York, a website that covers culture and politics, arranged to carry out a joint action withthe Stampede campaign, using our van.. Together, we visited a number of locations throughout the city to project images highlighting the problem of money in politics corrupting our democracy. We visited the offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Trump Tower, some walls in Soho and the LES, and…. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s home on 79th Street.
It was exciting to get a picture of a ballot box being stuffed with money projected onto Bloomberg’s 3rd floor. As the residence is protected by police, our team was approached by cops who chatted with Animal New York folks and filmed our van. I stuck around for about one minute – just long enough to take a few photos.
The next evening I got called at 11pm by police from the NYPD’s Intelligence Division. They wanted my address so they could visit me at home and ask a few questions. It turned out they were researching the ownership of the vehicle and trying to track me down for many hours. An entire team was active on this ‘case’ which included sending two officers to Ithaca (4 hours away) to track down whoever lived at the address on our registration form. (This was the head of a nonprofit used briefly as a fiscal sponsor of the nonprofit that actually owned the vehicle.)
My concern was having some cop cars with lights flashing show up at my apartment building and then getting arrested in full view of the neighbors. So I persuaded them to meet me at the nearby police precinct (the 90th). I spent an hour answering questions about the van, it’s history, ownership, how it operates, and the absence of any ongoing threat to Mayor Bloomberg. They explained that the order to take such drastic measures (midnight interrogations & a trip to Ithaca) came from very high up, and they simply had to make sure that any and all questions could be answered. Their immediate superior in this was Mohammad Newaz of the Intelligence Division– the same unit that engages in counter-terrorism.
Fast forward to last Friday. Our van had spent 10 days at a garage for repairs. I was driving in a light rain for two blocks, when an unmarked SUV pulled me over. A plainclothes officer told me I was driving with my lights off in the rain – very unsafe. A few minutes later I was arrested for driving with a suspended driver’s license.
The arresting officer? Mohammad Newaz of the Intelligence Division. Did I mention there were three unmarked police vehicles that were part of this operation?
[Side note: perhaps a year ago, I was given a summons for riding my bicycle on a sidewalk in Bushwick. Stupidly, I neglected to take care of the matter. This was the reason why my license had been suspended, and I wasn’t aware that this had happened.]
There are many things that could happen at this point. For example, they could have allowed me to leave the vehicle where it was (I pulled over into a legal parking spot) and given me a ‘desk appearance ticket.’ Instead, they impounded the van ‘for evidence’ and sent me to Central Booking. I ended up spending 36 hours in jail. When I appeared before the judge for arraignment, attorney Yetta Kurland helped me to plead guilty to a violation, amounting to a $75 fine.
Many of my friends have been arrested before, usually with other protestors engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience, or for things like stepping off the sidewalk during a demonstration. I’ve been arrested before, mostly in Israel, where I once spent two months in prison for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. If you haven’t been arrested, please know this: it can be traumatic. The facilities in Brooklyn are filthy beyond belief, the food is disgusting, some of those detained are pretty ripe, and folks have to arrange themselves on the floor with no bedding or bunks. On the other hand, most of the cops behaved decently towards the detainees. (Yes, that surprised me.)
Thinking about what happened to me, the first thought that keeps rattling around in my head is how stupid I was to have allowed my license to become suspended. And then there are some other questions:
PS: I mentioned Yetta Kurland briefly. Knowing that she was out there working on my behalf was part of what kept me sane in jail. She is a fighter, a friend, and a leader. And she refused to take a dime for her services. God bless her.
PPS: At the start of the video embedded above, you can hear me say “this is of dubious legality, but fuck it!” Folks should know that was part of a conversation about parking, not about the operation of the Project-O-Van.
This story originally appeared at Daily Kos.
As one of those who was awaiting trial, I find the whole affair, from the illegal arrests, to the injurious treatment of myself and others, to the harassment of making us show up at multiple hearings, with many delays, to the propagandist stenography of the Boston Globe, to be a heinous abuse of justice.
Please keep reading to learn of the final bit of foul play by our government. They saw the writing on the wall and, once again, they abused their position of power and cheated.
Personal request: Please spread the word about how the Boston Globe is printing lies in service to the government.
I wanted my day in court. It was clear, they were going to delay and delay. Over one year later, I still did not have a trial date. I was also never told with whom I would be a co-defendant. (we wanted one trial and the judge insisted we be broken into groups of 5. He then only named one group and the rest of us were left in limbo) All of this was designed to make it impossible for us to prepare. Trying to crush our resolve and our souls slowly.
