[mgj-discuss] [Fwd: Involuntary Detainees at Protests]

Robert Weissman rob at essential.org
Wed Oct 2 17:43:54 EDT 2002

Sep 30, 2002 

Editor's Note: Two Diamondback reporters covering the IMF-World Bank
protests were arrested Friday morning and manacled for 23 hours.
Surrounded by hundreds of protesters in Pershing Park, Washington
Metropolitan Police circled and arrested the entire group. Jason
Flanagan and Debra Kahn were there as impartial observers, and despite
the newspaper's efforts to release them, they were stripped of all their
possessions - even their shoelaces. What follows is a first-person
account of their arrest and detention.

By Jason Flanagan and Debra Kahn 

WASHINGTON - Sept. 27 to 28 

When you think of protesters, what comes to mind? Grungy, idealistic
white college kids with multiple piercings complaining about
complexities that don't directly affect them. 

So when you hear about protesters being arrested and having their civil
rights violated, you may think that they're exaggerating or that they
must have provoked the police in some way. Surely law enforcers couldn't
have such disregard for citizens' civil rights, you think. 

Think again. 

Hundreds of people forced into Pershing Park were surrounded by the
Metropolitan Police, arrested and detained for more than 24 hours. Many
were not even protesters. 

The vast majority of these people were not blocking a street,
vandalizing a storefront or provoking the police. They were arrested for
singing, dancing and having let the police force them into a trap. 

The arrest 

When we reached Freedom Plaza at about 9:15 a.m., we didn't realize we
wouldn't leave on our own accord. The situation didn't look dangerous or
riotous. Armed with drums and makeshift percussion instruments, people
were singing, dancing and enjoying themselves nonviolently. 

We also didn't know that officers redirected protesters blocking the
streets around Freedom Plaza into neighboring Pershing Park. Along with
the group of university students we had been following since 6:30 a.m.,
we were surrounded by more than 100 police officers, all equipped with
riot gear and clubs. 

There wasn't much we could do, so we enjoyed the scenery. Protesters are
an eclectic bunch, with multicolored hair, countless piercings and
interesting ideologies and slogans. Some smoked cigarettes, and in the
damp morning air, the smoke hung above the protesters. The odor of 600
people confined to a fourth of a block also offended our senses. 

Almost immediately the blockade closed in on the mass of people. The
news surged through the crowd: Everyone was to be arrested. But we had
done nothing wrong. We were impartial observers, just like the freelance
photographers and writers and representatives from the lawyer's guild.
But regardless, we were taken away. 

People chanted for a peaceful release, their cries echoed by people on
the outside of the blockade. When we pleaded our case to the officers,
they ridiculed us and said we had had our chance - which we weren't
aware of. As the police drew nearer, we were told they would confiscate
our notes and might use them against the people mentioned in them. We
were advised to hide them in various body cavities. We opted to give our
notebooks to a Washington Post reporter, who was not detained. 

Those who volunteered to be arrested went first; soon enough the
officers were in front of us, yelling and grabbing protesters who
resisted in the slightest. We frantically made last-minute calls to our
editors, dropped our backpacks and tattooed the phone numbers of The
Diamondback's lawyer and an editor on our arms with Sharpies. 

Some of the protesters were seasoned professionals, and recommended we
clench our fists, thus expanding the muscles so the handcuffs wouldn't
be too tight. It didn't help. The officers tightened the plastic
handcuffs behind our backs. We were ushered onto the 15th Metrobus, the
last to leave the park. The cameras recorded every detail as the buses,
escorted by police cruisers, hauled us away. 

The bus 

On our way to our as-of-yet-unknown destination, our fellow occupants
leaned out the windows and shouted political statements to pedestrians:
"This is what a police state looks like!" The three officers on-board
refused to answer questions, and it took them 10 minutes to assist
sophomore sociology major Kristen Bricker, whose contact lens had fallen
out and whose hands were losing circulation. 

The yells died down and were replaced with tears. Two sobbing women
broke into "Amazing Grace," while the officer at the front of the bus
snapped his latex gloves with obvious relish, cracking his knuckles
beneath his smirk. 

We arrived at the D.C. Police Training Academy. Questions about our
arrest and detainment were met with stoic silence by the officers.
Theories about legal options - lawsuits, bail, release, civil liberties
- abounded, and everyone huddled around the legal observer from the
National Lawyers' Guild, who ironically couldn't even help himself. 

People turned to cell phones they had managed to smuggle aboard. Because
everyone was still handcuffed, it took two people to use a cell phone -
one held the phone so the other could discreetly balance himself while
talking to lawyers and loved ones. 

The officers finally let people go to the bathroom. Those to go first
had their handcuffs loosened. Most were able to squirm out of their
cuffs when the cops were not looking. 

To add to the torture, officers outside the bus were drinking Gatorade
and eating cookies. It had been hours since our last meal - a Pop Tart.
We craved Chipotle, but we couldn't express our desire without risking
the wrath of the protesters who were against large corporations like
McDonald's, the parent company of the popular Mexican food chain. 

