Full disclosure: I am probably the person in the world least likely to care about Occupy Wall Street. The only time I’ve really thought about it up until this point was to consider the fact that bongo drums are unbelievably annoying when I go to the Financial District. I spend more time thinking about I’d make it across the ice if Bane took over (ice skates). However, yesterday, my good friend Molly Crabapple – who, in addition to being a talented artist and the founder of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, is a person who does care about Occupy Wall Street – got arrested. After hearing what the conditions are like, I feel like maybe we should all care, or at least care about people being really arbitrarily arrested. I’ll let Molly take it from here:
Molly, two nights ago we were eating profiteroles, and the next morning you were arrested. What happened?
Molly: I was going out with my friends for the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, a movement I’ve been very involved in. I am the biggest wuss ever, so always stay to sidewalks and never imagine I’ll be arrested (though I have all the admiration in the world for my brave friends who do civil disobedience). I can’t talk about the details of my arrest, but it was utterly unprovoked, and with no warning.
Do you think the police were overzealous because it was the anniversary?
Yes. They set up checkpoints all over lower Manhattan. There were hundreds and hundreds of officers, aggressively shutting down streets. The police do far more to disrupt traffic than the most enthusiastic black bloc protester could ever hope to.
Did you try to protest or explain that it seemed unprovoked when the police arrested you?
I told the officer several times that the arrest was unprovoked, but he didn’t respond or meet my eyes. Officers in demonstrations are often on autopilot. I did notice (and my cellmates confirmed) that women are especially targeted.
Did you see any more violent arrests?
I saw police pulling female protesters by their arms off the pavements – almost as if they were trying to guide them across the street – and then, when they were in the street, cuffing them unprovoked. In jail, I met elderly nurses, a white-haired priest, numerous legal observers, and accredited journalists.
What exactly were they being arrested FOR?
You actually don’t find out until you’re let out of jail 11-40 hours later. Often it would be “disorderly conduct” or “obstructing traffic”, which are decent catchalls that are easy for police to falsify.
What did they tell you was the cause of your arrest?
I can’t say. I need to take to my lawyer about that
What were the conditions like in jail?
You’re in a freezing cold, 5 x 5 room with four other women. There’s a padded bench, that’s just enough for three of you to uncomfortably sit on, a toilet, and a sink that doesn’t work. When you want to use the bathroom, the other girls line up in front of you to screen you from the male guards who are walking past. For food, we got four slices of stale bread, a packet of mayo, and two glasses water.
In 11 hours?
Yes. I loved my cellmates- they were funny, proud, wicked smart, brave, kind women. We would sing songs (which got us threatened with being locked in the tombs) and applaud when each of us were released. There was a lot of solidarity and trying to comfort each other.
The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow and Solidarity Forever.
Nice choice. You’ve been in a jail before in the Middle East – how did this compare?
I wasn’t really in jail jail in the Middle East. I was kind of held in the station cause the officers wanted to flirt with me, and when I started crying, they took me back to my hotel. US jail is this sort of bureaucratic nightmare of inefficiency where the people who have to “process” you kinda hate you and think your unhappiness is funny. I have to make it clear that I’m the most spoiled person in the universe here and this is shit that people of color, poor people and trans people have to live in fear of every day. So this should be in the spirit of “God, jail is shitty”, not “feel sorry for me”.
Jail seems pretty shitty.
This was way better than being taken through central booking. It was relatively clean (though there was a giant dead roach on the floor) and there was padding on the bench.
And it took around 11 hours for people to get released.
My friends bought me beer and pizza afterwards. I met a conservatively dressed older lady who had been in for 38 hours, we bought her a beer. There were so many older people!
Do you think they seem like easier targets? Or more likely to go along with the police?
I think so. The targets seemed to be lots of older people and lots of petite women (though there were plenty of young men who were arrested too, and are brave and awesome!)
You mentioned that people there kind of found the arrestees unhappiness funny – how does that manifest? It seems like it would be really unprofessional to laugh as elderly people get locked away for 12 hours.
Jail just isn’t a professional place. One woman ahead of me being searched had broken wrists that were in braces. When the officer searching her took them off, she accused her of trying to hide a weapon, began screaming at her and threatening to send her to the tombs.
That is insane.
You’re utterly powerless.
Did everyone seem like they were getting released. How can they hold someone for 38 hours? Sorry, all of this is pretty foreign to me.
They’re allowed to hold you for up to 42 hours before reporting your whereabouts to any friends/family who might be calling after you to inquire. My mom learned this. So very often an arrest isn’t to charge someone. It’s just a punitive thing for its own sake, cause God, 48 hours of having to go to the bathroom in front of male police officers and eat stale bread and not lie down is awful. Most people seemed to be getting released eventually, unless they didn’t have ID, in which case they were taken through central booking.
Do you get to make a phone call as they do in every police drama? And if so, do you get to keep your own phone? Because I do not remember ANYONE’S phone number?
No! That was the shocking thing. They ask you if you want a phone call, but I don’t think they have to give it to you immediately. One girl was in tears because her friend who was arrested didn’t have ID and she wanted to call to arrange to get the friend’s ID so she wouldn’t be sent to the tombs. She had been in for 8 hours before they gave her the call. You’re also only allowed to make locals calls with numbers you have memorized. You can’t look in your cellphone contacts for instance.
Oh, shit. I am so glad you made it out. Are you okay now?
I am. It wasn’t a traumatic or scary experience, just a profoundly boring one which gets depressing because you don’t know when it will end. I don’t want this in any way to sound like “I had the worst jail experience ever” because… no. But jail in itself is an awful institution run incompetently by people who all too often throw out their brains and compassion when they put on their uniforms.
Any advice or message you want to give other protesters? Should we wrap this up with a message?
Yes! Dress in comfortable layers because it’s freezing. Eat before your protest. Write the national lawyer’s guild number on your arm. I was able to tweet in the police van because I had a small shoulder bag not a backpack and was able to text my friends/family. Don’t have clothing with decorative or functional strings, the officers will cut them off.
Honestly, it just sucks, you are in a tiny cell that smells like shit, and you can’t see who’s coming down the hall. But the people were great!
Picture via @mollycrabapple