#NoALEC Chicago Interview: Arrested at Palmer House Protest
There were six people arrested during the police attack on the August 8 #NoALEC protest outside Palmer House Hotel. Unlike the six arrested during Chicago’s first Moral Monday, these people did not necessarily expect to get arrested. The First Amendment provides less protection than ever in 2013, but it can still be a surprise when the hammer comes down on you, personally.
I spoke with “Maddie” of Occupy Chicago shortly after her release from jail on charges of Obstruction, a misdemeanor. Her arrest came while police tried to force an overflowing crowd back onto the sidewalk, having suddenly deemed the street closed to free speech. Like many on their first arrest, the experience provided an unpleasant education into the dehumanizing effects of the police state.
Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: Tell me a little about why you were at the protest yesterday.
Maddie: I see ALEC as a unifying cause where all activists can come together to stand up to a common target. ALEC pushes legislation that affects our schools, our environment, and attempts to tear apart worker’s rights. Regardless of what issue is close to your heart, ALEC has a part in it.
FDL: What were you doing when police attacked and what did you experience?
M: After the Union rally, police started moving the barricades out of the street, and protesters were mingling in the street. Many union members had left, so there was only about 100 of us still in front of the palmer house. I was talking with other streamers when I saw people starting to run down the other side of the street. Cops had grabbed a few barricades and were trying to force all 100 of us back onto the sidewalk, after they had allowed us into the streets. 100 people don’t fit on the sidewalk, and when everyone wasn’t moving right away, police started using the barricades to shove people off the street.
I was filming the police and, after a few tense moments of police shoving protesters with the barricades and us chanting to keep morale up, it seemed like they were backing off. People started slowly moving back toward the small bit of street we had left, then the cops turned and rushed at the crowd and plowed through everyone. The front line of protesters formed a human chain to protect those behind them, but cops rushed us again even harder and people fell. I was shoved over onto the curb by the second rush of cops. Once they had people down, they started arresting people. I had been on the sidewalk and, after I fell, my comrade grabbed my phone. It was on the ground three feet from me since I’d been hit so hard. Then, he tried to help me up. Cops yanked me from his hand, and shoved me into a group of five officers.
I had grabbed my friends backpack because we thought he was about to be arrested, but they grabbed me instead. The cops yanked my arms back around the two backpacks, which hurt my shoulder. They wouldn’t let me get my glasses that had also been tossed to the ground. Another streamer found them and gave them to me. The cops then yanked off the backpacks, and cuffed me. The cuffs were pretty tight, and both wrists are still in pain today.
I have panic attacks which spark asthma attacks and, as I was shoved in the paddy wagon with a few others, I started having trouble breathing. My inhaler was in my backpack which the cops took from me. The other guys and one girl tried to help me remain calm and, when the cops opened the door to shove more protesters into the paddy wagon, we all started yelling that we need an inhaler. The guy being put in even stopped the door from closing and started yelling for the cops to give me my inhaler. The cops just shut the door and ignored us. I didn’t get my inhaler until we were in the holding cell 20 minutes later.
FDL: Wow, I am sorry. Do you have any idea why they targeted you?
M: Often, when police are using brutal force, the last thing they want is a streamer to catch them doing it. I’m assuming since I was near the front streaming their actions, they wanted me gone. I was also wearing black, which immediately makes you a target.
FDL: Was this your first activist arrest? What was jail like?
M: This was my first arrest, and it was pretty awful. I think no matter how many times you get arrested, it is still a tough situation. We were brought in to the holding area, and they took all of our stuff and went through it. I was allowed to keep my inhaler on me in the holding cell, but not in the actual cell after being processed. Me and the other girl who was arrested were in one holding cell, while the guys were in another. We would check in on each other by banging our cuffs on the metal bar we were all cuffed to. The guys would bang on the bar, and we would bang back. Drove the cops insane, but it was comforting to know that we were all together.
We were in the holding cell for about four hours before they processed us. The cops found sandwiches and water in my bag I had packed for the protest, and went to toss all of it, and i got them to give us three minutes to eat as much as we could, and try to chug a bottle of water. This was the only food and water me and the other girl had that entire time in jail. She is a vegan, and I am a vegetarian. Once we were moved to the actual cells (solitary) they offered us bologna, or turkey sandwiches. When we said we didn’t eat meat, they were just like, “oh, well that’s what we got.”
We were then told it would be another 3-6 hours until our fingerprints came through. The girls were in one hallway, and the guys were in the opposite hallway. Me and the other girl were able to talk through the gap they open in cell doors. The cops were constantly laughing at us, and we even got lectured simply for asking the time. It was like we were less than human. The cells were freezing. Eventually the second shift cops moved us to different cells, and even said we were probably put there because we were protesters. No one told us what was going on, or how much longer we would be there. They said they would go check and wouldn’t come back.
FDL: How long did they hold you?
M: I was there for 8 hours, and was the last to be released.
FDL: Anything else you want to add?
M: Just that being in jail really opened my eyes to what our system does to people. The cops would treat anyone in there like they were nothing. You had a number, and thats who you were. They didn’t care.
This experience definitely solidified my beliefs that this system will not bend to our demands. It needs to be torn down and rebuilt in a completely different way. Power corrupts, and allows you to treat those you deem below you without any shred of respect.
I also want to give the biggest thank you to those who sat outside 18th and State until 1am waiting for us all to be released. Walking out and seeing all of them meant so incredibly much. Activists are the greatest people I’ve ever met.
All photos by Kit O’Connell, all rights reserved.