The night I got arrested

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The police shouted again, unintelligibly, from the megaphone. Something about we had to leave or we would be arrested….

I wasn’t particularly interested in getting arrested. I started to walk toward the side…

“You are all under arrest,” said the megaphone, more clearly this time. “Sit down with your hands on your head.”

“Really?” I said. “Aw, man. This sucks.”

I was actually thinking about skipping the protest. Instead, I went to the Peace Picnic at Harriet Island. I listened to some music powered by solar power (because the city refused to turn on the power), and talked to some people.

Mostly it was a lot of older folks, a lot of veterans, and families. “It feels so good to be around my people” said Marlys Ertel, who stayed away from the marches this year because she has trouble getting around. She says she would have marched if she could walk more easily.

James Fellmen, a member of Veterans for Peace who wore a “delegate for peace” sticker, went to the march on Monday, but liked the more relaxed feel of the Harriet Island event. “It’s not such a fascist police state,” he said. “I’ve been apologizing to everyone I see for this monstrosity… We’re not like this in Minnesota.” He added: “Xcel Energy Center is where the real criminals are.”

Claire Dawson, who was there with her young son, said “I wanted to be a part of the protest for the RNC, but it didn’t seem safe with my kid.”

Everybody was in a good mood, eating the free food and listening to old sixties songs.

And at about 5:30, I got a call from my editor asking me if I was at the march. I said I wasn’t, but I could check the twitter updates. I went back to my office and found that people were in the middle of an intersection facing the police at 12th and Cedar. Still, I really kind of felt like skipping it. After this week, I was kind of protested out.

As it happened, I had to go right by there in order to get to the freeway, and well, the freeway was blocked. So I parked my car, got my camera and figured I’d get some pictures.

The crowd was smaller than on Monday and Tuesday. It seemed like a lot of college kids, singing and chanting. “Stay peaceful!” shouted an angelic-looking girl. The cops, on their horses and wearing their masks, were blocking the bridge. “Don’t give them any excuses!” said the blonde girl again.

Some of the college students started singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” which I thought was kind of odd. Um, guys? Don’t you know that’s kind of a pro-war song? On the other hand, in a way it fit. The reason the founders of this country started the revolution was because the British were taking away their civil liberties. And it seems as if that is the climate that we are facing today as well.

The group in front sat down. They carried cardboard signs. I kept on hearing garbled words coming from the police megaphone, but I had no idea what they were saying. I also was scrambling to delete some pictures from earlier in the day. Unfortunately, my camera only holds 27 pictures, and I figured there might be some dramatic arrest shots to come.

The police shouted again, unintelligibly, from the megaphone. Something about we had to leave or we would be arrested. I could see people kind of look at each other. Were they going to move? Or were they going to get arrested? It was peer pressure.

I wasn’t particularly interested in getting arrested. I started to walk toward the side, but I was in the middle of a crowd of people, and nobody was budging. Suddenly, a line of cops on horses split the crowd in two, and I found myself in the center of a circle of police.

“You are all under arrest,” said the megaphone, more clearly this time. “Sit down with your hands on your head.”

“Really?” I said. “Aw, man. This sucks.”

So I sat down with the others, many of whom had already been sitting anyway. Nobody put their hands on their heads. I took a few pictures. Then I lit a cigarette. I called my editor. She was on the other side of the police line, and said she would see what she could do.

I called my mom. “Um, mom?” I said. “I think I just got arrested.”

“What? What do you mean you think you did?”

“Well, they surrounded us and told us we were all under arrest.”

“Well, tell them you are a journalist.”

“I don’t think that’s going to work, mom,” I said, but I figured that, when they came to deal with me, I would calmly explain that I was a member of the media and should be let go.

It took forever, just sitting there. Eventually they decided they didn’t want us taking pictures or using our cell phones. “No texting!” the cop shouted.

Anybody in the circle who was acting like a “leader” got taken away first. As soon as they took away one leader, another person would begin leading the chanting.

