Sunday, October 30, 2011

Arrested Occupy Wall Street Protester Tells Her Story

Occupy Wall Street Protester, Arrested and Jailed for 30 Hours, Tells Her Story for the First Time


By Barbara Schneider Reilly,


Posted on October 26, 2011, Printed on October 30, 2011


I spent a weekend in jail.


On Saturday, October 15, I went to Washington Square

Park to take a closer look at the Occupy Wall Street

movement. There were many young people who could be my

children or rather grandchildren, but many older people,

too, all generations united, it seemed, under the

banner: "We are the 99 percent."


Different groups decided to go to a bank. I joined one

that went to Citibank at La Guardia Place and Bleecker

Street. As we entered, there were a couple of customers

and a few banktellers inside. A teach-in ensued. The

story the students told, surprisingly calmly and

politely, was shocking.


"I am $100,000 in debt. The costs Citibank charges me go

up and up. I do not know how I can repay it. I find it

deeply irresponsible that Citibank makes the kind of

profit they do from our indebtedness."


Another student said, "I'm not $100,000 in debt, only

$30,000. So far. And I still have two years to go. This

kind of profit-taking cannot go on. We are here to say

we will not tolerate it. We need fundamental change."


And so it went. After we were told to take our action

outside, some people stayed and continued to tell their stories.


I, by far the oldest, had not come to get arrested, but

as we tried to leave, several enormous undercover cops

in sweatshirts and jeans appeared, blocked the exits and

quite literally pushed us back into the bank. One giant

in particular seemed to have it in for me, saying, "Oh

no, you're not leaving!" his right arm shoving me. Ready

to pounce on us, they made leaving the bank impossible.

Two of the student participants had come to close their

bank accounts; customers in every sense. They, too, were

to be arrested. Police officers in white shirts seemed

to swarm from everywhere. They rushed into the bank and

told us we were being arrested. At no point was there a

warning from anyone in authority offering a chance to

leave without being arrested, As they handcuffed us, we

did not anticipate the next 30 hours that was in store for us.


The ride to Central Booking in the paddywagon was an

ominous beginning. Either New York's potholes are beyond

repair or the shock absorbers of that car were non-

existent. With our wrists handcuffed behind our back,

there was no way to hold on to anything as we were

thrown off our seats into the air during that ride in

hell. After hours of "booking procedures" -- standing in

line, being handcuffed, getting uncuffed, backpacks,

wallets, phones and any other object, even a single

tissue, taken from us, our names shouted as we were

inspected and lined up spread-eagled across a wall -- we

were finally led into three cells, allowed for the first

time to sit down. It was early evening by now but we

were not allowed an extra piece of clothing for the

cold, just a T-shirt or whatever first layer of clothing we wore.


During an inordinately lengthy fingerprinting procedure,

with the male officers operating the machines and the

female officers locking and unlocking our cells as we

were called out one by one, it sometimes seemed the

police outnumbered us. But still, it took what seemed like hours.


Barely back in our cells, we were taken out again,

handcuffed again, this time with a chain between our

cuffs, and led "upstairs." But there had been some

mistake. A female officer told "our" officer that, no,

she couldn't process us. Some paperwork was missing,

some order, some stamp. Time to cuff us again and go

down the stairs back into our cells. How many more

instances of handcuffing, uncuffing, leading us up and

down stairs and long hallways, waiting, returning,

repeating what seemed nonsensical procedures and

reversals then followed I do not know and did not count.

But a deep sense of disorganization, competence fighting

incompetence, if not chaos, reigned. It seemed as if, in

the name of bureaucratic rules and regulations, in the

name of "security," we were witnessing a dysfunctional

institution and people not used to daylight shining in;

people generally accountable to no one but themselves.


Finally, we were driven to the Tombs. We landed in a

large collective prison cell; there were 11 of us plus

an Indian woman with her own sad story and two run-down

black women on crack or some other drug who occupied the

only three mattresses in that medieval cell, and whose

intermittent yells, shouting, and appalling screams made

rest, let alone sleep impossible. We spent many hours on

extremely narrow, hard benches, no blankets, with pieces

of dry bread and a dry piece of cheese or peanut butter

for food. The young women, all in their early 20s,

somehow managed to bend themselves into shape to catch

an hour of sleep here and there. For my 70-plus-years-

old bones and K., a 68-year-old lifelong environmental

activist, it was tough going.


The experience was depressing in every way. All of us

could see the irrationality, the nearly obscene

bureaucratic time, energy and money spent on our

(probably illegal) arrest. During that constant cycle of

being cuffed and uncuffed at every step and during each

transfer, some of us couldn't help feeling that the 9/11

terrorists have indeed won. The culture in this

institution seemed a noxious mix of breathtaking

incompetence, disorganization and open or just-beneath-

the-surface-always-present brutality. Hardly a verbal

communication without harsh and loud shouting and orders

to stand here, move there, stop doing this or that.


Searching our bags and moving our belongings somewhere

else took an inordinate amount of time. Then everyone's

IDs had to be returned for the next step in the

"arresting process." Which meant a new search by the

female officers for everyone's ID; all the bags and

wallets had to be painstakingly searched a second or

third time. As it turned out, my ID had somehow been

overlooked. Or rather, the officer responsible for it

couldn't be found. Again, everyone had to be uncuffed,

led down the stairs, locked into their cells until the

officer who had my ID was found. Low-level chaos is the

only word to describe it.


During the long, cold night in the Tombs, at some point

we asked a female officer if we could have some

blankets. "We have no blankets." Some mattresses since

we were 12 or so people? "We have no more mattresses."

Some change in exchange for dollar bills so we could

call parents and loved ones? (The one public telephone

in the cell would only take coins.) "It's against

regulations." Some soap? "Maybe we'll come up with some

soap." After no, no, no to every reasonable request, we

wound up with a small jar of soap. Distressing is hardly

the word for a culture of willful neglect and the

exercise of what power those officers held over us for

those 30 hours.


But there were a few -- mostly black cops -- who, as we

were transferred from point A to point B, told us

openly, "We support you. If I could, I'd participate in

what you're doing."


The initial charges of criminal trespass were finally

reduced by the district attorney to disorderly conduct,

with the invaluable help of our lawyers from the

National Lawyers Guild. When we were finally released,

we were greeted like heroes from people in the Occupy

Wall Street movement standing in front of the huge 100

Center Street Building. They offered us hats against the

cold, dried apricots, chocolate bars, tampons, water,

self-rolled cigarettes. It was really touching.


But even the young women were seriously exhausted,

physically and mentally burnt out. Perhaps I and my

older compatriot were better prepared, at least

psychologically. But by and large these young women were

very impressive. After this dismal experience no one

even considered leaving the movement. No hues and cries.

Society must be changed. They insist on it, and, I hope,

will continue to insist -- and, not withstanding the

difficulties ahead, fight for it.


Barbara Schneider Reilly is a playwright, teacher and

citizen (of New York and Berlin).


c 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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