Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Occupy Journal of a Country Radical: "Occupy Sacramento" October 6, 2011

By Michael Israel
On-site mugshot after being arrested at Occupy Sacramento
"When inspecting the bits of plant and other organic matter on my shoes, I was asked if that was where I “hid my bud,” I let the officer know he was only touching livestock manure."
October  6th 2011
First Night of Occupy Sacramento

  The  Occupy Sacramento “open mic” sessions are long and scattered. Everyone wants to speak, to vent, to declare why they are there. The crowd is full of first time activists. Many appear nervous, anxious, but you can see the swelling pride and inspiration in them. The strength of this movement is its ability to draw out more than just the regular batch of activists, the familiar faces of past struggles. It is drawing to the streets, first timers young and old from all walks of life. I volunteer for a safety/security shift.

  The first night did have some yahoos, newbie activists having too much fun drinking and smoking to focus on the cause. This made the first General Assembly slightly humorous, and though the meeting was long it had a few interruptions by a drunken skateboarder searching for his lost french-fries.

  The meeting ends. The facilitator asks those that plan on remaining in the park after dark to get together for a short course on Non-Violent Civil Disobedience, basic shit, and a talk from an ACLU lawyer on what to expect from the Sacramento Police Dept.

  I originally did not intend to be arrested, but after talking with those that planned to risk arrest, you could say I felt inspired and maybe even a little protective over them. I’ve had some past Civil Disobedience experiences. Many of them had never been arrested before, this was their first ever demonstration, but were willing to risk going to jail to fight for our ability to occupy the park. Besides, the cities “no camping” ordinance essentially makes it a crime to be homeless in Sacramento, so it’s always a pleasure to break unjust laws.

  The original plan for the overnight occupiers was to gather and sit in a circle near the center of the park. At the last minute the Police stated they would not allow a camera crew, observers, or any of our support personnel to be in the park during the arrests. We decide to move to the edge of the park, near the sidewalk, to be within eyesight of witnesses.

  To make it apparent that we are a completely non-hostile group, we sit on the cement park walkway. Favored chants of the night were, “We are the 99%, Police are the 99%” and “Si se puede”. We did not lock arms nor engage in any other acts of resistance when the riot cops came to remove us, but we would not obey the orders to disperse. 

  The group of about fifteen sitters grew to over twenty as people decided at the last minute to join. One literally heard about the Sac Occupation 15 minutes before and rushed from his downtown apartment to arrive just in time for the arrests. Another, Sacramento State professor Paul Burke, arrived just after the riot police surrounded our group; he tried to pass them so he could be with his son, Luke, who was being arrested. The cops blocked his passage with their clubs and threatened to arrest him if he tried to pass. I believe his response was something to the effect of, “You’ll arrest me, if I try to get arrested?!”. Burke sat at the officer’s feet and was later to share a holding cell with his son.

Getting Arrested. Photo Courtesy of Paul Burke
  Let’s look at the police behavior. The cops monitoring the park that day and the arresting officers, clad in riot gear, were on their best behavior. That may have been due to the presence of ACLU lawyers, journalists and citizens armed with their cellphone cameras in the park, or they might treat everyone they arrest on a daily basis so kindly. They used friendly language, left our handcuffs loose enough to allow blood circulation, and chose not to bark orders and herd us like cattle. You’ll have to ask Sacramento’s homeless for the truth on that though. The officers in the Sacramento County Jail were singing a different tune. They tended to be less than respectful and more apt to asserting their dominance, and seemed to need to reinforce their self-image as the “authority”. Upon entering the room we were booked in, I overheard on older brown shirted Sheriff comment that “a night in the Sac Jail would wipe the smiles off their faces”. I gave him a big grin and asked how his night was going, but received no response. The Jail’s officers appeared to have no qualms in barking orders or pushing folks around.

  I don’t particularly like being looked down upon and the officers were quite openly displaying their negativity. When asked to kick my shoes off I informed the officer that I tied a double knot and was unable to remove them with cuffed hands, I let the officer remove them. When inspecting the bits of plant and other organic matter on my shoes, I was asked if that was where I “hid my bud,” I let the officer know he was only touching livestock manure.
When taking down additional information not on my I.D., I was asked if I would give my Social Security number or “not, and be a smart ass like the others”. I politely informed the officer I would not be giving them my Social. I wasn’t impressed with the way they treat people, I used every opportunity I could get away with to drag their night out. They would have received complete cooperation if they displayed more respect for their fellow man.

  After being kept in a holding tank for some time, I was fingerprinted by the only non-white officer I had seen all night, Hernandez. Before even asking what we were protesting, he stated that activists would never accomplish anything because those that control the wealth control our Government. I told him that was exactly why we were out there: to get money out of politics. In an effort to reassert his political as well as fingerprinting authority, he felt compelled to say that I would learn to appreciate America if I visited a place like Africa where there is mass starvation and people are shot for doing like I was that night. It seems interesting that one needs to visit a third world country to realize America ain’t half bad. By Somali standards, I bet we look great, but is that saying much? Before I had the chance to explain that I love this country and why I believe it’s important to fight for the democratic values that make it great, I was ordered into another cell.

  We spent the night in our cell telling jokes, stories, making fun of the guards. I was in a cell with about 8 fellow activists and 10-15 Sacramento locals. The others in the cell were arrested for acts of public drunkenness, DUI, or being homeless. They all thought it was outrageous when we told them we were arrested for exercising our First Amendment Rights in a park at night. One thing should be noted: the handful of white activists arrested were the only white people I saw kept in the holding tanks. My other cellmates were everything but white: Black, Latino, Vietnamese, Indian and even a single Palestinian. I find it hard to believe that no whites ever drunkenly wander the streets of Sacramento, but somehow they were missing from my cell. I suppose though, that the company of nearly all white police officers down the hall were meant to give off a feeling of “integration” in the Sacramento County Jail.

  We were held for about 10 hours, some for 12. I was release around 10:30am Friday October 7th. After retrieving the belongings I left with a fellow activist, I gave a cell mate a ride to his work place. From there, I drove home for a nap. I would return on the weekend.

In Solidarity,
Mike Israel


  1. Interesting account! Thank you for writing and sharing it.

  2. You inspire people, Mike. Well written.

  3. Thank you SO MUCH Mike Israel! Investigative journalism at its finest!