Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On White Privilege and Going to Jail

Guest Writer on Gorgeous Curiosity! Welcome Ryan Rice! 

Two Arrests For The Resistance: Padding My Resume

            Since Occupy Wall Street began, I have been arrested in both Oakland and in Los Angeles. Across this nation we have seen protesters being beaten, pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, and shot with rubber bullets and bean-bag projectiles. As of Sunday morning, there are a total of 4,619 arrests across the country. You read that correctly. The United States of America has arrested nearly five thousand people made up of nonviolent students, citizens, seniors, activists, journalists, and legal observers. I hope my arrests may highlight the permeating cancer we’re fighting. I hope my arrests may illuminate the overt attempts by the oligarchs to inhibit freedom, incarcerate the dissenters, and further the continued destruction of this great experiment known as America.

Occupy Oakland

I was in Oakland for their November 2nd General Strike, and was part of the 103 arrests in the nighttime raid of Alameda County Sheriff’s department on Occupy Oakland. I spent 16 hours in a cold, dirty holding cell in Oakland with other comrades bent on the devilish desire of restoring democracy to this country. The police took every opportunity to intimidate us, letting us languish in the jails with tight zip-tied cuffs for hours as many of us suffered bruises and wounds from the attacks at Occupy Oakland.
Those arrested were the ones within an arbitrary “no-zone” around the tent city. We were the ones that came to investigate in the dead of night the hundreds of shock troops assembled around a community encampment. We were the ones that raised a peace sign and held our ground. Those that fled the state’s power were spared. They that submitted to the fears of the helicopters, guns, paddy wagons, and tear gas were out of danger. Yet the First Amendment was the only permit we needed! The occupy movement is a 24/7 protest on public space because of the immediate and dire need to change the course of this nation. But still the raised shotguns fired and flash-bang grenades exploded.
I hope you have all seen the video of Ranger veteran Kayvan Sabeghi being beaten mercilessly by shock troops for standing up against injustice. I witnessed first-hand as his internal injuries grew worse and he screamed from the floor of the jail hallway for medical assistance. I observed the smirks on the guards’ faces as they did nothing until hour fifteen.
I was treated personally with mostly dignity. They saw my white skin, they heard me speaking policy, politics, and law, and they saw me look them in the eyes with a righteous indignation that I would wager they do not often receive. The National Lawyers Guild assured us of our timely release and the legal action they would be taking in our defense, so it turned into a waiting game.
The worst feeling of the ordeal was the utter powerlessness I felt when trapped unjustly. Here I was, witnessing wrongs that I was incapable to stop. In all honesty, it made me very angry. For me, Oakland was a transition of sorts. As a white, educated, heterosexual male from suburbia, I had never experienced many of the problems I was now standing up against. Hell, I was pulled for speeding and the officer happened to be my life guard at the country club I attended. He told me to run along and slow it down. That’s it. Meanwhile, my brothers and sisters have their Fourth Amendment rights violated at every corner in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods.
So my transition was one from vicarious experience to truth. What was a sad or maddening article of injustice in the New York Times suddenly became a reality check. I was no longer discussing the problems of the prison-industrial complex in a campus coffee shop. I was talking about the War on Drugs with a disaffected young black man hauled in for possession with intent to sell as we sat chained to the wall.
Once out of jail, cited and released for “Remaining at the scene: riot, etc”, I strapped on my gas mask, tied up my boots, and made a beeline for the occupation. Along the way, we passed a local black-and-white that rolled down their windows in a surprisingly friendly manner.
“You guys headed back? Be good!” they exclaimed with hot coffees in hand and ready for their beat. My revolutionary brother raised his shirt and displayed the perpendicular 18” bruise along the middle of his back. The officers immediately expressed a kind of dumb-founded shock. These were not the black-clad thugs from the previous night.
“Who did that to you? That could not have been us, we’re not trained that way. You can paralyze someone with a hit like that,” said the driver, disregarding a green light to further gawk at the police brutality.
My comrade’s back was bruised when he was peacefully meditating between the state gangsters and the youth barricading themselves from the violence to come. Seated in the lotus position, the first blow directed at him was parried by a Real Life Superhero’s shield. After he was beaten unconscious, they turned back to the danger-to-society pacifist and cracked him across the back.
On our return to Occupy Oakland, we were greeted with cheers, hugs, slices of cold pizza and freedom. We were back home.

