The Arrest of Mother Margaret At Occupy Raleigh 10/27/2011

My plan on Thursday, October 27th was to take the day off from the occupation. I am currently preparing for a state exam for a job I was offered just before the Raleigh Occupation began. Having been unemployed for around a year and half, preparation for this job has to take precedent over everything else. I had been studying all morning when around 2:00 in the afternoon I got a call from the occupation. The police had given an order that at 3:00pm they were going to remove the metal barricades they had placed between the sidewalk and the Capitol grounds and that the protesters had to remove all their belongings. We could still protest there but we could no longer store any supplies on the sidewalk. The Capitol police had finally declared the sidewalk was their responsibility and they were escalating their efforts to end the occupation in its current form.

I immediately went downtown and joined the 40 or so people there. Through out the next few hours more and more arrived, probably peaking close to 100 people when the arrests occurred. There was a lot of discussion about what to do with the supplies. We were told by the police that we could reclaim anything they removed. However one person familiar with these sorts of situations pointed out that sometimes police forces required people to prove somehow that each particular item belonged to a specific person. Being that most of the things were donated and were considered belonging to the occupation as a whole, if the police chose to do that, practically speaking it could mean that many things we would not be able to get back.

Between a van and a pickup truck the majority of the occupation supplies were moved away from the sidewalk before the 3:00pm deadline. During this time the police numbers around us increased. First it was just a couple capitol police, 3 city police, and a couple of city police on horseback. By the time arrests occurred it was closer to 6 capitol police and 15 city police. There was also some discussion among the protesters about what plan B should be. Should we move to Nash square nearby? One of the National Guild Lawyers who advises us and was present commented that the park was controlled by a different group, Parks and Recs, and he did no think they would allow us to remain there at all. He offered the option of moving to the sidewalk in front of Bank of America. Whether we had a legal right to be there or not, I question the likelihood that we would be allowed to remain there for long. Even though that would clearly be a piece of sidewalk controlled by the city and not the state capitol police, and the city has been more understanding in general through out our occupation, pressure from a force like Bank of America could change that rather quickly. Others argued that we should just continue to hold our ground on the sidewalk next to the Capitol grounds. (which so far continues to be the case)

I called the officer who had been an ally in the past. He was aware of what was going on and clearly would not, or could not, do anything about it. Can’t say I was surprised. At one point the local press began an interview with the member of the Capitol police in charge and we gathered nearby chanting, “Shame” loudly to make the interview difficult and to make our opinion of what was about to happen clear.

A short time after 3:00pm a few policemen began clearing away the metal barricades. They then began clearing the few lawn chairs and signs that had been left on the sidewalk. During this time many chants where used.

All day all week occupy Raleigh. Work for banks until you die, this is why we occupy. We are the 99%

The people, united, will never be defeated. Hell no, we won’t go. Whose street, our street.

Wallstreet bought and sold the nation, come and join the occupation. The people own the state.

We lasted longer than the barricades did. Who do you protect, who do you serve?

I had a few statements of my own that I repeated to different groups of police. Most of them centered around, “When you wake up one day to find your pensions gone, and your children with no future, and you wonder how it all went to shit, go find a mirror and look in it.” “You are just the muscle for the 1%. They don’t give a shit about you but they cannot do this without you.” “You are participating in your own destruction. Congratulations.” Most of the protesters at one point linked arms and made a short symbolic march onto the Capitol grounds symbolically reinforcing the notion that it was our Capitol grounds.

Once the police finished removing the barricades, signs, and the few supplies that remained, they turned their attention on a couple people who continued to sit in lawn chairs and the few others who sat or stood surrounding them. At the center was Mother Margret, a disabled women who had been active in the occupation starting with bringing food the first day. She wore her handicap parking permit as a pendant. First the police began arresting those who protected Margret. This brought choruses of “Shame” and “Who do you serve?” These people of conscience did not resist the arrest and where zip-tied and led into the paddy wagon that awaited at the curb. When they finally reached Margret the calls from our crowd increased and varied. “You are going to arrest a disabled women for needing to sit down in her own chair on a public sidewalk? You are a disgrace. You should be ashamed.” Governor Perdue’s number was announced and many of us made calls. I was told she was out of town but that my concern was being forwarded to her public relations team. As pathetic as that is it seems perfectly in line with the priorities of our politicians. I guess our calls just made sure that “damage control” was under way. There were also chants of “42 USC, 1983” referring to case law that supports the sort of activities we engage in as an occupation.

At one point as they reached Mother Margret the police actually stopped, moved onto the Capitol grounds, and had a proverbial huddle. It felt like to me they were making sure they were indeed going to go ahead and arrest this disabled women sitting peacefully in a chair on a public sidewalk. I did not watch them closely or consistently enough to notice if they called anywhere to confirm that the powers that be wanted it done. I cannot say with any certainty what they were discussing. After maybe 5 minutes or so they returned and began arresting Mother Margret and the few still near her they had yet to arrest.

