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First Amendment | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Tag Archive | "first amendment"

#M17: Occupy Reignited


I boarded the World Trade Center-bound E train on March 17th (M17) not knowing what to expect when I got out on the other side, a few blocks away from the now infamous Zuccotti Park. It’s been a long winter for Occupy Wall Street. The past few months have seen the movement deal with increasingly violent repression and evictions nationwide, as well as – at least in New York City – a lot of internal bickering and debate on everything from nonviolence to funding sources to housing of occupiers. Many occupiers have been referring to winter as an “incubation” period. The mainstream media pretty much considers the movement dead. Whatever it is, it is vastly different than the Occupy Wall Street of 6 months ago. Or at least it was until M17, the movement’s six-month anniversary.

I spent most of the train ride to Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti’s reclaimed name) conjuring the many nights of elation and frustration I have had in that park – the countless general assemblies, free meals, cigarettes, stimulating conversations, rain storms, arguments, marches and finally, the brutal eviction that brought it all to a screeching halt. Since the eviction, the park had been empty. Or maybe barren is a better word. A cold (literally), lifeless slab of concrete in the valley of the gargantuan buildings surrounding  it. Whatever vitality we brought to that place had long been replaced with barricades, security guards, and an eerie stillness.

When I emerged in Lower Manhattan, I was hit by a wave of déjà vu. I could hear the drums and chants inside the park reverberating throughout the neighborhood. I realized that even the sound of the neighborhood had changed since the eviction. A flash flood of warm familiarity washed over me. On the six-month anniversary of our movement, I was transported back to its beginning. I picked up the pace and almost sprinted to the park. When I arrived, I found it once again brimming over with occupiers and police.

 It was wonderful to see the park electrified with people power again. That powerful feeling of remembrance and recognition continued to surge through my body like a kind of muscle memory being reawakened.

As soon I walked into the park, I witnessed someone being arrested by the NYPD. The mood was tense and rowdy. I was surprised by the number of police, all with a dozen or so zip-tie handcuffs hanging from their belts. I saw a few old friends and gave and received many hugs. We talked about the insane tug-of-war in which we are constantly engaged with the NYPD. They show up with batons, handcuffs, guns, and riot gear and raise the tension level in the park, then put the onus on us to deescalate. There were a few other arrests, and the police shouted at us where we could and couldn’t stand and what we couldn’t bring into the park.

Throughout the day, different marches left the plaza and came back to cheers and raised fists. It was as if we were in the midst of a mighty stretch after a long slumber. As afternoon turned to evening, the overall mood of the park shifted and the police presence seemed to taper off a bit. The chants going around and the drum circle in full swing filled the park with that familiar cacophonous buzz. There is something amazing about chanting and dancing around with complete strangers. One of the more popular chants of the day was taken from the Spanish Indignados and proclaims simply and rhythmically: “Anti-capitalista!” It was refreshing to hear so many chant that radical declaration. Even through the winter, we had kept our radical roots.

At 7pm, as customary, we had our general assembly (GA). This was my first time attending a GA in a good while, and by the time it was over I was re-enamored with direct democracy and twinkling fingers. There were hundreds in attendance – probably our biggest GA of the year. It was also surprisingly lacking in rancor or squabbling, except for the traditional begging of the drum circle to keep it down or move away from GA. We consensed on signing on to a letter calling for a federal investigation of the NYPD for spying in Muslim communities and broke out into discussion groups to talk about our ideas for May Day. There was a palpable spirit of camaraderie and solidarity in the air, and many OWS veterans commented to me that they felt truly transported to “the good ol’ days” before the eviction and even before the tents went up at Zuccotti, fighting with drummers and all.

After GA a large march which included Michael Moore and Dr. Cornel West arrived from the Left Forum. Suddenly there were over a thousand people communing in the park, some playing games, some doing interviews or making media, others just talking and smoking. There was a Capoeira circle, a mic-check speak out, and of course plenty of drums and dancing. The mood was jovial in spite of everyone’s noticing that the police presence seemed to be increasing as the night went on. At one point, a barrage of bag pipes could be heard on the southwestern corner of the park. This being St. Patrick’s Day, a small Irish marching band had either purposely or by coincidence found its way to Liberty Plaza, equipped with bag pipes and snare drums. The crowd in the park erupted with cheers and applause and ran to the park’s northern perimeter to greet the band. In a confused scuffle (at least from my vantage point) the police moved in, forced the band to stop playing and moved them to the other side of the street. One officer told me they feared the band would “cause a riot.”

