I had been working hard for the past six months, though not as hard as I had when we were still occupying the park. I went to work four days a week, waiting tables in a restaurant that served sub-par Mexican-American food and excellent margaritas, of which I generally drank too many. The rest of my time was spent planning and organizing actions and events with the activist buddies I had met during the occupation. I did all of this with a broken foot that was almost healed, but that ached terribly every night after work. I could tell that I was doing damage by not resting it, but I didn’t have the time. This was New York City, after all. No one had the time to be sick or broken here!
The six month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street was approaching, and in anticipation of celebration at Zucotti, Ennis and I rounded up a bunch of folks to call people and invite them to the anniversary party. In the two years since then, my attitude towards anniversaries has changed somewhat, but that is a conversation for a different time. At this point we still believed that maybe, if we got enough people to attend, we could re-occupy the park, we could really wake people up this time, we could change the world. And why not? We had the motivation and the stamina, the weather was getting warmer, and people still believed. Of course we could do it, if we really put our minds to it. The week leading up to March 17th, 2012, was a hectic one. I was picking up extra shifts at work and doing a lot of flyering and twittering and talking to folks in general, working on getting them to come out to the party. That was when the phone calls began.
The first time he called he identified himself as “Brian.” He had a thick Brooklyn accent, and he sounded like an older guy, in his late forties or fifties. I imagined him as heavy set, with grey, thinning hair, and dark brown eyes and a drinking problem. He asked me about the event on Saturday, if I was going to be there.
“Yeah, of course, are you?” I said, thinking this was some guy that I had called to invite to the park. Then Brian started getting rough.
“You bitch, you fucking bitch. You come down to Wall Street I’m gonna fucking kill you–“
I hung up the phone, shaken. Who the fuck was this guy? Brian didn’t stop there. He called me numerous times throughout the week. I only spoke with him once more; when I answered his call I told him to leave me the fuck alone and hung up again. Brian’s threats continued. He left messages on my voicemail saying that if I came down to the financial district he was going to make me pay, he was going to fuck me up.
Saturday found me bright and early working the daytime St. Patrick’s Day shift, which shouldn’t have been as busy as it was. Why were all of these people eating shitty bland burritos and drinking bottom shelf margaritas? Shouldn’t they be downing whiskey in some pub or tavern tucked away in an unassuming alley somewhere? But they came in hordes, and I didn’t even have time to smoke a cigarette. The constant business was made worse by the phone calls I received throughout the day. Someone, not Brian but another man, this one with a fake Irish accent, was calling my work and asking for me. The first time he called I thought it must be a mistake. I told the counter girl, Shelly to take a message, I was busy. She said that he didn’t want to leave a message, it was too important. I had no idea who this could be. No one knew where I worked, and I hadn’t given anyone my work schedule or phone number. When I picked up the phone this man told me that he was going to fuck me up, that he was going to kill my whole family if I went down to Wall Street today. I hung up the phone and went back to work. When he called back again I told Shelly to hang up on him, but he continued to call throughout the day.
After work I met up with my friend Erik, an ex-soldier of the Israeli Army, and we went out to dinner together. He helped me to make a list of people who could be potential enemies. Poor me, I was too naive and trusting. I couldn’t think of a single person.
After we parted ways I stopped at the liquor store and got a pint of Jamison Irish whiskey and then got on the train to the financial district. I turned location services off on my phone, paranoid that someone was tracking me. When I got to the park I calmed down a little. There were tons of people there, talking, dancing, laughing, playing games. I drank some whiskey and chilled with my friends. At some point someone had snuck a tent into the park, and erected it. My friends and I went into the tent and it felt romantic and exciting. I made out with David, for fun, and also because my sort of ex-boyfriend Horace was making out with Patty right in front of me. Then Shilo came in to the tent and asked me if I wanted to split a bag of weed with him. I told him no, that I didn’t really smoke weed. He asked if he could borrow ten dollars and I said sure and gave him a twenty. He told me he didn’t have change for the twenty, but he could give me two xanax instead. I told him I didn’t do drugs but I was feeling happy that so many people had shown up and relaxed from the whiskey and from being around my friends, so when he told me that I could just give them to one of his friends later for ten bucks I agreed. I never even thought that maybe he was trying to set me up as a drug dealer, and I never did see Shilo again after that night, which was weird because he had been a pretty much constant fixture around the park for the last six months. I put the xanax into the cellophane wrapper around my cigarette pack and promptly forgot them.
