38 Studios is More Sleaze by the 1%

originally featured in
Providence Journal
June 4, 2012

Once again, the people of Rhode Island have suffered from an insider
deal marketed as “economic development.” The Rhode Island Economic
Development Corporation awarded $75 million in loan guarantees to a
video-game company that has now apparently collapsed.
It’s not enough to dump the blame on 38 Studios and Curt Schilling, the
company’s well-connected but inexperienced founder. Most Rhode Islanders
are aware that the problem goes wider than that.
To finance the Curt Schilling deal, the EDC helped secure $75 million
in loans from Wall Street. It was not listed as a taxpayer bond, but state
leaders have now promised that the taxpayers will pay if the financial
firms can’t get their money any other way. We at Occupy Providence believe
that job-creation projects shouldn’t end with a bailout.
This deal never made economic sense. Curt Schilling’s company promised
to create 450 jobs in Rhode Island. It never had more than 300. But even if
Schilling’s company had kept its promise, the cost would still have been
over $100,000 per job created. That’s more than double what most Rhode
Islanders make in a year.
A deal that pays that much per job isn’t about job creation. Instead,
it’s at the level that’s normally considered corporate welfare.
For that much money, you could have given jobs to more people than
Schilling promised to employ, and they could have been jobs that left a
lasting benefit for the whole state in fixing roads or helping the schools.
Even if this deal had worked out and didn’t leave taxpayers on the hook
for repaying Wall Street with interest, spending $100,000-plus per job
still amounts to a bogus form of economic development.
Occupy Providence sees this latest scandal as only one example of a
much wider problem: the power of insiders in Rhode Island. When Curt
Schilling got his great deal, he was an insider. He was a prominent
supporter of then-Gov. Donald Carcieri’s Republican Party, and Carcieri
chaired the EDC, which arranged the $75 million loan guarantee.
It’s not just the Republicans, of course. Both parties have given
plenty of examples of how they’re ready to abuse whatever amount of power
they have. And the power of insiders goes beyond political parties. Dan
Doyle’s Institute for International Sport at the University of Rhode Island
seems to have used his insider position to evade financial controls at URI.
Wall Street firms are able to use their insider status to increase
their wealth and make us cover their losses with money from the real
economy. In the Schilling deal, Wall Street firms didn’t only lend the
money; some of them took a share of the proceeds to facilitate the deal.
Occupy Providence promotes the voice of the 99 percent of the
population because Rhode Islanders continue to suffer from insider deals.
If the 99 percent had been consulted about the Schilling deal, it wouldn’t
have happened. Only 28 percent of Rhode Islanders favored it at the time.
The vast majority of the population would have done many other things
differently, too.
It was insiders who made a deal with Achievement First to run schools
in Rhode Island, even though Achievement First’s questionable record led
many residents to oppose it. The EDC, a board of business, labor government
and nonprofit-group leaders appointed by the governor, is great at
promoting their deals.
One year it’s Curt Schilling, other years it’s been a biotech firm like
Alpha Beta (another flop) or the troubled Wyatt jail that was supposed to
help save Central Falls. Meanwhile, the EDC engages in what economists call
a “race to the bottom” — competing with other states to give tax breaks to
big business, and borrowing money from Wall Street to fund whatever deals
the insiders like. They call it economic development, because it’s true
that economic development requires spending money.
But when we leave it up to the 1 percent to spend that money, we don’t
get any more real prosperity than a mediocre video game. We in Occupy
Providence believe that economic progress comes from cutting out the
insiders. We keep hearing that there’s no more money for the concerns of
the 99 percent, such as education and transit, but these are the things
that bring real economic development. Once we work together to put the 99
percent’s concerns into practice, Rhode Island will have a brighter future.

Jared Paul and Randall Rose represent Occupy Providence.

2008 RNC Arrest Story, Part III:
Another Long Day

Originally Published in
The Agenda (2008)
Providence Based Quarterly Newspaper
StrangeFamousRecords.com (2009)
Label home to Prayers For Atheists
Off The Wookie (2009)
The official magazine of SXSW Festival (2009)

I opened my eyes the next morning not quite sure of where I was. A quick glance around confirmed that yesterday had not been a dream. Claustrophobia washed over me as I surveyed the walls of the tiny cell and the day got off to a sullen start but spirits improved dramatically by mid-morning when I was allowed to speak with an attorney.

The ACLU had taken all my info when I called them from the park. With diligence and a little luck they were able to locate me. The attorney explained details about my case and took down whatever family members’ phone numbers I could remember, as well as Slug from Atmosphere’s email. Slug lived in Minneapolis and was a longtime friend. I definitely didn’t want to bother him but things were serious and I knew he’d want to know what was going on. I was nearly shaking with happiness just to be outside of the cell and found myself trying to stretch out our meeting like a school kid stalling in the Nurse’s office, knowing full well that next class period was waiting as soon as the bell rang.