Occupy Los Angeles

I spent a further 14 hours in a cold, dirty holding cell in Los Angeles with forty-six other freedom fighters. Ranging from ninety-three to nineteen, the wide collection of protesters served to show the LAPD how diverse this group was. This was the first mass arrest for this haven of a city. Since Occupy Los Angeles’ inception, the LAPD, City Council, and Mayor have all worked to facilitate a nonviolent protest around City Hall.  This has also made Occupy LA toothless and my goal for November 17th was to raise awareness of the scope and seriousness of these protests.
We had several actions throughout the day that were unpermitted, which set the course for the LAPD to grudgingly show their truer colors. The beat cops in their blues disappeared and the riot cops in tactical gear and missing badge numbers took their place. What had been a relatively passive occupation on the lawns of City Hall was gaining steam. Members of the occupation wanted to toe the line of what this whole thing was about: money in politics.
So we marched to the plaza at Bank of America and set up a flash occupation on the grounds owned by Brookfield Properties – the same corporation that owns Zuccotti Park and a property that was smack dab in the middle of the hallowed halls of Los Angeles commerce.
I joined other comrades in a fast that day, in order to recognize that we are all responsible for the woes we were raising our fists against. I was not a part of Occupy LA in order to protest a specific rich CEO or attack a single corrupt politician. If I was in a position of power, I just may abuse it as our leaders have. So for me, a fast was a symbolic gesture that in absolving this system of oppression we must also absolve those selfish ideals within ourselves if we have any hope of succeeding.
Just like my personal transition in Oakland, Angelenos were feeling the reality of what the Occupy Movement is fighting as they witnessed hundreds of police assemble in riot gear around a tiny patch of symbolic grass. Deemed a ‘private persons arrest’ for trespassing by “Citizen Thompson”, the police moved in on 47 people at 4:30 pm that afternoon. They were blatantly taking orders from the 1% to move in and squash political action by the 99%. How threatening that rag-tag group of activists locking arms around a medical tent must have been.
As we were processed, I immediately saw a chasm between the treatment in LA versus Oakland. We were, as an officer told us, “being treated with kid gloves”. I did not thank her for that, as unfortunately some of my fellow arrestees did. Why should I thank an officer for doing her job and upholding the presumption of innocence and satisfactory levels of human decency?
Because of the kid gloves, I seethed from the injustice. Where were the dozens of detectives that were arresting and booking the white collar criminals that are destroying our planet? Where with the black-clad SWAT teams that were zip-tying the war-profiteers for making billions as millions of people died because of their purchased policies?
Just like in Oakland, my appearance, demeanor, and speech made room for officers to try the classic “divide and conquer” strategy. I was festooned with compliments and calls for me to “forget about the partiers and homeless just there to party”. I was advised by plainclothes detectives to get serious, leave the “South side” (of City Hall… where most of the divisive language about the “partiers” resides) to them, and work on getting into politics myself.
I met those suggestions with flat out rejection. I told several of the officers that strategy of throwing out the poor, wretched refuse is what helped fill their jails. Rejecting and discarding whatever he took a “partier” to mean was exactly what this movement was not. For one, I am wholly and totally against the wars on drugs and poverty that have imprisoned and oppressed millions. Why would I ever want to continue a policy that destroys lives?
Secondly, I have witnessed the disaffected and unserious become empowered and solemn about the issues that caused camps to spring up across the globe. How dare this elitist tool of the plutocrats work to divide a people’s movement. It is even silly to think that his tactics could work when I have seen social progress at occupations that is far and away more substantial than a strategy of throwing people who share a bottle of wine or smoke a joint together in the cold night under the bus.

The Future – More Arrests?

            I do not know what the future holds. Two months ago, I could have never predicted that I would have had a shotgun in my face in Oakland, protested the President as he drove by in West Hollywood, helped galvanize Occupy Long Beach in the face of police psych-warfare and sleep deprivation, or been surrounded by goons in black protecting ATM machines as curious passersby looked on.
            Here’s what I do know: Standing up is an action that a lot of Americans have forgotten or left in the dust out of disgust. For decades, dissent and empowerment has been attacked on all fronts. Provocateurs infiltrate, groups splinter, and our education system falls short of honest dialogue on political and economic systems. Voting rights are attacked, gerrymandering is pervasive, and money in politics ensures any progress for the people is undermined.
            But I must resist. I am compelled to get on the frontlines and lock arms with Truth on my left and Justice on my right. Perhaps it is because of my youth that I have the nerve to imagine an alternative. However, that is who has always been the vanguard for change. Those that are na├»ve enough to think that people should be treated fairly are the ones that must Stand Up. Right now. See you out there.