Then news came that the cops were moving in and trying to kick everyone out of the park. What the fuck? It wasn’t even 10:00 PM yet! Hadn’t we established that this park was to be open to the public, that that was the stipulation for its existence? I reluctantly started to head out when I heard Sammy calling my name. He was sitting, with maybe fifty other people, on the ground in the middle of the park.
“Hey!” he yelled, “Come sit with us!” he stretched his hand out to me.
I hesitated. I was walking with Riordan at the moment, and I stopped.
“If you go with them, you’re probably going to get arrested.” said Riordan.
“I know,” I said, and kissed Riordan on the mouth before I walked over and sat next to Sammy.
The police came in strong, pulling people away one by one. I pulled on backpacks and shoulders, trying to keep them out of the pigs’ grips. We were yelling something, over and over, some sort of chant that I can’t remember. But I remember that I felt like I was the loudest person there at that moment, that my voice was soaring over everyone’s around me.
“Get that fucking bitch!” the woman officer’s voice was somehow louder than mine, and I knew without looking that her command was directed at me.
Before I had time to react I felt hands all over me, and five male officers were dragging me away from the crowd and into some dark corner. They had me on my stomach, they were pulling my dress up over my ass. I was suddenly afraid. One of them put his knee into my back and his hands were wrapped around my throat.
“Don’t hurt me!” I cried, “Don’t hurt me!” and the last thing I felt was shame at being afraid.
I don’t remember anything between that moment and when they put me into the back of the paddy wagon. It was blackness, and then I was yelling at the pigs, berating them, calling them names. They put me on the bench next to my friend Jimmy.
“Hey,” he said, trying to get me to look him in the eye, trying to calm me down, “hey, you’re bleeding. Your neck is bleeding.”
I squirmed out of the plastic cuffs and put my hand to my neck. They had cut my throat, there was a gash running across it. I looked down at my legs and they were smeared with dirt and mud. It looked like I had been dragged on one side for awhile. My hoody had been ripped in half, the zipper was broken. And my purse that had been slung across my shoulder was gone. I took Jimmy’s phone out of his pocket and called the National Lawyer’s Guild to report everyone who had been arrested with me. The pigs stopped the van and came around back to yell at us.
“Whoever was using a black phone is going to be in big trouble!” they yelled.
We all laughed because everyone had a black phone. I slipped my hands back into the cuffs and when the piggies walked around to check all of us they didn’t notice how loose mine were. They went back to driving. We sang a lot of songs, I don’t remember which ones. Nancy’s cuffs were on too tight and they were cutting off her circulation and she was crying. I tried to show her how I had gotten mine off but they were too tight. I got someone’s scissors out of their backpack and tried to cut them off but I couldn’t. We banged on the sides of the van until they stopped again and one of the officers tried to cut them off of her, but he couldn’t. They were too tight. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. What the fuck!!!!
When we got to the police station I thought about running, but I figured they had my purse with my ID in it, and also they might (probably would) shoot me if I ran away.
I put my cigarettes and lighter in the band of my underwear and when they tried to search me Nancy took a step forward.
“Don’t touch her,” she said, “can’t you see she’s a survivor?”
