Friday, November 18, 2011

The Occupy Journal of a Country Radical: "Occupy Sacramento" October 15, 2011

By Michael Israel


After I arrived in Sacramento on the 15th, I joined a large crowd surrounding the Capitol steps. I started looking through the crowd for fellow foothill activists. “Mike!” I heard Alan’s voice, somehow I had managed to walk right by and not see him. The rest of the foothill contingent drove back up early.

Cindy Sheehan joined us as the night wore on. I met up with some of the arrestees from the first night, and we catch up and shoot the shit. Some guy sung “Rebel Yell,” and though I’m not a fan of the song,  the guy actually sounded good. I think this was the same night with the drum circle too, which is not really my thing either. I am a Debbie Downer protestor; I guess it was good to see people with energy though.

As that wonderful time in the evening approached, when the people in riot suits force peaceful protestors out of parks, the activists hurriedly packed their tents and belongings. I moved my banner and packed back into my car. When I returned, I found a crowd planning to disobey the dispersal order, and I decided to join their meeting. Once again, I did not start the day planning to be arrested, but I liked the look of the group that night. There were many familiar faces from the first night, plus Cindy Sheehan. I doubt she remembers, but I spoke with her on the phone once, towards the end of the March for Peace, over 4 years ago. Doesn’t matter. We were briefed on what to expect from the police.

 One activist suggested we write our names and a mini bio on signs to hold as they arrest us. The cops can obviously see we are people, but knowing that we live lives and have families similar to theirs might make them hesitant about ratcheting on the handcuffs tightly, or speaking disrespectfully, as a few had done in the nights prior. We took our signs and sat down near the corner of the park that met the sidewalk again.

Video from OccupySac, with October 15 arrests and Cindy Sheehan's speech.

 It was our second largest group to be arrested, with 17 of us in handcuffs that night. Our supporters cheered us on, from behind the seemingly arbitrary imaginary line that divides the park from the sidewalk. Injustice is bizarre; it is illegal to sit on the cement in my location, but 10 inches away is an unseen boundary, behind which it was legal to assemble. We should remember that we do not employ police to defend justice; their job is to enforce law. They are still working people, like us. When violent acts are committed against us, like those against Scott Olsen in Oakland, we ought to understand this is a systemic problem and not a problem with the individual officer.

They surrounded us, and the officers armed with clubs and paintball guns made a human wall around us. The activist next to me teased the officer in front of us, “What’s up man? Uh oh, I see you smiling there, it’s alright to smile bro!” He managed to get at least one stone-faced cop to loosen up a little and laugh. One by one, they arrested and pulled us away. We shouted a statement about who we are and why we were under arrest to our supporters filming the event.

As the police zipped the plastic cuffs on one fellow activist, I heard an “Ouch!” Everyone could see the expressions of pain on her face; the crowd yelled that the cuffs are too tight. The officers continued regardless, and then led her away to the mass arrest vans. I heard a group of officers approach me from behind. “I can do it this time”, one of them said .

 A young cop knelt next to me and read from a paper; informing me that they would use chemical or electrical devices if I did not cooperate. He must have been new; he looked even younger than I.

The police lined us up in an alley between two parking garages, to question us and remove our belongings. One officer began to unlace my boots, but stopped when I informed him they were steel toed. Usually they just remove the laces from your shoes, but steel toe shoes they keep while you’re in jail. I suppose a boot can be a deadly weapon. George Bush once had a pair of shoes thrown at him; they are dangerous. Anyway, I spent my night barefoot.

They corralled us into a truck and hauled us off to jail. A few activists in my compartment complained that the cuffs cut off the circulation to their hands, and we had bruises on our wrists when we emerged the next morning from the county jail.
Sacramento County Jail

We reached the station; they led us out of the trucks and into the jail. They sat most of us on a long bench to wait for further questioning. A young officer entered from a side door and announced that they knew what we are fighting for and would appreciate our cooperation to speed up the night. Well that was nice of him. Shortly after, a mustached officer entered, gave us all a dirty look, then says; “You know, you all are wasting a lot of tax dollars right now”. Our group responded that they did not have to arrest us.

It’s an interesting thought. Is it a waste of tax dollars to arrest people exercising their rights? Or are the people that refuse to obey a law that undermines their rights the ones wasting tax dollars? Anyway, the officer exited after making his comment.