We were allowed to make phone calls at this point but only collect calls and even those seemed to hang up randomly in mid conversation. Sometimes it would hang up right in the middle of a call and then block you from calling the number you had just dialed saying “The person you just called has not yet set up a customer account with Ramsey County phone services. You must wait 30 minutes before calling again.” Being on 23hr a day lock down and only let out of our cells for half an hour at a time made it impossible to call anyone back in 30 minutes, and it was very difficult to contact people or get anything done.

Being an ACLU rep, my attorney wasn’t able to pay the bond for my bail but he was able to give me the numbers of a trustworthy Bail Bondsman’s office nearby. However, I couldn’t be bailed or bonded out because I hadn’t been arraigned yet. By law, Ramsey County could hold me for up to 48 hours without bringing me before a Judge, which meant I might be in here till Thursday morning or later. Our session ended with the attorney giving me his card and a handshake. He was very supportive and I felt a thousand times less alone knowing that he’d contact my family and start working things out. I’d also been able to take a few sheets of paper and a stubby prison pencil to make notes with.

Later that day, during my final 30 minute break from the cell, the attorney spoke with me on the phone telling me he’d gotten in touch with my sister as well as Slug. They were both working to find out everything they could and making plans to get me out as soon as possible. I spoke with them both for 45 seconds each before the phone cut out. My sister’s voice was the strongest thing I’d heard in years, it filled me with hope, like she was right there on the side of me. She explained to me that Sean had spoken with the lawyer first and then called her to ensure her that I wasn’t in any trouble and that things were on their way to being worked out. I thanked Sean for that before our phone connection was cut off and walked away feeling recharged.

The ball was rolling on the outside but inside Ramsey jail it was a decidedly mixed bag. Some folks were handling the situation really well and others were not. There was a guy who had the flu, which got worse over the course of the night. His cell was drafty and they wouldn’t give him more than the standard thread bare County sheets or medical attention. Another guy was in a cell all by himself and starting to get shaky about it. Under other circumstances it may have been better to have the space all to one’s self given the size of the rooms but we were on 23 hour a day lock down and his cell had ended up being nearly the equivalent of solitary confinement.

The correctional officers lovingly referred to our hall as “the pod” and the 1st floor corner of our pod was a room stuffed with people. Apparently they’d filled the other twenty or so rooms with two inmates each (except for the one guy in semi-solitary) and all the extra people had been put in that one corner room. During one of the breaks I was able to peek in. It looked like a Yoga class in Hell with prisoners lying on mats in columns and rows taking up nearly every inch of the floor. I suddenly felt unusually gratefull for my cell with stiff bunk and lidless toilet. As I passed, I made eye contact with the guys inside, held my fist high in support, and tried to look tough. I went back to my cell and worked on an outline of everything that happened thus far, making notes, trying to keep details fresh for my story and for my case.

The hours passed slowly. Sometimes we called to each other from the cracks beneath our cell doors checking to see what time it was or if anyone had heard any news. I had found a shitty Dean Koontz novel in a rack of old books they let us choose from. At a certain point in my life it would’ve been a real score, but now? Not so much. Cliche plot, simple characters, and a lot of rehashed pop culture concepts but it was enough to take my mind off things.

During breaks from the book I thought about the Convention and how people out there were being treated. Today was Tuesday and my good friend B. Dolan was playing the big show on the Capitol lawn with Dead Prez and many other acts. Different stories were circulating amongst the arrestees, it was rumored that Rage Against the Machine might be playing a surprise set and also that many more people had been arrested over the course of the previous evening.

The RNC arrestees on the pod went out of their way to be support eachother, making jokes whenever we could, sharing stories, asking around to be sure everyone had spoken with a lawyer, and doing anything we could to keep spirits up. From speaking with our attorneys and family outside we learned that legally they were only supposed to be able to hold us for 48 hours without bringing us before a judge, but it was impossible to know when that 48 hours began according to the Sheriff of Ramsey County. Would they let us out whenever that 48 hours was up? Did they plann to keep us in longer? Would I be out in time to cover the next day’s events or the final day of the Convention?

