On October 1, 2011, a march led by Occupy Wall Street took over the Brooklyn Bridge. Over 700 people were arrested. I was one of them. This is what happened.
I decided to go to Liberty Plaza to check out the Occupy Wall Street movement. I heard there would be a march at 3pm. It's Saturday, so it's the first event I can join in on because of my job. At 3:20pm, Charlie Rangel, one of the NY state congressmen (I used to live in his district) went up to gave a speech, but I couldn't really hear it. Some hecklers booed him, but the crowd started chanting to let him speak.
We started marching shortly after that. Cops were all along our route, guiding us, directing traffic around us, and telling people to stay on the sidewalks when they drifted onto the streets. A guy on a corner was counting, and called out "900" just as I passed, so I guess that's how far in I was; I couldn't see the front. We arrived at the Brooklyn Bridge and paused for a bit. Then the crowd cheered and we started heading up the roadway. Some people were on the walkway, but a few were climbing over to join us. There were still cops there, so I figured this was where the march was going. Otherwise, they would be warning us and macing us like last week, right? I later hear from one of my friends, an event planner, that they were finishing up an event on the Brooklyn side of the bridge. Around 2pm, a local policeman told them to hurry up because they were planning to close the bridge to vehicles at 3pm.
We get about halfway across the bridge and stop. No one knows what's going on. I can't see the end of the crowd on either end. People up top on the walkway are trying to shout out updates, but they can't really see either. Conflicting reports are coming in.
"They are arresting people in the front, turn around."
"No don't, they are arresting people in the back."
"Ok, now they are letting people out in the back."
"No, they arrested those people too."
It's a bit scary because it's packed shoulder-to-shoulder and you can't move anywhere and a lot of people just want to leave, and every once in awhile, the crowd swells and moves, and we're on a bridge, so you don't want to get pushed off. It's around 5pm when I text my wife, "I'm trapped on Brooklyn Bridge. They're not letting us out."
After a half hour or so, the front clears up enough to see what's going on: the police are arresting everyone and taking them away. They have garbage bags full of those zip-tie cuffs (they call them "Flex-cuffs"). As they get their paperwork ready, they basically point to someone in the crowd; that person steps out, turns around, gets cuffed, and lines up. When they have five people in a line, they hand them to an arresting officer (an AO), who marches them down, presumably off the bridge, though later we see they are simply bringing them to another line. It's taking forever because they don't have enough cops, they don't know where they're bringing us, they run out of cuffs at one point, etc. I keep side-stepping on the off-chance that they'll end this charade and let us all go. Some people are even saying they're just marching them off the bridge and letting them go at the bottom. But it soon becomes clear there's no way out, and it would be better to get it over with since it's becoming dark and cloudy.
I have my backpack in front of me like the other people said to do, so I don't have to carry it in my handcuffed hands. I have the number to the lawyer's guild memorized, as well as my wife's. When a policeman points at me, I step forward, turn around, and get handcuffed. They line me up with four other people and hand me to my AO. This is somewhere between 5:30 and 6pm based on the last texts I sent. We march down the bridge. The protester's legal team is up above, and we shout our names to them so they can track us to make sure we all eventually get released. We get down to where they're loading buses, but they're out of buses, so we stand single-file. It starts raining hard, and it's cold. We stand there for maybe 45 minutes to an hour. Some lady yells out "we're getting cold and wet." One of the cops answers, "And you think we aren't?" Classy. Eventually, more paddy wagons and a few MTA buses arrive. None of the cops, even the ones in charge, know where they're taking us. The AO and his partner are from a different precinct, and they're worried about their car, which was parked on the bridge. The sergeant tells them to leave the keys with him and get on the bus. They're worried they're going to get in trouble for losing their car. At this point, some other policeman in charge has split us into different groups, and my original AO's partner is now my AO. We get on the bus.
Many of the women's hands don't fit in their cuffs, so they are texting to find out what is happening and keeping people updated on us. Some of the more informed and veteran protesters are filling us in on what will probably happen. We're also trying to figure out what happened on the bridge. Most of us are pretty convinced we were let on the bridge. Some even feel the cops led us on to trap us; how else would they be ready on the other side with busses and a line of cops? We find out we're going to Bed-Stuy.