When we pushed back and filed a motion for charges to be dismissed, the judge said he would rule this coming Monday. Preempting what the judge might say in court, the City surreptitiously dropped the charges today. During the beginning of a blizzard. On a Friday afternoon. Without letting any of the defendants know. We didn’t get the courtesy a single communication to us. We all learned by reading it in the Boston Globe. And that is where we read outright lies:
but at least five defendants will contest the dismissal in hopes of fighting the accusations on their merits.
um, we filed the motion to have the charges dismissed. the hearing for that motion was this past Monday. that’s on the public record. high quality stenography, I mean journalism, there.
“Our clients feel that they deserve a day in court to contest their arrests on constitutional grounds,” said Jeff Feuer, of the National Lawyers Guild, which is defending the demonstrators. “They were using a public park.”
that’s my lawyer. I wonder when they got that quote. I’m pretty sure that’s from an earlier time when we were being asked about why we didn’t accept a plea deal. Since we’ve had no contact from anyone about this latest move of dropping the charges, I doubt this is a contemporary quote.
A spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said prosecutors decided to resolve the cases because the defendants had abided by certain restrictions imposed by the court for more than a year. Other protesters charged with trespassing and unlawful assembly had agreed to similar conditions in resolving their cases.
What restrictions? This is just outright fiction. I pleaded not guilty. I was not under any restrictions, as I had not been found guilty of any crime and I would not consent to be punished as though I had. I dare the Boston Globe to tell me exactly what restrictions I have supposed adhered to and to prove that I consented to and complied with them.
“There’s now parity with prior cases arising from the protests,” Jake Wark said. “They’ve served essentially the same sentences.”
This is their way of saving face. Trying to claim that we somehow accepted guilt by serving a pre-sentence. Who needs a trial when you can just get people to agree to “restrictions” and then say that they’ve “resolved” their case by “essentially” serving a sentence?I will not stand idly by and be portrayed in the public as though I have served a sentence for a crime I did not commit. Nor will I allow our justice system to proclaim that they can determine, without a trial or a sentencing process, that someone has paid enough of a penalty that they can consider the case resolved. It’s bullshit. And makes me wonder what they thought the judge was going to say, on the record, on Monday.
Here is the press release about this from the National Lawyers Guild, who are representing us.
NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD, Massachusetts Chapter, Inc.
14 Beacon St., Suite 407, Boston, MA 02108
Tammi Arford (defendant): 617-686-8892 National Lawyers Guild, Mass. Chapter
Andrea Hill (defendant): 574-206-5632 617-227-7335
CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST OCCUPY BOSTON DEFENDANTS DROPPED
Boston, February 8, 2013. Today, without any notice to defense counsel or the defendants, Suffolk County prosecutors went into court and in an unscheduled, unilateral action dismissed the criminal cases that had been brought against five Occupy Boston activists which were scheduled to begin trial on Monday, February 11. The prosecutors also dismissed all of the criminal charges remaining against the other Occupy Boston activists who were still awaiting trial as a result of the mass police arrests in October and December, 2011.We believe that the DA’s decision amounts to an acknowledgment of the unconstitutionality of the arrests and criminal charges that had been brought against hundreds of Occupy Boston participants, and shows that the state has finally
admitted that the demonstrations by Occupy activists were legal and constitutionally protected.
Fully ready to contest the charges at trial, the defendants and their representatives from theNational Lawyers Guild (NLG) had subpoenaed Mayor Menino, Police Commissioner Ed Davis, and Nancy Brennan (former head of the Greenway Conservancy) to explain why the City of Boston and its police department unconstitutionally applied the Massachusetts trespass and unlawful assembly laws to impinge upon Occupy Boston participants’ rights to assemble, to express their protected speech, and to petition the government. In addition, they had also subpoenaed Joshua Bekenstein and Mitt Romney (of Bain Capital), and Robert Gallery (CEO of Bank of America) to address their role in constructing and perpetuating excessive corporate power and an economic system that favors the wealthiest 1% of the population at the expense of the remaining 99%– an undemocratic system in which the voices of the people are ignored. The police action in arresting occupiers demonstrated that voices of conscience that speak out against
social and economic inequality are not only ignored, they are unlawfully silenced by the state’s use of violence, fear, threat, and repression.
This decision by prosecutors comes after 14 months of delay, during which defendants were repeatedly required to show up for court dates, only to have their day in court and their right to a jury trial delayed time after time. Defendants and their NLG lawyers spent months working to prepare a case that would potentially embarrass the City and set valuable precedent that would reaffirm the constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.
In making this decision, Suffolk County prosecutors have not only prevented the defendants from having their day in court, they have employed yet another way to trample upon those who voice dissent and discouraged them from challenging injustice and inequality in this country. In fact, a spokesperson from the District
Attorney’s office today admitted that these defendants, who never had the chance to present their case to a judge or jury, “served a sentence” imposed unilaterally by the actions of the District Attorney without ever having been found guilty of any criminal offense.