We got an unexpected answer as to how the concert at the Capitol went later that day. A large crowd of resolute attendees and RNC protesters left the state house lawn after the show was shut down by police and began marching through the city picking up supporters as they went. The march passed Ramsey County Jail and hundreds of people stopped to cheer ferociously for those of us inside. We could hear them from our cells as sound bounced off the buildings on the street and everyone ran to their doors to get a better listen. The guards looked alert, as though maybe a siege of ghosts belonging to all the innocent people who’d ever spent a night in that foreboding place had suddenly risen and was now crashing down around them. The prisoners in our Pod cheered back, it felt like a rescue scene in a movie. Needless to say, this wasn’t Hollywood and no matter how much the people in that crowd wanted their friends, family, and fellow activists freed, no one would be let out that day. Nevertheless, it felt good to know that we weren’t forgotten and that so many had marched to support us. Was B. out there cheering with them? I forgot the cage around me for a moment and smiled to myself, thinking of all the events he and I have attended together through the years and hoping that the storm troopers outside hadn’t got their slimy mitts on him.

Day faded into night. My roommate was a photographer and one of the most friendly people I’ve ever met. We talked for a long time about the election in November and the dangerous ways in which things were changing for America. It was quite obvious to both of us that authorities are using more and more Riot Police in unnecessary situations all the time. That riot police seldom de-escalate any situation, but rather, are much more likely to create tension and often intentionally provoke a negative response from the crowd. All the gear, body armor, high tech weapons: the rubber bullet guns, helmets, visors, knee pads, shin guards, utility belts, batons, mase hoses, bean bag guns, tasers, hydration backpacks? The sound cannons, flash-bang grenades, riot vans, helicopters, video, photo, radio, and surveillance equipment, the intelligence, infrastructure, and administration of it all? All the over time pay? It costs MILLIONS.

Weapon making corporations employ an army of lobbyists in Washington. These advocates push for legislative changes that require the use of riot police in more and more situations. The more situations that occur where authorities successfully demand that the use of riot cops is necessary, then the more laws will continue to change in favor of mandating the use of paramilitary crowd control in nearly any instance they wish. At which point, more and more riot gear and equipment will be needed, the profit margin will continue to grown, and the circle repeats. Match this phenomenon with any number of Defense Department programs desperate to solve / create problems in order to justify their budgets and an Administration bending its will to convince America that there are terrorists around every corner, and you can bet we’ll all be seeing many more lines of heavily armored officers on our streets for a long time to come.

They’re already using riot police at anti-war protests and immigrant’s rights rallies. Riot police called in to “keep Boston safe” during the American League Championship Series in 2004 killed a 21 year old student at Emerson College named Victoria Snelgrove when she was shot in the face with a supposedly “non-lethal” projectile rifle. Should we expect para-military riot police at peaceful Labor rallies and Marriage Right’s press events next? Will we then see them called in for holiday parades or any public concert? College sporting events and Little League games too? We are on a very slippery slope and it isn’t difficult to imagine how things could go from bad to worse in a relatively short time.

My room mate and I eventually fell asleep but were woken up promptly at 3:30 a.m. which is when they serve breakfast in County Jail; all part of the program to keep prisoners disoriented, dispirited, and obedient. To the best of my knowledge, the logic is that if you startle people out of a deep sleep to eat at 3:30am then they’ll do it quickly and go back to bed. Then they wake up hungry and looking forward to lunch around 11pm, have dinner at 5pm, and are docile and ready for bed around 9pm. Eating breakfast 2 hours before dawn is early, even by a farmer’s standards, but there wasn’t much of a choice so we ate.

A new guy who had been picked up by RNC security forces days before us was moved unto our pod during the night. He seemed scared and said that he had been arrested by RNC security forces on Saturday afternoon, which meant he had already been in custody for over 4 days and still hadn’t been arraigned. The rest of us had spent two nights in jail already and had all been counting on being released soon. After listening to him everyone we now understood that we might actually be staying for longer than anyone had originally feared. The news spread from cell to cell like a dirty secret and before lunch all the arrestees on our pod agreed to collectively refuse food until we were allowed to see a judge or be let go. Lawyers and family members were alerted on phone breaks that we would be hunger striking. This was done in order to make our intentions clear and also to indicate that additional medical attention might be needed.

As morning crawled along and the late summer sun touched down on the outer pane of my glazed window I tried to put the prospect of skipping dinner out of mind. It was low quality lunchroom food (under cooked rice, white bread, canned apple sauce, and maybe a packet of high fructose peanut butter) but I had foolishly missed breakfast on the day of the arrest. That, matched with 2 days of these prison meals, had me feeling thin and weak. Suddenly there was a clamoring in the cells and my roomy and I flew to the door quickly pressing our noses against the small window. There were now guards walking in with paper work and voices coming from arrestees out of door slots. They seemed to be taking us out one cell at a time. Finally, almost exactly 48 hours after we’d been taken from the park, we would be brought before an actual judge.