Suddenly an orange net appeared. Usually, this means that you have been kettled by the police and are about to go to jail. But this orange net had the words “Occupy” and “99%” stenciled on it. A group of protesters were extending the net and creating a barrier between the police and the occupiers. I admit, being surrounded by that net gave me a creepy feeling , even though I knew it was ‘on our side.’ Yellow OWS caution tape started to go up all over the park too, tied on the trees and cutting through the crowd in odd angles. I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I could almost sense the tension in the park boiling over. An exorbitant number of police were amassing on the northern side of the park. I stood on one of the benches in the park to try to get some perspective, and I saw what all the fuss was about. A group of occupiers were erecting tents in the center of the park. The net, the tape, all of it, was to protect the tents. A light came on inside the first tent and the words stenciled on its side became visible: “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”

I watched as the tent was hoisted into the air and cheered with the crowd, but I knew that what had been a glorious and rejuvenating day would have an ugly ending. We paraded around with two tents for a bit, all of us enjoying what we knew were the last exquisite moments of our resurrection. Then, as if someone hit a fast forward button, we jumped from reliving those first amazing months of Occupy to November 15 – eviction day. Much like that night, the police lined up on the Broadway stairs and announced that the park was closed. They told us that being in the park was now an arrestable offense. And so those who were willing to risk arrest moved to create a human wall on the eastern end of the park, a few meters from the line of police officers. I moved toward the middle of the park and stood on a bench to see the NYPD march in and start arresting people. After about half an hour they had moved everyone out of the park and began erecting barricades around the park’s perimeter. After being pushed and shoved out of the park, those of us who remained stood on the sidewalk, most of us bewildered by the brute force we had just witnessed. We were on the western end of park, isolated from the far greater brutality happening on the eastern side. In the background I could hear people calling for a march.

By this point, I was both mentally and physically exhausted from this behemoth roller-coaster of a day, but I just couldn’t tear away. I ran through the gamut of emotions and questions we all ask ourselves in moments like these, trying to balance my sense of duty and solidarity with the sheer terror of the situation at hand and its possible outcomes. Do I want to get arrested? Or beat up? Is it worth it this time? In truth, I had to fight off the urge to wave the white flag and go home. But I was angry, dejected, and so was everyone else. In the end, I decided to march with my comrades.

A few hundred of us wound our way through Lower Manhattan, flanked all the while by police in scooters and squad cars. We turned sharply down side streets a few times, which seemed to confuse the police, but definitely caused confusion amongst the marchers. I found myself running down the sidewalks and streets with large groups of other occupiers just to keep up. This, plus the sheer volume of the police response, made for some moments of pandemonium. We took the streets several times throughout, prompting arrests and batons. Police smashed an occupier’s head against a glass door. We passed a least one broken store window (though it was unclear if it was broken by Occupy) and at one point on a side-street in the Village, some protesters emptied several trash receptacles into the streets to block the police. It worked, to everyone’s excitement. I saw several police scooters with trash and plastic bags caught in their wheel wells.

When the march reached E. Houston shortly after that, I decided to hop on the nearby F train and make the trip back to Queens. I wanted to stay, continue the march, be with my comrades, express my anger and my joy – but I just had to break away. I knew that things would only get uglier, and I was already delirious with a cogent mix of exhaustion, frustration, and the high of marching through the streets. It felt as if I had lived the whole history of occupy in the span of 10 hours. On the train ride home, I found myself thinking that despite its dystopian ending, M17 had been a success. It was a re-ignition of our imaginations; a reminder of all the beautiful things we built from scratch in that small park, and all the hardships that came with them, and how easily it can be wiped away.

Spring has definitely sprung at OWS, and it’s only the beginning.

– Danny Valdes –
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Occupy Tucson Continues to Occupy Public Land


Editor’s note: The accuracy of this story and the credibility of the author has been challenged by multiple people involved with Occupy Tucson. After you read the story, make sure to also read the comments.