The other girls stood silently around me, and the cop turned away. I will never forget that moment of female solidarity. They took us back to a small cell with a bench in it. There was only one woman in the cell when we got there, a tiny Asian woman dressed in a short party dress and high heels. She never said a word the entire time we were there. They crowded (I think) twenty-three of us into that cell. There wasn’t enough room for everyone to sit down. We tried to pass the time singing and telling jokes. Later Diana told me that I had made the jail cell a happy place to be with my jokes and stories, but I don’t remember what they were. I laid under the bench for awhile and tried to sleep. They had taken everyone’s shoes or laces except for mine. I caused some kind of trouble when they took my foot wrap and they forgot about my shoes. I called for the guard periodically to let me go to the bathroom and I would smoke cigarettes, blowing the smoke futilely into the toilet bowl. I gave one girl my lighter when she realized what I was doing; she had smuggled smokes in as well. At one point I told everyone I hated them, and then I went and smoked a cigarette and came back and said I was sorry. Half the cell was trying to sleep, and the other half was talking; the sleeping half tried to shush the talking half. I said (I think) that everyone there had been shushed enough for one night. One of the girls was having either an asthma attack or a panic attack, I don’t remember. I think her ribs might have ended up being broken. It was rumored that she had punched a cop in the face when he had arrested her; we don’t really know what he did in retaliation. She wanted to go to the hospital but she didn’t want to go alone, she was too afraid of the cops. We worked out some sort of an agreement with the guards where one of the trained medics who had been arrested would go with her (I think).
When the boys came in to get their pictures taken I held my hand out through the bars and squeezed their hands if I knew them. They said they could hear us singing and it made them happy. When they took me to get fingerprinted they couldn’t make the machine work. I was mockingly patient, because there wasn’t very much else I could be. In the morning they put us in metal handcuffs in a chain gang style and walked us back out to the paddy wagon. The boys made animal sounds when they heard us leaving, they crowed like roosters and howled like wolves. I was on one end of the chain gang, and I slipped my wrist out of the handcuff and held the link under my hoody sleeve. When we got into the paddy wagon I was glad to be free of the chain gang. The other girls were sliding all around in the back of the van whenever it took a turn. We got to the Tombs and stood in a long line of ne’er-do-wells. One of the girls in our gang had snuck a granola bar and a sandwich in and we all shared it. We were very hungry.
The cops asked if any of us wanted medical attention. I said I did. I went into a room and talked to a man about my injuries. He said if I got medical attention I would just end up spending a longer time in jail, so I didn’t go. In hindsight, I should have. Then he took my mug shot. I didn’t smile in this one.
We sat against the wall, waiting in the never ending line. One cop walking by glanced down at us and then raised his fist as he walked by, whether in jest or solidarity I don’t know. Finally we were taken up to the jail. It was a horrible light green color. They searched me when I went in; I had long ago smoked my last cigarette and didn’t have my lighter anymore so I was good to go. When I got into the cell Charley and Lisbeth were there! They told me that they had been arrested for dancing on the sidewalk earlier in the day. Charley said her arresting officer had grabbed her by the breasts before he put handcuffs on her. I shook my head in disgust. Filthy fucking pigs. They brought us government cheese sandwiches and cartons of milk and I downed mine. There was a payphone and I wanted to call my job to tell them why I wasn’t at work but no one had a quarter. And that is the irony of jail. I sat on the bench and put my hands in the pockets of my broken hoody. But wait, what was this? In the very deepest corner of my pocket, attached to a tiny thread…it was one of the xanaxs from Shilo! What the fuck! I held it up to the light and both Charley and Lisbeth recognized it instantly.
“Awww, lucky!” said Charley, who didn’t do drugs either.
“Well guys, see ya in a few hours,” I said, and dry swallowed the pill. I took my shoes off and made a pillow out of them and lie down on the bench. Within minutes I was asleep.
I woke up several hours later when it was my turn to go down to another waiting room. This was the room where people got a chance to talk to their lawyers before they went to court.