We all cheered and the guards bellowed for us to shut up. But after two days on 23 hour-a-day cell lockdown the excitement was not containable. Visions of stretching my legs, breathing fresh air, getting a real meal, and holding Rheanna’s hand were all I could think of; Rheanna is one of the people I was listening the concert with when we all got arrested. I hadn’t seen her since Monday and had know way of knowing if she was alright. Excitement was high at first, but it eventually leveled and crashed. We realized getting off the pod didn’t really mean much for the immediate present and that this process would also take a long slow time. We were moved from room to room, again, and then finally wound up in a big holding cell next to meeting rooms where a bunch of ACLU affiliated attorneys and Public Defenders were waiting.

Slowly but surely they packed the holding cell with nearly 50 people and one by one we were allowed to speak with a lawyer. The attorney I’d been working with called me out and explained that this was basically just a bail hearing and it would be very fast. He said that my friends were waiting to bond me out but that I might not actually be released till later on that night. It all depended on how quickly they processed me and whether or not the cops had specific plans to stall our release. I was so ready to go home I could almost taste it. Three days of eating peanut butter and jelly on the lowest quality white bread known to man, suspect looking fruit, and that thick, dry rice… my mind went wild thinking of all the things I’d eat when I got out.

After I was done speaking with him they brought me back to the holding cell to wait again. Shortly after a guard led me toward the courtroom. He opened a door, push-steered me through it, and then very quickly closed it behind me. I soon realized that I was in a small prisoner’s alcove sectioned off by a high wooden wall and thick clear plastic above.The whole courtroom turned and stared at me in my orange Ramsey County prisoner’s jumpsuit. The prosecutor wanted bail set at $4,000. My lawyer got it down to $2,000 and the judge ordered me back to court on September 30th. The whole thing might’ve taken 90 seconds and I didn’t even get to speak. After all that time in the cell and all that emotion, I felt like I was owed some sort of expression, but it was just a bail hearing and they weren’t even accepting pleas. I felt disenfranchised, humiliated, and enraged all at the same time.

Back in the holding cell everyone was talking and sharing details, trying to figure out what was going on. A few local people had gotten really low bail but most of ours had been set up around $2,000. There were a bunch of younger guys in there with us. One of them was really shaken and on the verge of tears. He was white trashy like me, reminded me a lot of my neighborhood growing up, and it seemed he had misunderstood what the public defender had said to him. He was anxious and shivering, said that he wouldn’t have the money for bail and would have to stay in County Jail after all of us had already gotten out. Said that his parents didn’t have the money and none of his friends did either. He swore he hadn’t done anything illegal but started talking crazy about taking a guilty plea to anything they offered. My roomy and I sat him down and explained how the bonding process worked and that it wouldn’t be hard for him to get someone to throw down 10% of the bail. He just had to keep his head and hold on for a little longer. We borrowed a pencil from a guard and wrote down the number for the bondsperson my lawyer had given me. The boy squared his shoulders and shook my hand. Much of the frantic look had left his face, but he still seemed so young and vulnerable. We did our best to make him feel supported and kept an eye on him for the rest of the time we were in the same cell.

Shortly after, they began moving us from room to room again. It was irritating but the idea that we were actually being processed out began to set in and my spirits rose. Also, for a short while, we were placed in a room across the hall from a bunch of the girls also taken at the park, and others from “the parking lot” (which we had found out was the location of another mass arbitrary RNC arrest site.) We could hear them singing and it felt good; good to know they were safe, good to know they were weathering this whole mess seemingly much better than we were, and good just to hear the sound of their voices. They peeked in the door windows and smiled at us. It was unquestionably the high point of the preceding 40 or 50 hours.

However, much to my shock and dismay, when I was finally called out of the cell I discovered that I wasn’t being released. Rather, I was brought back down the same dark hallway full of shower stalls without faucets from two nights before. Instead of giving me my clothes back, I was actually subjected to a second strip search only to then be brought back out to a different pod and placed in general population.

I could feel the heat rise into my face, standing completely naked, once again surrounded by that dirty meat smell, with my hands on the wall. Déjà vu. The internal struggle to rebel all over again. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was made to turn around, bend over, and display my genitals from all angles before another huge guard and his gun.

2008 RNC Arrest Story, Part II:
Ramsey County Jail

Originally Published in
The Agenda (2008)
Providence Based Quarterly Newspaper
StrangeFamousRecords.com (2009)
Label home to Prayers For Atheists
Off The Wookie (2009)
The official magazine of SXSW Festival (2009)

Processing took a long, long time. Officers barked orders and made us stand with our noses to the wall while waiting in between different steps. Wrist ties were cut and they proceeded to move us around from room to room for hours. Pockets of twenty or so people were stuffed into small, filthy holding cells with no bathrooms. While sitting around talking with folks, I discovered that most of the people taken from the park were also being charged with Felony Riot. Everyone I spoke with was anxious over the implications of having a Felony on their record and the prospect of being kept in County Jail for an indefinite amount of time.

