"We Want Your Retina?" My 37 Hours in Police Custody for Protesting Were an Eye Opener
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“You got press credentials?”
I barely had time to say no to the mustachioed White Shirt before he grabbed my forearm and threw me to the ground. As he brought me down I transferred my smartphone – which I had been using to document the NYPD’s aggressive arrests following the impromptu celebration in the Winter Garden on Dec. 12 – to my left hand and then my pocket. The website Boing Boing posted a very dramatic photograph of me holding my glasses while police pile on top of me. I’ve been covering Occupy Wall Street as an independent journalist for its entirety as a radio show host, for Salon, and on the ground.
My arresting officer soon moved me to a chair at the far end of the lobby, just in front of the giant bay windows that line that side of the building. I was the 12th person arrested so far. There would be five more that morning before the cops were done – 10 men, seven women. Next to me sat a woman named Sarah, a drummer for the phenomenal protest marching band the Rude Mechanical Orchestra. Plastic zip ties – a longtime favorite tool for so-called riot police – held her wrists behind her back. Sarah still had her bass drum strapped to her chest, though, giving her a somewhat comical appearance. One could imagine charges against her reading: conspiracy to start a dance party. That type of absurd application of authority would become common over the next 37 hours as my fellow arrestees and I would wait for our arraignment.
The perp walk from the atrium to the paddy wagon wasn’t so bad. There were around 100 supporters standing by in solidarity clapping, taking photos and yelling, “Whose tweets? Our tweets.” Of the 10 guys I was in the wagon with, eight of us had either been tweeting, livestreaming or had cameras. None of us had official NYPD press credentials. On the ride to the station I was able to reach into my pocket and slide my phone into my hand to shoot off some last-minute tweets, Charles took some photos, and Paul, who was sitting next to me, fired up his livestream again. When we got to the 7th Precinct none of the cops standing guard paid much attention to us, until one of their bosses came up and told them that someone at One Police Plaza was watching the paddy wagon feed, and they weren’t too happy about it. After that we put everything away, but Elizabeth, another member of the OWS media team, continued to film from outside.
They brought us inside and sat us in chairs against the wall in a large meeting area with a podium on one side. I was the last arrestee to be processed, just short of five hours after I had been handcuffed. The police would continue this blistering pace for the next day and a half, using every excuse or procedure possible to slow our processing down. Once the sergeant on duty removed my plastic cuffs – which dig into your skin, often cause tingling or loss of feeling, and for me caused soreness, though nothing extreme – and confiscated my backpack and personal belongings, they sent me to the holding cells in the back of the precinct.
One cell in the tiny hallway held the seven women, next to that was a bathroom with a door that didn’t close, and after that was a cell that held the nine other men. Our cell was roughly 7 feet by 8 feet, and for the entire time we were held there were between 10 and 12 men inside. We were kept there from early Monday afternoon to 3 a.m Tuesday. I was not allowed to make a phone call until roughly 1 Monday night, about 14 hours after my arrest.