Scenes from an Occupied Jail CellScenes from an Occupied Jail Cell
Envoy editor arrested at Occupy Wall Street one-year Anniversary
Deputy News Editor
All photographs by John Bolger unless otherwise noted. As the first march of the morning receded up Broadway and down Pine Street, away from Wall Street and the barricaded media pen that the NYPD erected there, both parties in the year-long struggle were given their time to shine: the Occupiers fully blocking traffic, and the NYPD taking advantage of the main stream press who did not follow. As a truck driver caught in the mix honked and smiled in approval, Occupiers were being grabbed from the streets and the sidewalks amid a haze of confetti and thrown casino chips. This reporter was arrested at Nassau Street, his head slammed onto the hood of a parked car by a white-shirted officer and his wrists bound tight in flexicuffs less than half an hour into his reporting that morning.
Ironically, arrested protesters who sought all day to break through to the heavily barricaded Wall Street were finally granted their wish as the police brought them behind the NYSE police checkpoint and onto the hallowed grounds of the Financial District. Each protester had a Polaroid photograph taken with their “arresting officer” and were loaded into a van and driven off. The arresting officers in these cases were rarely the officers to have actually carried out the arrest. Instead, protesters were handed off to these officers once they were subdued, often by white-shirted officers.
There was the instant feeling of camaraderie inside the van as it made slow progress out the Wall Street checkpoint and then through crowds of protesters chanting and impeding traffic, sometimes banging on the van. Despite a police order, vanmate Molly Crabapple, 29, a freelance artist and first-time Occupy arrestee, took the opportunity to make Twitter posts in an impressive display of flexibility while bound.
“I felt angry that we were all picked up off the sidewalk, essentially at random, to spend a day in a holding cell,” she said in an interview after her release. “I just scootched my hands over, unclasped it [her purse], took out my phone and typed with my thumbs like a proper Twitter junkie.” Arrestees in the van did not know where they were being shipped off to, an arrested National Lawyers Guild legal observer (one of two arrested that day) offered speculation before it was obvious that the van was entering the confines of the One Police Plaza complex.
Once the van arrived to a secure lot behind the NYPD headquarters, arrestees were segregated by gender, searched and photographed once more, then brought inside the building and processed before being unbound and placed in the holding cells where they would wait for many hours as a storm of police and paperwork went on outside the the bars.
All day, there was a steady stream of protesters coming one by one into the male cell where this reporter was being held. Each time a new protester was admitted, the cell erupted in applause, some of the new admittees taking bows and thanking the crowd before taking a seat on one of the available wooden benches. Protesters inside the cell also clapped each time a female protester was seen outside the cell being brought out of sight, presumably to a female holding cell.
“The solidarity in jail was amazing – in fact, it was a truly beautiful thing that came out of an unjust and shitty experience,” Crabapple said. “It was high spirits and kindness and a determined, political act, and not something one can forget.”
The demographic inside the cell included all dissident walks of life. There were the typical long-blonde-haired radicals in denim with Anarchist symbols sewn on. There were old men, some from the group Veterans for Peace. A good portion of the morning crowd were wearing suits and dress pants in satire, one wore a comical bow tie. Many protesters came from out of town, a lot of them were veterans of the NATO summit protests earlier this year in Chicago. A sizable pocket of protesters were from Charlotte, North Carolina. Two minors were admitted later in the day.
There were a few clergymen present as well. One was the famous retired Episcopal Church Bishop George Packard, who made a name for himself last year when he climbed over a chain-link fence onto a vacant lot owned by Trinity Church on Occupy Wall Street's three-month anniversary. He was arrested at Broadway and Wall Street for sitting on the sidewalk in front of TD Bank and refusing to move during the first march of the day. Visible from inside the cell was the flurry of police activity outside. With each arrest came a pile of paperwork to fill out, and arresting officers darted to and from completing small steps in the paper trail. From inside the cell, it appeared that very few – if any at all – of the arresting officers were white-shirted, in contrast to accounts from many of the protesters in the cell. The desk on which officers organized partially completed reports shared a wall with the cell and many of the reports could be read from behind bars.