### END ###
Don’t be complicit in the repression of voices of dissent. Please take in the way this was handled: peaceful protesters arrested by using a battalion of militarily-armed riot police, then dragged through repeated courtroom delays, then charges dropped with a statement that they had “essentially” served a sentence. See how that works? Guilt determined and sentence handed down without the bother of a pesky trial.Raise your voices, people. When these things happen, we need to yell louder that we will maintain our rights.
Idaho Springs, CO–Yesterday a highly militarized police force arrived at the home of 63 year old Sahara Donahue to evict her from her residence of 24 years. She was petitioning US Bank for an additional 60 days to remain in her home, so she could have some time to find a new place to live, secure her belongings and leave her home with dignity. She came to the Colorado Foreclosure Resistance Coalition and Occupy Denver General Assembly to ask for our help. She knew no one in Occupy Denver prior to reaching out. We immediately started mobilizing to try to get her the assistance she needed and a group went up to her house for the first rumored eviction on Thursday 10/25. When that eviction didn’t happen, we planned an in-town action at US Bank on Monday for Sahara to try to find someone to speak with about her situation, with carpools up to her house later that day as the eviction was said to be scheduled for Tuesday 10/30. Occupiers laid barricades from fallen trees to prevent moving trucks and workers from entering the property and were able to stave off the eviction for a few hours.
At 2:45pm ten or more truckloads of police in full combat gear armed with live-ammo AR-15’s, and grenade launchers arrived on the scene & forced occupiers to the ground at gun point. Police then made their way to the house, broke down the front door, threw Sahara to the ground in her own kitchen and pointed their guns at the heads of a mother and son who were in the house with Sahara along with others. They continued to break items in the house as they searched it. They unplugged the modem, which was the only mode of communication as there was no cell phone coverage in the area, in order to stop the livestream and all communications.
After the livestream cut out, the Occupy Denver legal team spent a harrowing hour in communication blackout wondering if they would be receiving calls from the hospital instead of the jail this time. This psychological violence did not stop one brave activist from jumping into the bucket of the bulldozer that was going to tear through the barricades and forced the operator to stop for several minutes. Three arrests were made, two activists were assaulted and all have been released. Many of the people on the ground have survived multiple occupations and riot cop lines but all agree that this was the most surreal and violent state repression they have experienced protesting. There has been overwhelming community support as other activists and concerned people watched the unnecessary militarized drama unfold online. Everyone is asking “Seriously, why are they in military gear?” All captions for the following photographs are actual comments made on the Occupy Denver Facebook Page.
Sheriffs, SWAT, and Assault Rifles – A Foreclosure Story by Michael Steadman
Idaho Springs, Colorado may seem like a quiet, peaceful, and even quaint little town off I-70 in the mountains west of Denver. However, in the early afternoon of October 30, 2012, the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s office proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that looks can be extremely deceiving. Make no mistake; this is not a kindhearted Mayberry RFD type of law enforcement. This was a tactical, military style assault against unarmed, peaceful protesters.
But first, let’s go back a bit in order to give you a little better understanding of the events leading up to, as well as during their demonstration of excessive use of force.
Sahara Donahue has lived in her home for over 20 years, has been a volunteer in her community, and was a decent law abiding citizen. She suffered injuries from a near-fatal accident, including a head injury that was not properly diagnosed until over a year after the accident. She could no longer perform the duties of her job, and therefore was forced to rely on the generosity of friends to help pay her mortgage for several years. She made every attempt to communicate and work with the banks, and even retained the services of an attorney, in the hopes of finding some resolution to keep her home. However, the banks (as well as a corrupt realtor) apparently had different plans.
These are protestors they are standing over with machine guns???? -L.R.
After she was given a run-around by US Bank, several of us made our way up the canyon to stand with her and support her in case the eviction went through the following day. Later in the day we were informed that the only compromise offered to Sahara involved her immediate eviction – BUT – they would be magnanimous enough to store her things for 30 days. Those of us at the house began planning our course of action for the remainder of the night as well as for Eviction Day.
We barricaded the driveway with fallen trees in order to limit access to the house, and held several impromptu meetings in order to discuss our tactics. Sahara’s wishes were for us to be respectful when the Sheriff arrived, since she has a history with this community. We agreed that we would all respect her wishes and approach the situation in a peaceful manner. We were led to believe that the realtor would be arriving with a crew of workers to remove items from the house, and the Sheriff would be there to “keep the peace.” Sahara had also asked one of the group’s members to be a spokesman. He would speak directly with those who arrived and deliver legal letters to the Sheriff. This way things would proceed smoothly and help eliminate any unnecessary escalation.
As night closed in we shared stories, discussed ideas, and enjoyed each other’s company in a very peaceful positive environment. Eventually people began to settle down for the night. Most were sleeping in the house on couches or on the floor, while I and another went out to sleep in our tents beside the barricade in case of any unexpected late night surprises.