 

It has been a long strenuous battle for Occupy Tucson with the City of Tucson to establish a hub on public land in order to practice freedom of speech and assembly. What started off as a series of ticket writing sessions and named ticket time stacked up to over eight hundred tickets in a matter of three months, became an unquestionable win from a group of people that held strong to their rights and belief that one person can make a difference.

Occupy Tucson began as a handful of people (Sky Napier, Michael Migliore, Jon McLane, Craig Barber) developing a Facebook page and picking a place to host the first Occupy Tucson General Assembly. There were two General Assembly meetings, hosting over three hundred people combined, to decide to commence a twenty four hour on-going occupation (encampment) on Oct. 15th, 2011 at Armory Park. The first day at Armory Park there were over twelve hundred people that participated in the occupation. That evening the Chief of Police Villasenor went to Armory Park and let everyone in attendance know that they would be arrested if they were in the park after 10:30pm. Several left upon receiving that news. But, there were fifty individuals that decided to continue the encampment, and lined up to be arrested and released with a $1,000 citation.

On Oct. 28th, 2011 Occupy Tucson established 2 other occupation sites; Veinte De Agosto Park, and Joel Valdez Library Grounds. The encampment continued at Armory Park until Nov. 4th 2011, when the Tucson Police Department told Occupy Tucson that anyone or anything found in Armory or Library park would be arrested and detained. Upon receiving that news Occupy Tucson had Armory Park completely cleared and cleaned within two hours. The twenty four hour encampment continued, even under stressful situations, and continued to feed people by the thousands all while educating the community on the flaws in our system.

Occupy encampments were being shut down all over the United States, and Occupy Tucson was one of the only ones standing. Then came Dec. 21st, 2011, the day that T.P.D. finally said, “Anything or anyone found in any park after dark will be arrested.” The one-time working group of Occupy Tucson Occupy Public Land (OPL) saw the writing on the wall that this would happen, and even had a good line on Dec. 21st being the date. So, luckily for Occupy Tucson there was a back-up plan. OPL applied for a park permit on Dec. 9th, and researched the sidewalk laws as a back-up to that. OPL knew the permit would not go through in time so they set-up on the sidewalk outside of Veinte de Agosto Park on Dec. 15th, and were uninterrupted when the park was raided.

Occupy Tucson and Occupy Public Land continued to reside on the sidewalk outside of Veinte de Agosto Park for the next month and a half, until Feb. 2nd, 2012 when Occupy Tucson set-up tents and a full operating encampment on the sidewalk outside of De Anza Park. Occupy Tucson has held the longest ongoing encampment in the nation, and now is in a position that they can continue to deliver their message without the fear of having their rights violated.

Jon McLane

*On Feb. 5th, 2012 Occupy Public Land began working with #OccupyPhoenix in developing a strategy to recreate a twenty four hour encampment in the valley. The template has been created in Tucson, and the Phoenix Metro area is full of cities that have a lot of public land that can be occupied.

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The Infectious Escalation of Occupy Oakland


An unofficial count of 400 Occupy Oakland demonstrators were arrested Saturday, January 28, after being fired upon, beaten, kettled, and trapped by Oakland riot police.  The Occupy Oakland social movement is rooted in the lower-income, ethnically diverse Bay Area city and has been a previous site of violent police repression. Oakland has been a nexus of social unrest long before the Occupation catalyzed it as an outlet for frustration. Oakland boasts closing public schools, an annual median family income at $56,000 in 2008, and in 2010, it was listed as the fifth most dangerous in the US with a history of police brutality. With all of these simmering tensions, Occupy Oakland’s actions should not come as a surprise to anyone, least of all elected officials like Mayor Quan and Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan.

The Occupy movement is a global social demonstration aimed at overturning the interconnectivity of money/economic/political entitlement. In 2011, acting under orders from Mayor Jean Quan, Oakland cops destroyed two Occupy encampments on public land. The immediate aftermath of their and other cities police forces’ wanton destruction of the camps created dialogue about the definition of public space, the role of elected officials and the need for the Occupy movement.

Occupy Oakland furthered the debate by their attempt to re-purpose the 6-year abandoned and shuttered Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. The convention center has no current plans for use and Occupiers intended to re-purpose it as a community center, intending to offer housing, medical and convergence facilities. The simple fact that Occupy Oakland decided to enact this bold move is an indication that the public’s needs are not being met by their elected officials.