After being finger-printed for the first time, I was made to sign a property waiver, at which point I discovered there was no record of my wallet, ID, cell phone, or bank card in my ‘property’ at all. The officers had been refusing to answer any of our questions and gruffly snapping orders since the park but now I refused to be easily brushed off. “Officer, I’m here writing an article for a paper in R.I., over a thousand miles away. If you lost my wallet, my ID, my phone, and all my money, then what am I supposed to do? I won’t even be allowed to buy an airline ticket, let alone get on a plane. I need to know where my stuff is…” The officer looked like he had a split second’s worth of remorse but it disappeared just as fast as it came. He said there was no way to know where my stuff was or if they even had it. The best I could do was track down the Police Station of my arresting officer when I got out.

About twenty of us were now crammed back into a small room with two large windows facing the hallway. Peering out we saw the cops escort an enormous scowling man with black boots into the hall. He had to be at least 250 pounds with tattoos and a shaved head. They took off his zip ties and deposited him in the room right next to ours. He immediately stuck his nose up to the pane glass and began mouthing threats at us: “You’re dead meat” and “I’m going to kill you.” This terrified some of the people in our cell at first but a closer inspection showed that the room holding the man was in fact not a holding cell at all. It was a questioning room with a desk and a cabinet. Shortly after, another cop brought in some papers and we saw that the door wasn’t even locked and our supposed psycho was as actually an off duty cop brought in to frighten us (many of whom had little or no previous jail experience.) Later the same guy was spotted laughing and hanging out with the other on-duty officers behind one of the processing desks.

I was in the cell long enough to make friends with some of the other arrestees who’d been on the bus with me from the park. We began singing and telling stories to pass the time and boost morale. The oldest guy with us, a photographer from an unnamed paper, sang a beautiful Irish labor song. I performed a poem of mine called ‘Dig’ with an intro from the anti-war traditional ‘Down By The Riverside.’ People applauded and stomped on the floor. Shortly after a cop came in and screamed at us for singing. He cursed at us and said that our “racket” was preventing them from doing their jobs and if they couldn’t process us then we’d be stuck in this cell for a long time. People were respectful to him but he seemed shocked that nobody was scared or apologizing. He left in a huff and slammed the door behind him.

I honestly cannot say how many more rooms they moved us to after that. Maybe as many as ten or eleven. It seemed very similar to a defense department tactic used on enemy combatants known as “Frequent Flyer.” The idea is that you constantly move prisoners around in order to keep them confused and hopeless. You keep pushing them from one place to another, allow them to think they’ve gotten to where they’re going for the night and get comfortable with the people they are currently being held with, then just as they start to relax you move them to a another room with different prisoners. It’s quite effective in rendering prisoners disillusioned, dispirited, mentally exhausted, and easily pliable. We had been in custody for all day and whether the Ramsey County “frequent flyer” treatment was part of the plan or not, I noticed it taking a toll on those around me.

After what seemed like hours, an angry officer with a clipboard stepped into our holding cell and began calling names. But we had questions…

“Officer, do you know what time it is? Do you know where we’re going?”

“I don’t care what time it is, and you’re not gonna like where you’re goin’.”

“Do you know when we can use the phone? What time court is tomorrow?”

“You ain’t going to see no judge tomorrow, you boys are gonna be in here for a long time…”

“Come on, man. Can’t you just tell us?” ”

“I can tell you that if you don’t shut your mouth I’ll do my best to make sure you wind up on the third floor with the rapists and murderers far away from all your little protest friends.”

I tried hard not to show it but my stomach sank. I think everyone’s did. It seemed fairly obvious that up to this point the police had been intentionally keeping all the protesters together and I didn’t really believe that we’d be assigned to a floor specifically for violent offenders but I also knew they could do anything they wanted with us. What got to me the most was the way he spoke so surely about us being in for “a long time.” How long would it be, two days? Till the end of the Convention? Longer?

When my name was called I was led down a short hall lined with shower stalls that didn’t have any actual shower faucet heads. There were grimy yellow walls and a moldy, rancid meat smell that filled both nostrils. An armed guard led me to one of the stalls and said, “Strip. Then put your clothes in that crate.” Excuse me? “TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES AND PUT THEM IN THE CRATE.” Everything in me wanted to refuse. I hadn’t done anything and they had no right to keep me there. Blood rushed into my face as I looked the huge man up and down; I saw that he was tired and very irritated. Not abusive like the other officer, just worn out and seemingly nearing the end of his rope.