The following morning we all began to stir as coffee was brewing. There seemed to be an overall sense of optimism among the group. We received word of some more people coming up to join us, and we had another meeting to determine tactics regarding the expected arrivals for the eviction. Several of us collected more timber to fortify the barricades, others were making food, and everyone was ready for whatever was coming (or so we thought).
The first arrival of the day was a truck hauling a dumpster that was apparently to be left there for the workers to put her things in. Seeing the barricades, he got out and spoke with us. He was very friendly and supportive towards us, and then called his supervisor who after several minutes instructed him to bring the dumpster back. We had our first victory of the day and the excitement filled the air.
A while later a white van filled with workers from a “day labor” company pulled up and stopped. These were the men who were supposed to remove her belongings from the house. They needed to wait for the Sheriff to arrive, and since there is no cell phone service in the area, they just relaxed and spoke with us for a while. We even tried to recruit a few of them to stand with us, but to no avail. Finally they decided to leave in order to go back down the mountain to find a place with better reception to make calls. We all began a second celebration as we filled the air with singing, “Na na na na, hey hey hey, GOOD-BYE!”
Things were really starting to look up for us. We felt we had made some incredible progress. Then we heard a vehicle coming. Around the corner I saw a Sheriff’s vehicle through the trees as it was approaching. Then I saw behind it another, and another, and another. About 10 vehicles filled with men in what appeared to be full battle gear (and assault weapons already in hand) began to fill the road in front of the house. In all our planning and meetings, we never expected this kind of response. After all, we were led to believe that the Sheriff was only going to be there to “keep the peace.” And don’t forget to keep in mind that we were unarmed, peaceful demonstrators.
The spokesman of our group got on the megaphone and began trying to get everyone to converge up at the house, but it was already too late. The Tactical Response Team had already reacted. As we were rushing up the driveway, we were cut-off by several men gripping their assault rifles as they began shouting at us to get on the ground on our knees. To my left, the spokesman was coming up, shouting on the megaphone, attempting to discern who was in charge since he had the letters to deliver. The officers didn’t care, in fact as the spokesman was telling them he had letters, one of the officers shouted back, “No, you don’t have letters!” and they continued ordering us to get on our knees. We remained standing and continued trying to open up some kind of conversation.
At this point, I was standing there with the spokesman, and a few others. Mind you, I am about 6’2” tall and about 200 lbs. The others standing with me were as big, if not bigger, with the exception of an older gentleman to my left. Since none of us would get on our knees, these fully armed, militarized officers decided to arrest the smallest and oldest person there. With all their firepower and intimidation techniques, they targeted the least imposing person there. They put him face down in the dirt and gravel, and cuffed his hands behind him with their zip-tie handcuffs.
Finally, the man in charge came forward, but when he was presented with the letters, he informed us that he would take them but it didn’t matter. He then folded them up without even really looking at them. It was obvious that those with the money and the guns couldn’t have cared less about the injustice taking place, and they were ready and willing to do whatever was necessary to shut us down.
I was offered a ride by one of the activists, since the Sheriff was so gracious to let some of us go without further incident. As we made our way down the private drive, we saw at the bottom of the hill the bulldozer that was just waiting to tear through our barricades, and the van of day labor workers ready to fulfill their job descriptions. After a couple turns down Hwy 103 another realization occurred to me. There on the shoulder of the road was an ambulance waiting on stand-by. Maybe I am mistaken, but it would appear that the Sheriff’s Department was prepared to do, and had every intention of doing, whatever was necessary to obey their bank’s wishes.
We pulled into a local convenience store after making it into town. As we sat collecting our thoughts, and trying to decompress after the events that had transpired, I was struck by something else. I watched the people of the town as they nonchalantly passed by and it occurred to me that this was a sort of metaphor about our entire society today. Just up the hill, innocent people were having guns shoved in their faces, people were being evicted from their homes, and much more. At the same time, the rest of the town went about its daily routine, completely oblivious as to what was going on just around the corner.
“Military tactics, Military equipment, Military mindset. Looks like this nation is occupied by the bankers military.” -K.Y.
Later around 6:45pm Occupiers and other residents returned with Sahara to help her sift through her things which were now thrown in piles on the outskirts of the property. Many of her possessions were destroyed by the movers. One Occupier who was there for the armed raid, and stayed to help said, “Seeing these things that represented a large cross-section of this woman’s life strewn across the front yard was one of the worst things I have ever had to witness in my life. Why is the general population letting the big banks do this to us?” As the temperature started to drop as night set in, the only thing people could do was to cover her piles of belongings with tarps, as there was nowhere for her to take her things. Sahara was only able to take her two dogs, Rodeo and French Fry, and what ever she could fit in her small vehicle. She is currently staying in a motel, and is uncertain as to where she will be able to live next. Occupiers will continue to assist her until her living situation has stabilized.