According to an eyewitness account from an arrested Mother Jones reporter, during an all-day festival, thousands of Occupy Oakland supporters demonstrated against the broken system, but did not take the abandoned convention center. Still, hundreds of police officers dressed in riot gear arrived to face down over a thousand Oakland men, women, and children as they walked the streets and sidewalks carrying signs, chanting and singing. According to the Huffington Post, there was a volley of tear gas and bottles between the police and protesters on the streets. According to various YouTube citizen video footage, the cops shot tear gas and flash bang grenades into lines of protesters, including a group of shield-carrying people protecting a medic as the masked individual provided medical assistance to a fallen man. Protesters retaliated by throwing bottles, furniture and rocks.  Last year, brave men and women waded into the tear gas to rescue Scott Olsen after he was shot in the h
ead by a tear gas canister. They were dispersed when an officer shot a canister of tear gas directly into their group.

While no one should ever attack police officers, the violence enacted against police was a reaction to violence demonstrated to them. Not even in a directly proportional sense, the police launched high velocity flash bangs, smoke bombs, and bean bag projectiles while a few demonstrators tossed hand-sized objects while fleeing the public street.

In Oakland, a city so rife with economic and repressive tensions, Mayor Quan and Police Chief Howard seem intent on ignoring the needs of the public and grinding them under the department-approved 5.11 ATAC boot heel. In the mainstream media, Occupy Oakland participants have been typified as the aggressive instigators when, according to citizen journalists, they were only reacting to the upswing in violent action.

Furthermore, later that Saturday, Oakland police further increased the violence when after ordering the hundreds of women and men to disperse, kept them kettled in a small area and arrested them for a range of violations, including failure to disperse. Among the arrested included journalists. The elected officials of Oakland are choosing to burn taxpayer dollars restricting freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Instead of throwing blame like tear gas canisters or rocks, city officials should consider the upside of allowing a community organization to repurpose an abandoned structure for the betterment of their city.

Locally, in Oakland, the police and state escalated the power struggle by attending a peaceful public demonstration dressed in riot gear. Nationally, the federal government has shown up with its finest billy clubs as First Amendment-curtailing laws like NDAA are signed in to existence, regardless of public outcry.

Escalation is occurring. The state and status quo are utilizing their momentum to further increase the acceptable allowances of violence. When Occupations move to take back their rights, we are beaten, gassed, pepper sprayed, concussed, kettled, and arrested. As one of the many signs I’ve held at my Occupy Chicago rallies reads, “They only call it class warfare when we fight back,” that statement is truth. We need to keep fighting the escalation of violence. Every local occupation needs more ideas, more voices, more bodies dedicated to building a better world where public needs are met and police are not ordered to fire on their brothers and sisters.

– Natalie –

 

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Political Repression on the Streets of Miami?


As many Cuban-Americans living in Miami, my family’s nightly dinner-table conversations were thoroughly (and, course, regularly) dominated by discussions about the economic, social, and political conditions in Cuba. My family’s impressions rendered the sacred tempered by the profane; Cuba was our “lady in waiting,” who had been defiled by a totalitarian regime. But this is neither surprising nor paradoxical.

My family came to this country not necessarily to avoid communism, but to escape the state repression of an authoritarian government. While our Miami streets are not infiltrated by the same type of omnipresent masses of boogeymen (who seemingly lurk at every corner, at every hour, threatening to arbitrarily report every action as possibly “subversive”), the crackdown on Occupy Miami protestors which I witnessed last night could only be described as an outrageous application of the unmitigated might of state authority.

It was an intensely authoritarian might that seems more fitting in my family’s region of Camaguey, along with every other town and city of Cuba. Just as in Cuba, where the exercise of this sort of might certainly doesn’t spring from “enlightened” concern about the well-being of the community, this might was unleashed onto protestors to squash political dissent aimed at criticizing our government’s callous and flagrant rejection of economic democracy.

Peaceful young activists gathered last night at Government Center to take a peaceful stand, in the militantly non-violent tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, against the city’s planned destruction of the Occupy encampment (otherwise known as “Peace City”). In the dark of night, numerous contingents of riot police, in full combat gear and armed to the teeth with various types of menacing weaponry that seemed more fit for a combat zone, created a human barricade around activists and media, effectively trapping us onto the street directly behind the Government Center.

