On being arrested
Dear UNM Administration,
Thank you for arresting me Tuesday night. Thank you for dragging more than 30 of my comrades with me to the Metropolitan Detention Center. Thank you for providing a continuing show of force at Yale Park, arresting two more people Wednesday afternoon and, now, closing the park to the public indefinitely.
Thank you for calling in the State Police and APD Tuesday night, with their riot gear, their helicopter and their SWAT team dressed in military fatigues. Thank you for sending so many police cars they formed a line literally as far as the eye can see. Thank you for your decisions that led to a gray-haired older woman being handcuffed, while hundreds of people yelled “Shame! Shame!”
Thank you, also, for informing us ahead of time that you would be arresting those of us who chose to continue exercising our First Amendment rights, allowing us to alert the public and ensure heavy exposure of your injustice. I heard the arrests were broadcast live, via Internet in Palestine, Libya and Egypt, adding legitimacy to our assertion: “The whole world is watching.”
You may think my thanks are insincere. I’d like to assure you that I am writing this in earnest. I truly thank you for your ridiculous authoritarian display of the power of the state.
The reason for my gratitude is this: You have revitalized our movement and added more to our numbers in one night than we could have in weeks. All the people that came out of Brickyard and the other surrounding businesses got a firsthand view of the violent suppression of free speech. The students, faculty and staff that have stopped by the last few days and wondered why there are so many police in Yale Park have been given a quick education in the way the First Amendment works in this country—“You have the right to free speech, as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it,” as the English revolutionary Joe Strummer so eloquently put it.
Perhaps a little explanation of what actually happened that night might make this clearer. As I said before you, as a faceless, corporate entity—that is, the administration as a whole—decided to stop the protesters from staying overnight and distributing food on campus. You basically cited the rationale that the rich, respectable Popejoy patrons and UNM foundation donors don’t want to look at homeless people any more.
It may be that a lot of people agreed with you in that decision. But I expect you will find far less support in your decision that there is absolutely no expression of the First Amendment right to free assembly allowed on campus.
Spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair personally explained to me on Monday that the protesters would still be allowed to gather on campus during “normal business hours,” they would just have to remove their semi-permanent structures and leave at 10 p.m.
“If they want to come back during the actual day and be in that area with their signage, they’re still welcome to do that,” Blair said during her meeting with me and Alibi news editor Marisa Demarco.
But on Wednesday, during the general assembly meeting, UNMPD’s Sgt. Trace Peck arrived at the general assembly meeting and told us we had five minutes to be out of the park or we would be arrested.
The group moved across the street and held the general assembly meeting in front of Schlotzky’s. The next day, we gathered on the sidewalk directly in front of Yale park.
This creates an interesting spectacle for anyone passing by. They can clearly see an organized group peaceably assembled being closely watched by over a dozen police officers. They can see for themselves that the paddywagon parked on Redondo Drive is completely unnecessary. They can see for themselves what it looks like when those in authority are terrified of the power of the people’s voices and simply don’t know how to react.
The arrests served another purpose, too, as they made those of us who were arrested aware of the incompetence and waste of the jail system. Most of us were released on our own recognizance in under 24 hours, but we got a brief glimpse of the inside of the prison-industrial complex.
I had my documents lost by the clerks at the jail, meaning I had to repeatedly agitate in order to be processed instead of being left to sit indefinitely. It quickly became clear to all of us that no one among the police and correctional officers had a clear idea of what they were doing. First in the paddywagon, and then in the cell, officers came by seemingly every 15 minutes looking for someone they had already moved or who was never there to begin with. The fact that there were two Andrews arrested also seemed to present a huge problem for all officers involved, and I quickly learned to ask “Andrew Beale?” every time they called my name.
We also saw firsthand the mean-spirited callousness of your system. A man who, apparently, was simply walking his dog through the area and stopped to see what all the fuss was about was arrested with us. His dog, as it turns out was a service dog, a fact that didn’t stop the police from carting him off to jail simply for trying to walk through the park. Many of us, myself included, witnessed several corrections officers literally laugh in his face when he asked for nutritional information about the food they served us—information that was critical to him, as he is diabetic.
I suppose we were lucky that no one was seriously injured. At the same time you were attacking our peaceful assembly, police in Oakland fired a rubber bullet into the head of Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, who is now in critical condition in the hospital with a fractured skull and brain swelling. We realize that next time, you may elect to use force like this, and we are prepared to take that risk. We know you can beat us with brute force, but we will win more hearts and minds every time you do.
I would like you to know, as well, that you have not broken the spirits of anyone you arrested (except, perhaps, the guy we shared a jail cell with who was there to shout at us to go home and ended up arrested himself). To the contrary, in fact, we sang “Solidarity Forever” in the paddywagon and passed the time laughing and joking in the holding cell. Several people are still in jail for various reasons (including prior records that caused them to have elevated bond amounts) but we are raising a bail fund for them and will soon get them out, and they will immediately rejoin our struggle.
So again, sincerely and from the bottom of my heart, thank you. You have picked an ill-advised and unnecessary fight with us. It is a fight that you cannot win. You cannot win because you are simply wrong. You cannot win because every move you make against us only adds to our numbers and makes it clearer that any system that deprives people of their right to free speech is doomed to fail.
As folk singer and labor organizer Utah Phillips said, “The state can't give you free speech, and the state can't take it away. You're born with it, like your eyes, like your ears.” Thank you for reminding so many people of that fact.
In solidarity with oppressed people everywhere,
Alibi contributor Andrew Beale has followed the occupation since it reached Albuquerque. His opinions are solely his own and do not reflect those of the Alibi or the (Un)occupy group.