I was more angry than scared but I knew it would be dangerous to tap into that kind of venom. This is how the Law ensnares peaceful people into more trouble than they were swindled into in the first place. I switched my focus. “Remember everything and then write it all down,” I thought. “When you get out, win this case, and publish every last detail.” I took a deep breath and removed my clothes.

“Turn around, face the wall. Lift up the bottoms of your feet, one at a time. Good. Bend over and touch your toes. Spread your ass cheeks; left, right. Good. Stand up, turn around. Lift up your sack, move it to the left, the right. Separate the shaft from your sack; left, right. Good. Now wait here and don’t move.”

He shut the shower curtain and left with my clothes. Naked as a newborn, I waited in the meat-smelling oubliette until he returned with another crate. “Now put on the uniform and wait till I come back.” The uniform was a bright orange jumpsuit, just like the images we’ve all seen from Guantanamo. I thought of all the people that have been held in that place for years without a lawyer, without rights, and I felt ashamed for how little I’ve done to advocate for their rights; to be accountable for what my tax dollars pay for. I thought of all the innocent people and those doing unjust sentences in American jails as well. I began to consider the implications of putting that suit on myself. It seemed that the simple act of stepping into it was a giving over in and of itself; a rendering, an acceptance of defeat, an admission that something wrong had been done. I mean, how many hours walking around in G-Bay orange before you actually start to think of yourself as guilty on one level or another?

It was late and I was incredibly tired. Once again I reminded myself that the Victory would be in making my way through this snake pit without them getting the best of me and following it up with legal action once I was released. My life suddenly felt distant and detached, like this was all happening in a movie or TV show somebody else was watching. My arms and legs slowly began to move (as if acting on their own accord), methodically putting on the suit. Mismatched orange socks in scummy, thousand-time worn County flip flops click clacked along the dull floors as we were finally placed in cells where we could sleep. Two guys to a cell about the size of a walk in closet, stainless steel lidless toilet, two mattress-less bunks, and one tiny sliver of a window with frosted glass you couldn’t see out of.

Before shutting us in for the rest of the night, the guards informed us that we were on 23 Hour Lock Down. This means that until we were released we’d only be allowed to come out of our cells and onto the main floor area for two 30 minute breaks a day. We would have to remain in our cells for every second of the other 23 hours. In addition to that, nobody would be allowed to use the phone until “later.” I thought this was just another intimidation technique, like, they have to give us our phone call, right? Once again I had terribly underestimated Ramsey County Jail’s ability and willingness to do absolutely whatever it wanted with it’s charges. The Bill of Rights is just a piece of paper, and in here, the Sheriff had absolute authority.

We were given a tooth brush, paste, soap and two paper-thin sheets for bedding. My roommate and I brushed our teeth and then collapsed unto our respective bunks. We wouldn’t have been taken to an actual prison cell like this if we were seeing a judge in the morning and we both knew it. It felt like a semi-permanent placement but we were too tired to care. I laid my head down and fell fast asleep.

2008 RNC Arrest Story, Part I:
Conspiracy To Riot

Originally Published in
The Agenda (2008)
Providence Based Quarterly Newspaper
StrangeFamousRecords.com (2009)
Label home to Prayers For Atheists
Off The Wookie (2009)
The official magazine of SXSW Festival (2009)

On Monday, September 22nd, I attended the Labor Day anti-war protest in St. Paul with a couple friends. It was Day 1 of the 2008 Republican National Convention and I was in town working on a story for a quarterly publication in Providence called The Agenda and also as a concerned citizen interested in learning about the Convention from a first hand perspective. Both the rally and the march from the Capitol to the Excel Center earlier in the day were a resounding success with over a hundred different coalitions and nearly 20,000 people participating. There were hundreds of riot police and military barricades downtown but I witnessed no aggression at all from the people in the march. We were a peaceful and highly energetic group of citizens assembling to protest the Iraq War and the Republican Party’ role in the orchestration, execution, and prolonged continuation of it. After the march my friends and I headed off in an inspired, joyous mood.

The next big event of the day was the Service Employees International Union (S.E.I.U.) Take Back Labor Day concert at the Harriet Island Pavilion. Billy Bragg, Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine, Atmosphere, and Mos Def were all playing. It was a couple miles from where we were but definitely walk-able. Riot police were blocking off certain streets and bridges downtown on the most direct route to the show, so we tried our best to find an alternate route. Twenty minutes we later found ourselves in a nice little park right across the river from Harriet Island. The Mississippi stood between us and the high wall of the Pavilion which blocked any view of the concert but we could hear it all very clearly. Tom Morello was on-stage wrapping up the Night Watchman set, followed by representatives from Iraq Veterans Against the War and then Atmosphere began. I heard Slug’s voice over the sound system and a huge smile washed over my face. We head north and east along the path of the river park, eager to find our way to the concert and catch as much of the set as possible.