Here is an interesting bit I forgot to mention in the first journal. When you go to jail, they ask you many health related questions, and then give you a TB shot, which turns red after a while if you have ever been exposed to Tuberculosis. Some people reacted badly to these shots the previous night, and fell ill after receiving them. Now, it is supposed to be voluntary whether you want the shot or not. That is not how they do it in the Sacramento County Jail, they pretty much whip out the needle and tell you they are giving you a TB test. I had to refuse it three times this night before they let up.

Me: “I’ll be refusing the TB test tonight, so save the needle.”
Nurse: “Oh, it’s not bad. We give them to everyone.”
Me: “I know.  I don’t want the shot though.”
Nurse: “Well this is just standard procedure, you should really have it. It’s free.”
Me: “I refuse to have the TB shot, ma’am.”

She looked shot down (pun). Not sure why they like their TB shots so much. Puzzling. Now, when you refuse the TB test they give you a paper mask and are supposed to put you in an isolated cell, but it was too overcrowded that night I guess. They removed the last of my belongings and led me down the hall to the first holding cell. It was a popular night for the jail; the cell was packed. The benches were full of people sleeping while sitting upright. People slept on the floor as well, and I was unable to walk from one end of the cell to the other without stepping on someone. I staked a claim on a piece of bench between two sleeping men. I recognized the cell as my room for part of the first night's arrest, because of the hammer and sickle carved into the center of the steel door. They continued to pack more and more people into the cell. After a couple hours, they pulled us out for finger printing. As I waited to get my prints done, I heard an officer arguing with a jailed man nearby. The officer was having a hard time taking the man’s mug shot or something. “Turn around, don’t look”, the officer next to me orders. I guess it would be inconvenient if I were to witness them clubbing him.

They finished my fingerprints and led me down to the next holding cell. It was slightly larger than the last, but just as packed. We passed the time exchanging stories and telling each other about how we managed to end up in jail. One young kid talked a bit about the range of drugs he uses for recreation. He had some tattooing on both arms and a couple visible scars, but he still looked young, barely out of high school. I could not help thinking about how continued drug use would age him fast.

There was a woman screaming down the hall. We could not see anything from our cell window, I guess she must have been yelling loudly for us to hear her all the way down by the men’s cells. The next morning the female activists who shared a cell with her told me what happened. Apparently, when some officers discovered she had a good job and education, they joked “You must think you’re pretty smart, huh?”
 She responded “Yes, smarter than most cops”.

That remark was enough justification for the cops to drag her from the cell by her hair and feet and lock her in isolation. When they returned her to the cell, she had several bruises and one large abrasion. Those that saw the event gave her contact information for lawyers and offered to bear witness. If the guards were bold enough to behave this way when holding a bunch of protestors with ACLU contacts, I would hate to see the way they act on a normal night.

Back in the men’s cell, one man, probably in his late 50s, asked why they arrested us. We let him know we were with Sacramento’s OWS group. I think he was under the impression that a bunch of communists must lead OWS. He started making all kinds of comments about how “liberalism is a disease” and talked a lot about Michael Savage. Towards the end of the night, I think he might have realized we shared many of the same values. We agreed that working America got the short end of the stick with the corporate bailouts, and that our economy is sour because of irresponsible corporations and that we need to create decent jobs.

Fellow activists greeted us with cheers and cigarettes when we were released the next morning. A fellow arrestee, Evan, and I head back to the park. They arrested both of us on the first night as well. The occupiers were busy setting up their tents and media tables. The supplies for the food distribution table were present, but no one was available to operate it. Evan and I took over and started dishing out breakfast. Another activist and arrestee, Brandon, placed his espresso machine on a table near us to set up what he called “CafĂ© Freedom”. We were busy serving for several hours. It felt good. After lunch I said my fairwells and drove back to the foothills.

I will continue to assist the Sacramento Occupation whenever I can, but with OWS protests springing up in Amador and Tuolumne counties, my priorities are here in the Mother Lode. The foothills are not a hotbed for political action like New York, DC or the Bay Area, but that is not an excuse for political apathy. We may not be able to have 24/7 occupations of Detert or Courthouse Park, but we will find our own ways to assist the Occupy Wall St movement.

In Solidarity,
Mike Israel

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