During Mother Margret’s arrest is when things got the most heated. Many of us were furious and disgusted and we were making sure the police knew it. Someone shouted, “This is a non-violent protest.” An occupier behind me called for people to not show anger to the police because that was a form of violence in itself. I turned angrily replying, “The violence here is these cops arresting a disabled women for sitting in a chair on the sidewalk.” He replied again saying that my anger was violence as well. I replied with something like, “I have every right to be angry and if you don’t like it, then don’t talk to me.” To which he said he wouldn’t further and did not. I realize anger is not always the most productive emotion but I do believe it has its place. For me, that was absolutely a time to be angry. A day removed I have no regrets with how I treated the police.

In all 8 people were arrested. When the paddy wagon left most of us marched down to the jail a couple blocks away. A few remained to continue holding signs on the sidewalk, maintaining the occupation. All that was left where a few signs the police had not bothered to take, a large trashcan they had no taken, and the people themselves. When we arrived to the jail people commented that after the first arrests they had forced the protesters to await their release across the street. This didn’t stop almost everyone from crossing the street to right in front of the entrance to the jail. I decided to stay across the street, sat on a bench, propped up a “Fascism could be rightly called Corporatism – Musollini” sign against my leg, took out my note pad, and continued making notes.

Some sat in defiance facing the entrance to the jail, others sat in the benches close by, while the rest milled around. Two women held signs toward oncoming traffic and shouted mostly, “Capitol police just arrested a disabled women for sitting in her own chair on a public sidewalk and 7 others there protecting her. This is a police state. Ask yourself who the police are protecting. Its not you. Is this how you want your tax money spent?” At one point the group did a people’s mic recital of the First Amendment. They also did a re-enactment of the arrests engaging the children of a couple of the occupiers who where there. The whole while about 8 city police guarded the entrance of the jail. The police said the protesters could remain there as long as they did not block the entrance. Often people would address the police themselves. They asked the police to explain the arrests. To explain why a disabled women could not sit in her own chair on a public sidewalk. People were so angry that any previous hesitancy, nervousness, or any feeling of a need to address the officers with deference was gone. People were defiant.

As time wore on and perhaps because the children became restless, or perhaps just to antagonize the police further, chalk was brought out and the children and others began chalking on the sidewalk. One person chalked an arrow pointing to 5 of the cops who stood guarding the doorway and wrote under the arrow, “Servants of who?”. Police StateShortly after some police official who I don’t think ever identified himself (I had crossed the street by this point) came out and ordered people to stop chalking. They said we could still remain but we could not “deface” the entrance to the jail. Some said they saw a policemen earlier spit on the ground and asked if that was also “defacement”. Unsurprisingly they got no answer. People complied with the order not to continue using the chalk. The unidentified police official returned inside, staring at us for a while from the lobby while talking to another.

At one point a 10 year old son of one of the protesters asked near the cops something to the extent of, “How is it right to arrest a disabled women just for sitting on the sidewalk? That’s not right.” Their mother proudly replied loudly, “How is it that a 10 year old can recognize its wrong when a whole line of policemen cannot?” Good question. We often as a society hold up policemen as being particularly brave due to the nature of their work. If there were policemen there that knew it was wrong, what does that say about their supposed courage to carry out the order anyway? Another thing I had yelled at them during the arrest was that, “I was just following orders is not an excuse.”

Eventually an attorney helping us started telling us the charges. 3 were charged with just 2nd Degree Trespassing, which included Mother Margret. They were being released on their own recognizance. The remaining 5 were charge with 2nd Degree Trespass and for Resisting, Delaying, or Obstructing a Public Officer for their symbolic attempt to protect Mother Margret. Its not surprising the State is using its legal bludgeon to further try to disrupt the protests. It doesn’t make it any less sickening. The primary use of our legal system now is to keep us under control and protect the elite class while they continue to use criminal activity to amass more wealth and power. It has little to do with justice. I have not read it yet but I have little doubt that Glenn Greenwald’s new book “With Liberty and Justice for Some” lays out that reality eloquently and persuasively.

Because of the additional charges, those 5 were given a $500 bond. This started the scramble to figure out how we were going to bail them out. It became clear quickly that it would be impractical to get them out without using a bondsmen. Even if we might have the full amount needed, there are still issues with how our funds are being stored and collected, and the people who the paper trail would lead to do not feel comfortable putting themselves at risk by allowing the money to be used. We took up a quick collection and added that to the occupations cash that we did have on hand that came from cash donations. At least one finance person still grumbled about possible issues of using the money to bail the people out but no one was in any mood to listen let alone discuss the matter. It was clear we were bailing them out that night, period.

We found two bondmen that were friendly to our cause and were willing to give us the lowest rates they could while still turning a minimal profit in return for the standard risk a bail bondsman takes. I was able to further ease their concerns when I explained that I thought protesters like us were a pretty safe bet. We wanted to go to court. We wanted to be heard. That seemed to ease any lingering concerns. Slowly but surely the remaining five were bonded out. Everyone was greeted to cheers and hugs. I had to leave before the last couple were released but since I had been one of the few us coordinating with the bondmen, I made sure to stay until everything was settled. I do want to point out that once Mother Margret was released (she was first), within a minute of walking out she was already moving to a bench to sit down. It had never been a ploy. They arrested a disabled women who physically needed to sit down in a chair in order to be able to express her First Amendment Rights on a public sidewalk for sitting in a lawn chair. That is what a police state looks like.