As they did this, another group of riot police formed a wall around the media and pushed them off the camp entirely, so that the media could not properly document the police escalation which was planned to take place. This occurred despite numerous attempts by Occupy Miami liaisons who, before the action, spoke to the commander-in-charge and implored him numerous times that respect for media and civilians should be a paramount priority — this, to no avail.

Not very long after sunset, riot police closed in and physically pushed us onto sidewalks until we were fully engulfed; block by block, away from the encampment, police beating their metal batons on their shields, chanting “Back! Back! Back!” The images of police repression elicited flashbacks of the awful stories about Cuba that I had heard during my childhood.

I was reminded of the trials and tribulations that traumatized my people. We, the children of Miami, were threatened with bodily harm and treated as outright criminals — merely for disagreeing with our government. The dreams of freedom that my family sung to me, as lullabies, had become a discordant nightmare of oppression that would cause any freedom-loving person to recoil in disillusionment, if not disgust.

In the Occupy movement, I have had the amazing honor to stand shoulder to shoulder with young Cubans who embody much of the future of this city. We carry with us the hopes and dreams of our parents and grandparents, and we fight, as they did… for liberty. Our families came to this country, as many do, to seek solace in what we are told is a free nation. But the scenes of last night beg a few very important questions:

Where was that freedom last night in Miami, as dozens of peaceful activists were viciously chased by riot police in full combat gear? Where was that freedom in the midst of an imminent threat of tear gas, the blows to our bodies by batons, the threat to use pepper spray to douse our spirits in unsolicited submission, and the threat to use rubber bullets to shatter our dreams of a better society?

The corporate media described the situation as being inherently violent, but, as so many intelligent, strong-willed, young activists pleaded with the riot police over and over as they surrounded us in a terrifying display of repression, we are reminded of an old saying: “The only weapon we have is our voice!”

I do not want to live in a nation in which our voices are the most feared weapons of all. A silent nation is a nation on the verge of death. To ensure that the dreams of our forefathers can truly become a living reality, we must embrace freedom and denounce repression, wherever it takes place. Failing to do so means we will have embraced the very tyranny our ancestors labored so diligently to escape and overcome.

Mo Tarafa
Political educator, Seed305

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I Was Arrested at Occupy Bronx—for Writing About It


BRONX, NY – A week after New York City police commissioner Raymond W. Kelly ordered officers not to interfere with journalists covering the Occupy protests, I found myself sitting in a cage in a back room of the 40th Precinct in the Bronx staring at a travel-size white bottle of Razac Hand & Body Lotion. My workday had taken an improbable turn; I’d been arrested. So now here I was, fixating on a bottle of lotion, wondering why it was there, thinking of it as “free” because it sat on a ledge outside the black iron-mesh cage, and worse, imagining the many uses of lotion in a jail. Better to pass the time trying to accept my present circumstances than trying to figure out the absurd.

I’d been covering the Occupy movement beyond Wall Street, and the Bronx had so far held eight weekly general assemblies of its own. This past Saturday, there was a planned 11 a.m. rally to bring attention to the city’s October bulldozing of the Morning Glory community garden, a long-abandoned lot that area residents had taken over two years ago for the garden. The lot was now grassy and fenced-in.

I thought that I’d report for an hour or so and then meet a friend for an afternoon brunch. Less than 10 minutes after arriving, however, I was in handcuffs.


When I stepped out of the 149th Street station at 11 a.m., my first time at that sprawling five-lane intersection, I found the protest site—a sidewalk beside an empty lot—easily because of a heavier-than-expected police presence. Early reports had indicated the opposite. I didn’t expect to see an officer of rank surrounded by 11 cops, four cars and a police van. I remember thinking, There’re more cops here than protesters.

A cluster of the protesters were walking away from where they had planned to set up. I saw a two-person Bronx News 12 camera crew and a man I assumed was another journalist; he was scribbling into a pad and interviewing. Another guy with a hand-cam, I pegged as a protester. While filming, he demanded to know why officers, in particular the black and Latino officers, were breaking up a protest over a garden in their own community.

I started asking questions, first to the ranking officer, but without identifying myself as a journalist, and then to the dawdling protesters, to figure out what was happening and why.