The Metrobus driver sympathized and distributed his boxed lunches,
distributed by the police department, to the 45 prisoners. But with our
hands still behind our backs, we had to rely on only our mouths; one
girl held a cookie in her mouth and everyone else took turns biting it,
like baby birds being fed by their mother. The 45 of us collectively ate
two turkey sandwiches, two cookies, a granola bar, a banana, a bag of
chips and a bottle of Gatorade. Not the most hygienic way of eating, but
it beat starving. 

The cops gradually warmed up to us during the 13 hours on the bus.
Although technically we were required to have our handcuffs on except
when going to the bathroom, the officers were lenient. This relative
freedom was over, however, when the new shift came on. Apparently
feeling the need to assert his authority, the new cop tightened
everyone's cuffs, even on those who were sleeping. He also put an end to
the game of charades some of the protesters had started, a radical
version featuring titles such as A Clockwork Orange, Catch-22 and Cool
Hand Luke. 

Among the other unorthodox activities on-board was a civil wedding
ceremony, performed by Edward Burns, a protester who had been with the
university group. The bride was given away by her father, Joe Mayer, a
69-year old retired Army lieutenant colonel and lawyer who was also

The officers let us outside around 5 p.m. and distributed paper-bag
lunches to everyone. Some of us got bologna and mayonnaise sandwiches -
the bread was stiff and the bologna was paper-thin - and others, mainly
the vegetarians, got cheese sandwiches. However, the many vegans on
board were left with tiny juice boxes that came with the lunches. 

While some talked about their ideologies, those who were not protesting
sat baffled. A freelance photographer was in the park filming a
documentary when he was arrested. Although he was not there to protest,
he joined those who shouted, if only in body, against capitalism and the
potential war in Iraq. He was more worried about his camera equipment
than the World Bank. Another journalist, a reporter from the Summit Free
Press in Colorado, was also arrested. 

As evening came, there was still no information about the charges or how
long we were to be detained. At 6 p.m., there were still six buses ahead
of us, and the police told us it took three hours to process each
vehicle. A middle-aged Washington woman, at the park as an observer, had
hoped to be at home that night, looking over the pictures she took of
the protest. 

Even with lawyers shouting legal advice from a distance, our options
were unclear. More importantly, we still were not certain of our
charges. It wasn't until 10:15 p.m. - nearly 10 hours after our arrest -
that we finally learned what the police were charging us with: "failure
to obey." But how could we fail to obey when we didn't receive a

At about 11 p.m., they gave us our options: Either "post and forfeit,"
which meant we would pay $50 and get to leave, or "cite out," which
entailed getting a court date and possibly staying longer than the
forfeiters. Some aligned themselves with the solidarity movement, which
entailed noncooperation in order to show apathy for their situation. 

We opted to pay out, though we were met with stern criticism from our
fellow prisoners. One protester shouted at those paying out and said we
were "buying into the system" and that we should fight this unfair
charge. He was right about the unfair charge, but we were reluctant to
stay any longer than we had to. This was not our fight. 

The "release" 

We finally left the bus at about 1 a.m. The officers lined us up outside
the building, assuring us that after the process - which they said would
take 20 minutes - we would be free to go. After 13 hours in manacles,
confined to a bus, we were ecstatic. 

Once we got inside they informed us the wait would actually be about two
hours, which we accepted because at least we knew how long we had to
wait. Little did we know how little we actually knew. 

After being fingerprinted, searched and forced to relinquish our
personal belongings, including our shoelaces, they led us to the
gymnasium with the other prisoners. The officer sat us down and attached
our right wrists to our left ankles. After two hours had passed and only
20 out of about 400 people had been released, we became skeptical. 

Exhausted, we tried to get some sleep, but our position made that nearly
impossible. With opposite limbs bound together, finding a comfortable
position was more like a form of yoga. Even when sleep was possible, it
was interrupted by the hourly chants of, "Solidarity," and "Let our
lawyers in," followed by somewhat rhythmic stomping. 

We took a one-hour nap at 6 a.m., curled in the fetal position, our
hands sandwiched between our knees. At 7, we were awakened by the
reading of names, a ritual that had intermittently punctuated our entire
stay. The names were in seemingly random order; sometimes they were
people who wanted to pay and leave, sometimes people who had been
kicking and screaming a minute earlier. Officers most often stalked the
rows of gym mats, looking for "Jane Does" and "John Does" who had
refused to give their names and could only be identified by their mug

By now we had given up almost all hope. Experienced protesters were
telling us we could be legally held for up to 72 hours, and even that
was "hard to enforce." We were allowed to make phone calls, but the
lawyers who had physically come to the facility were not permitted to
talk to their clients. To say things were bleak would be an

Finally, at 10:11 a.m., our names were called, along with those of other
people from our bus. We were led to the wall, and our hands, which had
been bound for almost a day, were freed. We got our belongings back,
paid the $50 and were allowed to get our backpacks, which had been left
outside in the rain all night. We then walked through the gates, and our
23-hour ordeal was over. The police claimed the holdup, which turned our
"20-minute" wait into 10 hours, was due to "computer problems." 

Some of the university students we had been arrested with us had been
released the night before; some were held until 3 p.m. Saturday. We have
records now, and, adding injury to insult, we had to give $50 each to
the people who unfairly arrested us. 

When we implored the officers to let us go, they responded, "We're just
doing our job." As were we.

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