“To live outside the law you must be honest.” –Bob Dylan
I am not sure why I am thinking of these words right now. I am trying to come up with some coherent thoughts, some wisdom about Leah-Lynn Plante, the courageous young woman cited for contempt of court on October 10, after her third refusal to testify before a grand jury, as well as Matthew Kyle Duran and Katherine Olejnik who remain imprisoned for contempt of the same grand jury. Before her release on October 17th, Plante spent a week in a Washington state federal prison, largely in solitary confinement, where she could have remained for the next 18 months.
I am thinking about what I have lived through the past 18 months. I saw some of my closest friends marry and others have a beautiful daughter. I more or less finished grieving the loss of my mom. I lost a friend. I’ve loved and felt love. I’ve traveled far, and also extensively around my own neighborhood. I saw Occupy Wall Street bloom from the table of a diner in upstate New Jersey and witnessed Occupy Portland in all its wonders. I’ve seen numerous friends and acquaintances do amazing work. I traded some songs with great musicians and played others for loved ones. Despite being a mediocre painter, I’ve painted. I sent people drawings from Italy — childish compositions that would probably offend the core DNA of anyone who has ever dropped a jam jar on the floor.
With people I hold close I made great zucchini relish and even better tomato sauce; brewed beer both superlative and crappy. I baked about 40 loaves of bread for one of the aforementioned weddings, at which I teared up as someone played Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live’s to Fly.” I cried as I held my wife’s hand and listened to Ray Davies sing “Waterloo Sunset,” and I was in paradise. I saw Roy Haynes — fucking Roy Haynes who has played with some of our greatest artists — drum like he was 27 instead of going on 87. I made many people laugh and too many cry.
I thankfully haven’t seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.
I made new friends who enrich my life and experienced great generosity at their hands and the hands of strangers. I had a pleasant Christmas with my dad. Together we walked a few miles along the mid-Jersey coastline with my brother John. I woke most mornings with my wife at my side. Sometimes at night I put my ear on her chest and listened to her heart beat (listen, listen, listen), heard it pick up pace, and then found my head embraced in her arms. Too many times to count — each one always precious — she has given me the smile that invites me into a rare place where I feel secure, safe and sound.
I have had all these experiences over the past year and a half because of freedom. The Tea Party folks love to talk about their love of freedom. They and their ilk suck on flags and the Constitution, yet spit contemptuously upon their meaning. Liberals talk for the nth time about how this is the most important election in my lifetime — that a dark curtain will descend if Romney wins. Maybe so, but we are far too many years into the criminal and murderous madness of Afghanistan and Iraq — wars supported by Conservatives and Liberals alike. I am told, this latest time by Joe Biden and Paul Ryan in a recent debate, echoing every politician of my lifetime, that it is the soldiers who are defending our freedom abroad. These soldiers being thrown, blackmailed, forced, volunteered, or otherwise crucified on a cross of oil, are surely defending something. But it is not freedom.
As far as I can see, it is people like Plante, Duran, and Olejnik who truly defend freedom by giving up their own. The grand jury once had a reasonable and noble purpose: it prevented the king from shunting people into perpetual darkness simply because he opposed their actions. What was once a check upon the abuse of power has now become a tool of power, used to break butterflies upon wheels. The grand jury exists to coerce people into snitching on family, friends, co-workers, and co-activists in order to destroy movements that seek justice in an unjust world.
I briefly met Plante a few weeks ago by chance. She is slight of build, in direct physical contrast to how our popular culture typically depicts those of courage and fortitude. Though my capacity to function in social gatherings is, shall we say, less than optimal, I hope I managed to convey my admiration to this young person.
She smiled. I will never forget that. Through all the duress, she smiled. I hope she can continue smiling in a world that has already done its best to make sure she never does so again. I as well hope that when Duran and Olejnik are released, they too can smile, sooner than later.
For the next 18 months they may be giving up their personal freedom because the powers that be have forced their hands. Duran and Olejnik are choosing prison — and Plante made that same choice — because the government of the United States — much of the representative portion of which will be elected in a few weeks — has offered them a devil’s choice: tell us what we want to know or go to jail. In steadfastly refusing to bow to the grand jury, they have chosen principle.
It is because of people like Plante, Duran, and Olejnik, who understand that one of the most important aspects of freedom is standing up to those who oppose it, that I — and hopefully all of you reading this — will be free to spend the next 18 months in the sunlight and darkness of our own choosing.
Plante reportedly received over 200 pieces of mail in four days, something that may have contributed to her release on October 17th. Please take some of your time to write Duran and Olejnik and let them know you appreciate their sacrifice. Send them your admiration. Send them your love. Two hundred times over.
They have earned it.
You can mail Matthew and Katherine at:
Matthew Kyle Duran
PO Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198
PO Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198
You can find information about Matthew and Katherine, and advice about composing letters to resisters at:http://supportresist.net/letters.html.