According to Captain Garcia, protesters had been obstructing pedestrian traffic. I looked around to verify. At this morning hour, on the sidewalk of an empty lot, in the middle of a major five-way intersection, there was no pedestrian traffic. Cops didn’t count as pedestrians, so I dismissed the charge.

Then the first arrest happened. A man whose name I later learned was David Suker had been crouching over a crate, fiddling with a stack of Occupy Wall Street Journal newspapers and simultaneously telling officers that he had a right to be stand, sit, or run on a public sidewalk. He didn’t move on cops’ requests, so they moved in. The rest of Garcia’s flank was fanning out along the sidewalk, warning the boldest protesters against standing.


A community-affairs officer gestured for me to move on, so I identified myself as a journalist. He immediately stepped back and said that he wouldn’t want me to “get caught up.” I interpreted his words as a friendly exchange, not a warning. 


I kept writing and then I heard Captain Garcia say, in my general direction, “You can not stand here. You have to move. You’ve been so notified.” It’s the last thing I scribbled before police officers surrounded me. I must’ve looked like a guppy mouth; it just didn’t occur to me that Garcia had meant to arrest me.


As officers encircled me, I kept my shoulders down and tried to moderate my tone. That sixth sense had nothing to do with journalistic training and everything to do with my being city kid. I grew up here in southeast Queens; NYPD ain’t never been nothing to fuck wit. I protested that I was a working journalist and asked if they were serious. 


One officer took my bag, lifting it off my shoulder and over my head, while another said I was being placed under arrest. 


Someone else took my notepad and pen. And another officer pulled my hands behind my back. When I felt cuffs clasp around my wrists, I started to do a weird thing.

Similar to fixating on the bottle of lotion while sitting in lockup, I kept asking after my notepad. Looking back, I see those tics for what they were: poor attempts to assert control. If freedom were an object, in my case it would have been my reporter’s notebook and a forgotten bottle of lotion. On Saturday they held roughly the same value.

As I was being led away from the sidewalk, I suddenly remembered Kelly’s mandate not to touch journalists covering Occupy protests, and I reminded every cop within a 10-foot radius.

The officers led me to the van. Kelly was in Manhattan; this was the Bronx.

The other arrestees, four male protesters, were in the seats behind me; officers sat up front.
 


I got an uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu. I’d been detained by the NYPD before, except I wasn’t a journalist. I was a kid in high school. When I was 15, while coming home from a dressy night out, a girlfriend and I pushed through the West 4th Street station turnstiles together on a single fare. It was a dumb thing to do. 
 


We were cuffed, packed into the back of a police van, fingerprinted, and kept overnight in jail. I’ll never forget the kitchen chair when I got home the next morning. My mother had positioned it by the window to overlook the boulevard; she had sat there, worrying unnecessarily because I had begged the officers not to call.

Another time, also while a student at Dalton, a prep school on the Upper East Side, my classmates and I were detained in the Times Square subway station while going to an annual minority-college fair at the Javits Center. We were attending during afternoon free periods. Apparently we should have traveled with notarized forms permitting us to leave school premises. Our college-fair fliers weren’t enough. Not only were the officers sneering and incredulous, they paraded us single-file through the station and into a back room to wait while they sorted out “the truth.” I eventually did make it to that fair.
 


Very rarely have I talked about these incidents with the NYPD. It’s not because those milestones didn’t deeply affect me. They did. But heavy-handed or discriminatory policing was so commonplace when I was growing up, nearly all of my black and Latino friends had experienced or witnessed it at least once—or had close friends who did. Compile our testimonies in a book, scatter the leaves in the air, and they’d blanket the city from tip to tip. I didn’t see the point of adding one more.
 


I began to rethink that approach on Saturday. After the umpteenth time I asked officers, who weren’t paying me any attention, why I’d been arrested, someone answered. From the seat behind me, Suker said, “Because you’re a black woman with dreads.”
That shut me up because for the first time that day, it occurred to me that Suker might be right. 



“Black woman or not,” I said to no one in particular, “You don’t know who I know.” 


But my confidence game was up. The statement sounded rushed. Plus, my voice cracked on that second, “know.”

What recourse did I have? I’m a freelance journalist working up a story about Occupy spreading into the communities of color that I had not yet sold. I didn’t have an assigning editor to call. I was in trouble and it was time to think about how to get out of it. Dwelling on how officers perceived me because I’m a black woman with natural hair was not going to help.