None of us knew the area but there was a large bridge in the distance and we could see people walking across. On the way toward it we came across pockets of disgruntled fans saying that the bridge was being blocked by cops and no one could get across. We kept walking in hopes of getting a concrete answer or finding another way around, but the pattern continued and more rejected would be show-goers were coming toward us. Suddenly, my eyes fixed on what they were all walking away from: an enormous line of storm trooper looking riot police and what looked like National Gaurdsmen in full army gear, blocking the entire width of the road and advancing steadily toward us. There were hundreds of them, some with gas masks, some on bikes, and many holding hi-tech looking rifles. A small pocket of people holding protest signs retreated before them. One brave kid among the group had a video camera and was hippy dancing about 20 feet before the police line. He reminded me of a little bird I had once seen in a storybook eating popcorn off a crocodile’s nose.

Helicopter blades could now be heard slicing through the air high above and I got a very tingly, end of the world feeling. Like life had suddenly become a scene from 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead. The militarized lines of officers came fanned out, preventing anyone from leaving via the north or western boundaries of the park. Heading quickly in the opposite direction my friends and I began to hear frightened voices shouting in front of us: “They’re not letting anybody out!” We sprinted back through the forming crowds of confused people hoping to exit at the southern entrance but there was already a line of dozens of bicycle police using their bikes as a blockade. Their line ran up to the road, meeting the other contingent of riot police from the north and completing the blockade. Ten minutes later even more riot police arrived and coast guard boats with guardsmen holding rifles moved into position on the Mississippi behind us. The perimeter was secure and approximately two hundred people or more were now being detained against their will without any official charge or order to disperse. No acknowledgment from the police at all. They wouldn’t explain, they wouldn’t answer questions, they simply would not acknowledge us.

People were visibly shaken, crying, and making frantic phone calls. I’d seen a similar scenario at the RNC in 2004 when the NYPD surrounded whole crowds of people with orange construction site webbing, put everyone in zip ties, and then bused them to pre-arranged warehouse facilities; protesters, shoppers, journalists, senior citizens, legal observers, and anyone in the path of their directive. I didn’t think St. Paul would be employing those same abuses on the first day of this Convention and certainly not so far away from any march or actual event but it seemed as though all bets were off.

Glancing around we saw that there were all types of people in the park; some who had been there listening to the concert like us, stunned college students, people who’d been eating their lunches in the park, a group of middle aged women out for a walk along the river, protesters, and more. Some people were still wandering around asking different officers to let them out, many just sat down on the ground. There was a teenage girl next to us shaking and sniffling with tears running down her face. I leaned over and said, “Hi, name’s Jared. I want you to know that you’re doing just fine. This is total bullshit and we didn’t do anything wrong so let’s not give them the satisfaction.” Her bottom lip quivered and she mustered one of the bravest smiles I’ve ever seen.

People were now passing around black magic markers and writing down the phone number for the Coldsnap Legal Collective, a volunteer group of attorney’s associated with the National Lawyers Guild that made its services available to anybody attending the RNC. Numbers were being scrawled wildly across the inside of forearms, stomachs, shins, and thighs. The sky took on an odd rusty grey tinge that made me think of Ray Bradbury’s lightening rod salesman: “Something wicked this way comes…” Trying to keep a clear head and needing to stay busy, I got out my cell phone and called the number for the legal collective now tagged on my inner thigh and the Minnesota ACLU. I gave them all my information and as many details about the situation as I could.

As if most of the people in the crowd weren’t terrified enough, a menacing voice came over a megaphone instructing everyone to sit down and place their hands on their heads. No explanation as to what was going on, no details at all in fact, just sterile military directives. The riot cops then sent in squads running through the different pockets of people and singling out particular individuals. Every fifth officer or so was carrying a large black rifle. It didn’t look like it took regular bullets but it fired something. I didn’t like the way the men carrying them clutched the grips so tightly. They looked like they were auditioning for a scene in a war movie. The were going from group to group singling out particular individuals. The officer holding the rifle would aim it at the persons chest or face from just a few feet away and then scream for everyone around that person to move back. Then they’d roughly push their chest the ground, zip tie their wrists high up behind their back, and haul them off.