There was a lesbian girl who had been arrested for having a joint on her when she got pulled over. There were two friends dressed in evening clothes who had been arrested for fighting two other girls. They had all been waiting to go to court for a long time. One of them had become friends with one of the guards, and the guard brought an entire box of government cheese sandwiches and cartons of milk into the room. We ate until we felt sick. Then there was a commotion outside. Someone was playing a trumpet! My friends had found out that I was in the room! They were waving and playing music and yelling hello to me from outside. One of the girls asked me who they were.
“They’re from Occupy Wall Street,” I said, “they’re doing jail support.”
“Man!” she said, “How do I get to be a part of that?”
And it really was a great feeling, to know that people cared whether you were ok or not, and were willing to hang out outside the jail until you got out. I don’t think that was true for most of the women in there.
I was surprised again when a lawyer came to see me and said he wanted to represent me. I agreed. I asked him whether I should do the retina scan, which they try to do to everyone who is arrested, regardless of their charges. It’s another way of fingerprinting the public, only this way they can use facial recognition technology to track (target??) you via the extensive surveillance system in place in the city. The lawyer told me that they would keep me for possibly another twenty-four hours longer if I refused. They took me out to the court room and I did the retina scan. I immediately regretted it. I saw some of my friends sitting in the courtroom, Charley had already gotten out! and they waved at me and that made me smile and feel a little braver. I stood in front of the judge who read me the charges against me (this was the first time I had heard them) and I was released on my own recognisance, meaning that I had given enough evidence (a NYC based job and address) to suggest that I was trustworthy enough to show up for my next court date. My charges were Obstructing Government Administration, and Resisting Arrest.
When I got outside there were a lot of people waiting on the steps doing jail support and they clapped and cheered. I felt like a celebrity. People offered me cigarettes and I gladly smoked them. People offered me food but I was still feeling sick from all of the government cheese sandwiches so I only accepted an apple. Someone took pictures of the wounds on my neck and legs and a medic came over and treated them and re-wrapped my foot. Then my friends Artemis and Caroline bought me a taxi to drive to the precinct where my purse (containing my house keys, ID, paycheck, all of my money, and iphone) supposedly was. They didn’t have my belongings. They told me that I should have gotten them back before I was taken to the Tombs. They gave me a printed list of all of the people who had been arrested that night and their addresses. I realized that I probably wasn’t supposed to have this information but I took it.
Artemis got me another cab to my job, and gave me some spending money. Artemis is a great man. I told my boss that I had spent the past thirty hours in jail and he took one look at me and believed me. Then Artemis and Caroline and I went to the bar to get a drink. I told the bartender my story and she let me drink for free. Caroline let me stay at her house since I couldn’t get into my place. She is a wonderful woman. The next day I went to another precinct to get my belongings. Jimmy was there! The cop behind the desk told me he didn’t have my stuff. As I was walking away he asked me if I had learned my lesson. I stopped and considered responding to him, but I didn’t turn around. Jimmy put his arm around my shoulders and we walked back out into the sunlight.
I never did get my stuff back. I went to seven different precincts, but it was gone. It had just magically disappeared. I was told that my arresting officer was responsible for the safekeeping of my possessions, but surprisingly no one could figure out who my arresting officer was, they kept passing the buck off between each other. I wanted to press charges against the NYPD for making an illegal arrest and for battery, but nine months later they were still pushing my court date back, and this time my lawyer didn’t show up. I didn’t want to be stuck in New York anymore, I wanted to get the fuck out. I finally accepted their offer of an ACD (meaning that I agreed with their charges but if I didn’t “get in trouble” for six months they would be dropped from my record) and left the state the next day.
So, you might ask the same question that dickface officer asked me–did I learn my lesson? The answer is yes. I learned that the closer to the truth you get the more of a threat you become. I learned that fighting against a police state is impossible if you don’t have a broad base of support. But mostly I learned that in general people naturally want to look out for each other, that our survival as a species depends on recognizing and respecting our interconnectivity and mutual dependence. And for that I am thankful.