Photo by Pete Shaw.]]>
My State-Sponsored Assault, Courtesy of the NYPD: Journalist John Knefel recounts his violent arrest by the NYPD during #S17 and his subsequent experience in custody.
A Journalist’s Arrest at #S17: “I’ve learned how to get my story without getting bagged. Or so I thought.”
What’s Wrong With This Picture?: The Story of My Arrest by the NYPD: During the Occupy anniversary protests, a photographer is arrested for taking photos on a sidewalk outside the press pen.
My comrades and I had decided to gather extra early to allow time for prep and a good meal. 5am came quickly and by 6 we were on our way into the bowels of Manhattan.
Having dedicated much of my time over the past few weeks to the Education Zone with my affinity group All In The Red, Harrison and I made our way to South Street Seaport, careful to keep our eyes open. A small crowd had amassed by 6:30 and by 7am. After a short strategic review, our group seemed excited and prepared to face the day.
The following hour and twenty four minutes seemed to play in both slow motion and fast forward. Time frozen and flashing before my eyes. Then my arms were behind my back and I was being slammed into a concrete wall. Again.
“Am I being detained?” I screamed.
Hula hoops falling to the sidewalk. Clearly, I was being detained.
“Am I being detained?!” cameras came rushing.
“Shut the fuck up” I didn’t see his face.
“I do not consent to a search.”
“Do you want to make this difficult?”
Wrists twisting inside flexcuffs, backpack slipping from my shoulder, trapped. The weight immediately sent searing pain up my arms. All I could do was shake my head and keep my mouth shut; I have seen what they do to people who complain. Comrades caught my eye from across the street. I motioned that I was okay and to contact the NLG.
Just as soon as it began.
I was in flexcuffs, with my hoops, in the back of a NYPD van.
To my surprise the following hour was spent reasonably comfortable. Air conditioning, Prince sing-a-longs and real conversations about mutual aid were the last things I expected when I was shoved in that van, but thankfully the first things I received. My “arresting officers” were actually School Safety Uniformed Division Officers, admitting themselves they would rather “be dealing with real crime”. Completely out of their element in lower Manhattan, they eventually started asking me for directions. I kept quiet and enjoyed the temperature-controlled view of the 99 Revolutions. Heart growing with pride, we pulled it off!
After what seemed like hours we arrived at 55 Water, where my van had been sent to pick up “the other prisoners.” Little did I know that as I was being moved between vans, my photo was being taken by a CNBC journalist–hoops and all. The caption would later read “Additionally: hula hoops confiscated”
From 55 Water, van fresh with new (political) “prisoners” we were transported to 1PP for processing. Each “prisoner” had their possessions tagged and photo taken, affixed with a “mass arrest” sticker and placed in a holding cell determined by gender discrimination.
To my pleasure my colleague at Occupied Stories, Julia, was in the same intake cell along with some other familiar faces. It’s always comforting to go through times like these with friends. After additional paperwork and a denied phone call, I was transferred to a concrete holding cell with four other women. A steel platform with dirty blue gym mats hung from the wall and the air reeked of piss. This was my home for the next 10 hours.
BUT WE OCCUPIED THE SHIT OUT OF IT! We shared stories, everyone having a good laugh when I told them how my “arresting officer” wanted to cut my cuffs: “What am I supposed to say? Prisoner did obstruct pedestrian and vehicular traffic with a hula hoop performance? We don’t have charges for this shit.” We stood shoulder to shoulder forming our own “Pee-poles Wall” singing “Solidari-pee Forever” whenever a sister had to use the facilities. It’s amusing to me that after all this time the NYPD still thinks arrest will drive us away from the movement. Some of the strongest bonds I have made since coming to Occupy have been forged in a jail cell.
The final hours of waiting passed painfully slow. I answered questions to the best of my knowledge, having taken some Legal training courses in the event that something like this would happen and I tried to keep everyone in the cell calm and comfortable. Unfortunately, there is only so much that can be done before the madness of a cage sets in. Catching a glimpse of my arresting officer down the hallway I called out to him, my new-found best friend, even offering a birthday card in exchange for my release.
It was roughly 6pm when the key turned in the lock of the cell door. Finally. As he led me down the corridor towards release the men’s cell erupted! Weaving through hands banging on plexiglass, the faces of my male comrades began to emerge. All of them making the same hand motion, a heart. We were all in it together.
After another processing and paperwork line I could finally see daylight, along with my hoops! Once one of the officers realized that I was “The Hula Hoop Girl” his coworkers were talking about all day, he immediately asked me to “do some tricks.” I couldn’t help but oblige as I walked through the gates of 1PP and into the arms of my jail support team. The only people left on the sidewalk.