By the afternoon, most of the protesters appeared to receive the same two charges of disorderly conduct: obstructing traffic and refusing to obey a “lawful police order to disperse.” The arrest reports were divided into three stacks: those receiving desk appearance tickets, DATs (meaning they would eventually be freed later that day), those not receiving DATs (meaning they would not be free to leave before seeing a judge, although they appeared to have the same charges), and those who were to be moved to a different police location, likely not to be released until much later (although these too also appeared to have the same charges). The DAT pile was the largest, the “Prisoner Movement Slip” pile was the smallest.
Protesters who were not to receive DATs were summoned from time to time to be fingerprinted and to have their irises photographed. Because there is no lawful pretense for collecting iris photographs (such as with fingerprints), arrestees reserved the right to decline. Each prisoner movement slip had been rubber stamped with the status of the arrestee's iris photograph. Either “NO IRIS” or “IRIS TAKEN” was stamped in large black letters at the top of each slip. From the jail cell view, it appeared that the majority of the arrestees declined to give their irises, although a few consented. By around 2 p.m., according to an analogue clock seen in the far corner of the room outside the cell, there had been at least 87 male protesters admitted to the cell according to the stacks of numbered Polaroid photographs splayed in stacks of 20 on the desk outside.
When the cell had appeared to reach capacity and the flow of incoming protesters slowed, the atmosphere became markedly different than that of the calm morning. There were no available benches to sit on and many protesters were made to stand, leaving little walking room for wandering protesters to navigate the narrows of the cell. Some lay on the floor sleeping while others took to sitting on the waist-high privacy wall surrounding the cell's two toilets (which were no longer sparkling clean as they had been in the morning). Discarded paper cups and the uneaten remnants of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches littered the floor. The water cooler was empty in the cell, where the conversations of the wall-to-wall protesters made it difficult to hear anything other than the constant flushing of the cell toilets.
A brief episode erupted inside the cell shortly after 2 p.m. when two protesters began to drum on the empty water cooler. An officer opened the cell door and told the protesters that if they wanted to drum, they were to use the cell trash bin – an offer which the protesters happily accepted. When the drumming began anew and the cell erupted singing “We Will, We Will, Sue You” (A rendition of the popular Queen song “We Will Rock You”), a number of white-shirted officers with a few blue-shirted officers entered the cell to confiscate the trash bin and scold the drummer. As the police left the cell – one of the white-shirted officers commented on the need for a “clean environment” – angry protesters started shouting and a few messages were broadcast using the “people's microphone” before tensions inside the cell eased once more. At around 3 p.m. the reporter and one other arrestee were summoned by their arresting officer – they were to be released. Before stepping back out into sunlight, another officer handed the two arrestees their DATs. “THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK VS …” the ticket read. Not included was the actual arrest report, which in some cases were lengthy and bore the names and ranks of police witnesses. The serving officer told the arrestees that they would need a lawyer for access to the arrest report.
The arresting officer – who did not actually carry out the arrest and exhibited the utmost level of courtesy to his arrestees – escorted the reporter and the other arrestee out the One Police Plaza complex and onto the streets of Chinatown through some little known entrance to the fortified plaza. Waiting on the other side was the Occupy Wall Street Jail Support crew, offering free water, sandwiches, tobacco, hugs and moral support to the freemen.
“When I got there [home], I checked the computer, realized my friends had a 'free Molly' party and flashmob for me and that my name had exploded on Twitter,” Crabapple said, “I ran back to One Police Plaza – the right entrance – to hugs and beer and pizza and a member of the National Lawyers Guild.” The National Lawyers Guild is defending Crabapple, who was charged with disorderly conduct.
Later in the day, as more protesters trickled out of jail, the Occupy Wall Street Jail Support team had set up outside the back entrance to One Police Plaza at Kimlau Square. Members of the National Lawyers Guild were giving legal advice and handing out forms to the arrestees to fill out concerning their charges and their jail ordeal. It was announced that the park would close at dusk, which was rapidly approaching, and that an NYPD captain from One Police Plaza had warned that they would reserve the right to arrest at the Jail Support site if the need arose. The crowd gradually thinned out into the sunset as arrestees – unrepentant for their crimes – celebrated the Occupy anniversary, unwavered by the arrests.
Special thanks goes to the Student Press Law Center for their support throughout the entire arrest ordeal and the Hunter community for its commitment to its journalists.