The only thing I knew how to do was my job.

The preceding intimidation, the arrests—they weren’t right. The charges didn’t match what I had seen, which, with the exception of Suker, was a small group of people shuffling along at officers’ requests, and grumbling, sometimes yelling, about having to do so. Nothing major. By the time the police van left for the precinct, the few remaining protesters were simply huddled on the opposite street corner.

In the van, I interviewed the four arrested protesters. I wanted to know who they were.


I asked officers questions like: What’s next? What am I charged with? (To which I never a straight answer.) Why are you doing that? How long is it going to take? I sounded like a 5-year-old on a long road trip. Maybe that’s why an officer twice insisted as I was standing in the station house waiting to be frisked, “You must’ve pissed somebody off.”



By the time I was released about three hours after being arrested, “disorderly conduct” had been added to my summons, and Captain Garcia warned me not to engage in similar criminal behavior. I had no intention of listening.


In what alternate universe is it disorderly conduct for a journalist in a U.S. city to scribble on a pad and question police officers in a normal speaking voice? In what upside-down town is the right to freedom of the press—and the right to assemble—considered a technicality? Oh. Right. New York City post-Occupy Wall Street. 
 


While the four protesters left, I stayed behind to complain to Captain Garcia. His flank, as always, stood close. I made some good points but so did he. Unless I carried a press pass from the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information—which I didn’t and which no officer had asked to see, either—then I’d be treated like a protester, he said.

“You don’t say who or who isn’t a journalist,” I said. He seemed to concede the point but also fell back on the policeman’s answer, “It’s the law.” Our “discourse”—his word, not mine—was over. I was way too angry anyway, both at being treated like a criminal and at myself for feeling afraid, to remain professional.
 


Looking back, it’s hard not to conclude that the four or five officers who helped to arrest me weren’t just using a strategy of overwhelming force but a tactic of disorientation. I can’t identify who arrested me. I never got a reply as to whose handcuffs were on me. From the moment of my arrest to my release, I’d passed through at least 10 different officers’ hands. If I were to complain, whom specifically would I complain about?

I opened the door of the 40th Precinct to a boisterous crowd that had amassed across the street. A dreary morning protest of roughly 12 people in front of an empty lot had multiplied to about 70 people chanting in the precinct’s front yard for prisoners to be released.

Occupy the Bronx had gotten lucky. A local anti-gun-violence group from Patterson Housing, a public housing development visible in the distance, had planned an unrelated 2 p.m. rally in front of the 40th Precinct. After hearing that cops had arrested five protesters, though, they temporarily joined forces with Occupy. In the surrounding apartment buildings, heads were peeking out of their windows.


A familiar face, Mychal Johnson, a member of the local community board, crossed the street to greet me.

I’d walked to the side of the station to get my bearings, but also, I was uncomfortable with the protesters’ loud embrace. I was grateful for their presence; I’m not sure I would’ve gotten out of jail in a couple of hours without them. We shared a common interest in protecting the public’s right of assembly. I, too, had been a victim of the police tactics with which many of them were intimately familiar. But I wasn’t one of them.

“They weren’t leaving till you came out,” said Johnson, smiling as he walked over to introduce himself.

I’d first seen Johnson inside the precinct when the five of us arrived, although I didn’t understand his role, then. Turns out, Occupy leaders had called ahead, told him about the arrests at 149th Street and asked him to get to the station to observe the officers. It’s an old strategy among older activists in disadvantaged communities: policing the police.

“Because of Occupy Wall Street, the police are in a heightened state,” said Johnson, but, he explained, intimidation tactics in his section of the Bronx are nothing new.

We were trailing the enlarged protest group, which was now marching north toward Patterson. The anti-gun-violence group led with the call, “No guns in the community.” Occupiers closed the rear with, “No guns with the police.”

“They arrest first and find out later if you’re innocent,” Johnson said. “The system has it backwards because by the time you get to court and the judge tosses out the charge”—like, trespassing or disorderly conduct—“you’ve already been handcuffed, detained, and your name put into the system.”

Johnson stops walking and turns to face me as if emphasizing the point. “It shouldn’t work that way,” he said.

My court date is Feb. 16.

-CARLA MURPHY
This article originally appeared in The Daily Beast.

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