I first realized that the “get him” was directed at me when one of the officers reached up and grabbed my right hand, which was holding the camera. The other officers moved to restrain me from behind, not allowing me to remove the camera wrist strap before applying plastic cuffs. I did not resist or complain to the officers, as it was obvious that they already understood the improper nature of this no-warning arrest. The telephoto camera lens was still engaged behind my back as one of the officers squeezed it shut with great force. I could feel the gears grinding as the end of the phone was still in my hand. The officer continued grinding his thumb into the phone screen as the others patiently waited for the glass to break.
That didn’t work so they turned their attention to ripping the phone from the tough vinyl fabric strap that was still stuck under the plastic handcuffs. The one officer alone could not break the strap so two officers pulled together. The strap was so strong that they had to leverage their weight against my body to break it. The cameras metal and plastic casing broke before the vinyl strap.
Several television news crews had surrounded us by this point, at which time I began yelling to the cameras that the officers were taking my phone and trying to break it. One of the cops then deliberately held up the phone for the cameras to see and placed it into my backpack. The camera phone still appears to function so I will not be requesting reimbursement.
My other complaint concerns an Officer Akopov(shield #19909). He was working at approximately 9AM in the first room that new arrestees enter during the booking process. Akopov searched me in one of two small cubicles located within this same room. He immediately exhibited mild physical aggression, grasping and pushing with more force than necessary.
I remained casually polite in tone and demeanor, following Akopov’s instructions to first remove a shirt and belt. The pants did not fit without a belt so I was going to ask for a rubber band to hold them up. “This is going to be a problem………..”, I said, not having time to get the words out before Akopov said, “It’s not a problem for me. Buy clothes that fit.”
He next asked for the elastic band around my ponytail. The band came off entangled with a few pieces of my long brown hair. “You’re disgusting”, said Akopov. My pants had fallen down to my ankles because he would not let me hold them up. The front of the cubicle was open and female arrestees were in the room. Akopov asked me to take my socks off then immediately added “get a move on” although I remained moving at a quick pace. I do admit loosing verbal patience with Akopov at this point, when I asked, “Are you a smart guy? A tough guy?”. He responded. “I’m not a tough guy…….but I’m a smart guy.”
Akopov’s behavior presents the potential to develop towards violence if he is assigned to work with other officers who also exhibit aggressive personality traits. Akopov and the NYPD officers who ordered over a hundred no-warning arrests on September 17th remain proud as they pollute the liberty of this great city.
And let me add, there was a group of people from Occupy and the National Lawyers Guild waiting on an adjacent street near the police station after the NYPD took nine hours of my life. They clapped and cheered as each person was released. The cops were not yet done making up laws for the day. A group of officers appeared saying that we could not stand on this 50-foot-wide segment of sidewalk. They herded us like cattle for one block, threatening arrest the whole time. Everyone complied, knowing after today that NYPD culture has gone completely rouge from the US constitution.]]>
“Yesterday showed us how high the mountain is that we have to climb—and that it’s worth it. The harshness of police response, as I have written elsewhere, is inevitable due to the underlying threat that OWS continues to be. That threat is not that we will actually close the stock exchange, any more than that Rosa Parks’ refusal to move back on the bus was simply about seating arrangement on public transportation. State violence escalates when a movement threatens the authority of political and economic elites…not just about who owns stock and where people sit, but about everything: elections and levels of profit, who should pay for our debt and who deserves to be in jail. As long as OWS threatens to create this new discourse, we will continue to be met with violence and repression. We’re just going to have t get used to it as we grow.
“But yesterday down in that holding cell, I saw again why OWS is worth it. Early on I got to have a long talk with Dien, a resident at Montefiore with an 11-day old daughter, who sat down near me because he sees what our health care system is doing to poor people. He plans to be practicing social medicine some day, a program build on the liberational work of the Brazilian educator Paulo Friere—the same work that I use in my community organizing classes. About five hours into a long day, Luis, the young Latino arrested by the Wall Street bull, energized us all with two powerful OWS raps filled with rage about the present and hope for a better future. 15 guys, ranging in age from 21 to 71, sat and talked for an hour about strategies for our future—we listened and learned form each other, a rainbow of possibility sitting in a small, cramped circle.
“Sure, there were a few guys in there whose style drove me nuts, some crusties I’m convinced use their constant rage for personal, not political reasons. But you know what? About four hours in, we were all kinda’ down: we’d eaten those god-awful pb & j or American cheese sandwiches (now, thanks to Bloomberg, with tasteless wheat rather than white bread), it was clear we were not leaving for a while, and everyone was bored. One of those crusties had a better idea. He walked over to the empty water cooler jug and began to drum. Another guy joined in on the stand, getting into a nice, solid rhythm that carried throughout the cell. We began to pick it up, tapping on our benches in response. Soon the beat was everywhere, loud and strong, and fast.