Outside the station, we wait in the bus a bit. The driver remarks that we smell better than typical inmates. One of the AOs comes in to take his guy's information. My AO forgets who he had, so he just grabs seven random people. I get let out with a group and apparently have a new AO, one I've never seen before.
We get to the police station. The cops there can't believe what's going on. So much paperwork! So much processing! As each new wave of people come in, they go, "more?!?" It feels like this is the first time they've ever had to process anyone. There's no real system, they're just making it up as they go along, they keep switching what they're doing. My AO is writing down our information in a tiny notebook, and doing a bad job. "Home town?" Woodside. He writes "West Side." No, Woodside, in Queens. He adds "Queens" but doesn't change "West Side". West Side, Queens? What kind of New Yorker hasn't heard of Woodside?
It's strange since we all have our IDs, but they don't seem to care for accuracy. They make a point of being unable to pronounce any remotely ethnic name. They have to transfer us to metal cuffs, but there aren't enough, so they take people back to the cells in small groups, then come back with the cuffs. The jail cells are completely full at this point, so they take us to the holding cell. There are two cells in there, one for men, the other for women; it's the only women's cell in the building, so all 24 are shoved in there. We have 21 in ours. We have basically enough room to stand, though if you sit with your knees to your chest, you can eke out enough room to rest your head; the women's cell is smaller.
And then we wait. They start letting us use the bathroom one at a time (there's none in the cell because it's a holding cell, not a jail cell). They tell us to go if we have to, because they won't let anyone go after that. When someone does need to use it later, a cop says "No, no more going to the bathroom." She starts crying though, so eventually another cop lets her use it. There is a lot of conversation about what happened that day, what is going to happen to us, and why we are all protesting.
They bring us water after a few hours, then some government cheese sandwiches: two pieces of old bread and a slice of cheese. It turns out one of the guys somehow was able to keep his wallet after being tossed ("searched", in non-cop lingo); not that they were doing a good job of keeping track who was tossed and who wasn't. So this guy has his wallet and some cash, and the other guys call him "the 1%" and start protesting.
The holding cell room also houses their finger-print machine, which is the most high-tech thing in the station, and the only thing that seems to work, though no one seems to know how to operate it. Two or three protesters have their fingerprints taken. They're checking us for bench warrants, and a few have one. One guy had no idea, he just didn't go to court after a speeding ticket or something.
Someone has a watch, so we're able to keep track of time. At midnight, we sang happy birthday to two of the people in our cells; one was turning 30. None of us were the "protester" kind of people who necessarily wanted to be arrested. Most of us have jobs (like me) and are asking the officers how this would affect us (probably won't, they say. They don't know yet, but they think we're just getting summonses). One guy is a high school history teacher, and hopes he is out before school starts on Monday. The cops say there's 76 of us in their precinct. They said there were about 450 total arrests. Later, the number will swell to 700, and some estimates approach 800.
They gave some of us "D.A.T.s" and some of us summons. They said they changed their minds halfway through on what to give us. We were asking what the difference was, and they said there wasn't a difference (then why is it called different things?) The people with DATs had it for disorderly conduct, failure to disperse, and something else which I forget. My summons was for disorderly conduct, and I have to appear in court in December (there was one large group appearing in November, and another in December). It's kind of strange to divide the group into summons and DATs since the way they were "arresting" us was random, even voluntary, and we were shuffled around and rearranged so much that it was basically random the order we were brought to the police station, which was how they split us up between summons and DATs. Not that we were arrested or charged or read our rights; it was just a cop with a bunch of cuffs going "who's next?" And any time someone asked "what's going on" or "why are you doing this" the cops would just go "I don't know, this is what they told us to do." The cop in the holding cell room was very helpful. When people complained he said, "Next time, don't break the law."
It's around 3am when we are all left out and free to go. The National Lawyer's Guild was out front checking our names off their list and taking our information down for further contact. They would guide us through the next step of the process when it comes time for our hearings.