There was a crowd still outside the circle, shouting “Let them go! Let them go!” People were taking pictures of us.

Out of the blue the police lunged into the crowd, grabbed a man, and threw him to the ground, right by me. Then they did the same to another man. Apparently they were “leaders.”

I was the last person in my group to get taken away. A tall, smiling cop came up to me. “You’re the last one, huh?” He told me my rights, and put plastic cuffs on me. “You’re hands are really delicate,” he said, “but I want to get them tight enough.”

“Ew,” I thought.

“So, what’s your name?” he asked me. “Where are you from?” I told him. Was he really trying to start a conversation with me? I told him I was a reporter. He told me he couldn’t do anything about that. He passed me on to someone else.

“My” new cop was really young, not more than 25 years old. And he was confused. He couldn’t figure out which line to put me in. In fact, there was a general chaos. “Is the Minneapolis line?” he asked another officer.

“I don’t know,” the other said.

Finally, he figured out which line we were supposed to be in. He and this other cop with another young, female prisoner tried to make conversation with us. We proceeded to have a discussion about civil liberties.

When we got to the truck, they took my purse and asked what I wanted to go into the plastic bag.

“What valuables do you have in there?” a woman asked. “Your wallet? Anything else?”

“My cell phone,” I said. “And my camera.”

“Your camera is too bulky,” she said, and handed the plastic bag with my phone and wallet to the cop.

As they were doing my paper work, I once again told them I was a reporter. They didn’t seem to think that was a significant piece of information.

After they took my picture, we walked to the end of the block, where we were supposed to get into a van. It had left without us. So I got passed to another cop and was put in a scary looking truck, with a bar across my chest, and was told to wait there with another young woman.

We were in there forever. I thought they had forgotten about us. I had an ominous feeling that I would have to sleep there overnight, with my hands behind my back, and probably die of suffocation.

Luckily, that didn’t happen. They took us to the detention center, where I was told to spread my feet and place my hands against the chain wall. A blond woman frisked me, and asked me to take the rubber band out of my hair. As I tried to untangle it, the woman reached up to take it out.

“Please don’t,” I said, not wanting her to pull my hair.

“You better stop with the attitude,” she said, “or you’re going to jail.” She passed me to another woman. “This one’s got an attitude,” she said.

They took my fingerprints. They told me to wipe my fingers with a wet wipe, and yelled at me when I didn’t throw it away.

Then I was taken into a cage and told to wait with the other women. Everyone was very chatty and friendly. We were given white bread and tubs of peanut butter, but no knife. I didn’t care– I was starving and gobbled it up.

One by one they processed us. When it was my turn, I told them again that I was a reporter. The cop behind the desk asked another cop: “What are we doing with the journalists?”

“Nothing,” he said, and walked away.

I went to the last waiting area and waited for another hour and a half. It was a mixed group of men and women. People were sharing stories about what happened to them. One man said he was arrested because he was giving a speech on the MSNBC stage at Rice Park. Others relayed how they had been trapped on a bridge.

“How is everybody doing?” an overly happy, official-looking man asked. “This is going pretty quick, wouldn’t you say?” He asked as if we should be happy about it. We all glared at him. “I guess you just want to be left alone, huh?” he asked, a little hurt.

At long last, they called my name and told me I couldn’t get my purse back until Monday between the hours of 10 and 2. So, until then, I am without keys or camera.

They drove us to a stop at Larpenteur, where there were helpful people with food and support. My editor was there, and gave me a big hug. She drove me home.

It could have been worse, I guess. At least I didn’t have to spend the night in jail. I only got a petty misdemeanor for “presence at an illegal assembly.” But you know? It seems like a big pain in the butt for just trying to do my job. And I, for one, am looking forward to Saint Paul looking less like a war zone. But I’m not entirely convinced that’s going to happen. I’m not sure we can just “go back to normal” after the events of last week.

Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.