“Two cops entered, pissed off, and took the water jug out. The drummer smiled, and walked over to the garbage can. Carefully removing the liner filled with leftovers (including empty 1%–1 per cent!—milk cartons) and began to drum again. The sound filled the room, even louder this time. 120 pairs of hands joined in, a little singing and whooping thrown in across the space.
“That drum soon left the room, too. Then Luis gave us his first OWS rap song. We all were talking again. The strategy group formed. Two high school kids from Pennsylvania were let in the room, a little scared. A cheer went and embraced them in welcome. They smiled, happy, aware that they were safe, too. For a few hours on September 17, 2012, One Police Plaza’s holding cell was transformed. It was OWS’s Holding Commons, where unity was possible and hope lived, too.”
– Steve B
(Professor of community organizing at Hunter College)
This is what solidarity looks like!
– Lucky Tran –]]>
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.
From there I joined some friends and walked toward Wall St. once more. There was a group of protesters on either side off Broadway near Wall Street, mixing with business men and women heading to work. There were police horses behind the barricades, lots of police in the street and police cars and prisoner transport buses parked. When I stepped off the curb into the crosswalk during a chant of “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” I must have caught the attention of one of the white shirts. When it became clear that even with the red light I would not be able to cross I returned to the sidewalk but I saw a white shirt point at me to a new line of police that had just arrived. I tapped my friends on the shoulder and said, “I have to go, I think the police are targeting me.” With that I felt someone grab my arm and pull me toward the street but I was able to jerk free and duck under some scaffolding. I ran a few seconds before a large man stepped in front of me, blocked my path and gave me what amounted to big bear hug. I assume this man was an undercover police officer. Within seconds uniformed police that had pushed through the crowd, forced me against the metal scaffolding and tightened cuffs around my wrists.
They walked me onto the police bus where I had a front row seat to watch some clergy sit down in front of Wall Street in an act of civil disobedience. When the police crammed thirty of us into a holding cell, our cuffs still on and increasingly painful as blood collected in our hands, swelling them against the hard plastic rings, an 81-year old priest I had watched lay down at the foot of financial power led us in song. “I’d like to share some freedom songs I first sang with Martin Luther King in the jailhouse of Selma, Alabama,” he said. We sang songs, the dozen women in the holding cell across from us joining in. Our voices pushed out beyond the bars, and we alternated singing with mic-checks and soapboxing why we choose to join the movement. The 81 year-old priest then mic-checked a message to the police, dozens of whom clogged the space between our cells. I cannot quote the words but clearly remember the meaning and emotion: We are all brothers and sisters in this struggle and I urge you to see us as allies in a common cause rather than enemies. We each repeated his eloquent words and I could see a burly police officer directly in front me nodding his head. At the close, he looked at the priest and placed his hand on his heart. It sent chills through my body.
Finally, my name was called, my cuffs cut, my person searched then led to an even larger holding cell. When I walked in I saw about one hundred people pressed together between bars and reinforced glass, sitting on wooden benches, lying on the concrete floor and standing in the spaces in-between. All of them were clapping. As each new prisoner was added to our cell, we clapped. We clapped when each female was lead past us to the women’s cells. There was a non-stop flow of cheer. The holding cell had been self-organized into a very crowded section against the cell door that was loud and boisterous, while at the far end near the two metal toilets was quieter and some people lay on the benches or floor, using their shoes as a pillow. Within the louder section there was also a small General Assembly that formed where people shared their arrest experiences and discussed tactics. Every few minutes as new prisoners were added we heard new tales from the outside: We shut down a Chase Bank; I was plucked off the sidewalk for no reason; we blocked the doors at Goldman Sachs; I was trying to take pictures of an arrest when they grabbed me; etc. etc. At various points some prisoners grabbed garbage cans or water jugs and started drumming. Everyone else quickly picked up the rhythm clapping their hands or banging on benches, walls and metals bars and a hundred of us made music together before the police stormed in and took away the makeshift drums. The time between the noises we made together were filled with hundreds of subversive conversations.
It was wonderful. Each time I heard a new story of the actions taking place on the street after I was picked up I felt like I was missing something; but I also knew the community we formed in our cells was one of the most incredible things that would happen all day; one of the most liberating things I would ever feel. I knew that just by going out with Occupy Wall Street I was risking arrest; and in fact that was a major motivation in coming out, to show that I will not be intimidated, to count my body among the opposition. The power of the system is never so naked as when it forces it’s dissenters into a metal cage. Only then does it become so transparent and so obvious that they will never control my actions, that they will never control my thoughts and suppress my hope for a different world, a better world.
When I was released, nine hours after I was detained, a group of friends were waiting for me with food and love, thus completing the experience and ending it with warmth and inspiration rather than fear. Yesterday, I was free.
– John Dennehy –]]>