One boy refused to acknowledge his captors when he was chosen out of a cluster of kids 20 ft in front of us. The aggressive cop leading this squad screamed for the kid to put his hands on his head. When he still didn’t move the cop pulled out his bottle of pepper spray. Whether he was really going to go through with it or just threaten him, we never got to see. The officer’s hands were shaking so badly that he dropped the bottle on the ground. Other cops rushed in. Through the jumble of enclosing bodies it was difficult to see what was going on but people on the ground closer than I started screaming “Put down the gun!!” “Let him go!!”

Could the officer really have pulled out his firearm? As if the unarmed boy, who was already on the ground and surrounded (not only by a group of heavily armed grown men but also by hundreds of other cops surrounding the park) was somehow going to harm them? From what I could tell the boy never even looked up. I don’t know if he saw what was pointed at him but the officer’s face was now white as a sheet. He had re-holstered whatever he was holding, retrieved the pepper spray from the ground, and now kept it trained on the boy’s face as the other officers bent both arms back, zip tied his wrists and then carried him off. The crowd cheered in support.

Atmosphere’s set was almost done and, fittingly, they were playing the
acoustic, more somber version of Not Another Day: “Whoaaa-ohhhh… Not another day… Not another day of the same old song, C’mon…” The haunting melody drifted across the Mississippi, perfectly encapsulating the moment.

After the special selections were all successfully profiled and extracted, they came for the rest of us. Officers three or four at a time would run up to a group of people and drag somebody off; wrists bound behind them, and forced to walk backwards. It was odd because they were made to walk that way. You got to see the person’s face as they were taken, trying to decide whether or not they’d get in trouble for looking back at their friends and concentrating on their footing so they wouldn’t fall. My group of friends tried keeping the spirits high. They seemed to be doing better than I was. Getting arrested for something you believe in at a peaceful event you care deeply about is one thing. Mass arbitrary arrest while sitting in a park listening to music, unexpectedly, unprepared, and with the whole week long convention still to report on is another.

Finally it was our turn and the urban military officers with thousands of dollars in riot gear and weapons each, rode down on us. It was like having your number called after an hour of watching a long line of people get kicked out of an airplane before you. Now here we were, stepping to the edge of the exit hatch staring down an angry jump Sergeant, ready or not; hopefully our chutes would open and everyone in the park would land safely on the ground. Amen.

My arresting officer was a large, angry man with dark sunglasses and a grating voice: “You gonna give me any TROUBLE? Let me tell you something, I don’t like assholes who make PROBLEMS, and if you give me any shit you’re going to have a bad day, you understand me? I can make this very hard for you…”

“Officer, I have no intention of giving you any trouble. I believe this is an unlawful arrest, and I’ll be contacting a lawyer as soon as I’m allowed to use a phone but I respect you, and I won’t be a problem.”

Atmosphere was done and Mos Def was now on stage. The soundtrack for our mass arrest continued as they rifled through everyone’s pockets and wallets, threw personal effects on the ground, and split our property up in different bags to be shipped off to god knows where. After waiting in cue for nearly twenty minutes, I was taken behind a truck for a photo. A field station had been set up and shots were being taken of all the people dragged out of the park while an officer held documents up to sides of our faces. It was here that I learned that I and many others were being charged with Felony-Riot. Which I’ll admit, sounded pretty badass in an Angela Davis, Abbey Hoffman, Cool Hand Luke kind of way but Felony is an extremely serious charge, like, go to prison serious and I hadn’t done anything but listen to music by the river. It felt markedly less romantic than it looks here in text.

Trying to make the best of the situation, I smiled for the photo. Big and wide, and when I did, one of the cops standing around made a condescending comment about me acting like everything was a joke. I almost didn’t repsond, but then said: “I know I’m not supposed to be talking right now but what do you want from me? If I scowl into the camera with handcuffs on then I actually look like a criminal. If I appear as terrified as anybody has the right to be in a situation like this you’ll probably say I’m just some punk protester making a big deal out of nothing. Either way, if this photo ever makes it out onto the news or anywhere else it’ll be easier on my Mom if I’m smiling in the picture and don’t look hurt.”

He cocked his head slightly to the side and gave me the funniest look before walking away. I had no idea what he thought, I was too busy imagining him in wrist ties surrounded by armed guards while I snapped photos inches from his face asking him to smile.

By this point, there were on ton of press and many legal observers on the scene. I saw them on the other side of the police line as the 2008 RNC Magical Mystery Tour continued. Like a conveyor belt to the next station, we were led onto a large city bus with only a few open seats remaining, so I had to sit up close to the driver and the cops- Awesome! Things brightened a little when I saw that my friend Zach, who I was previously separated from, was on the bus too! It felt good to see him, instantly we began shouting back and forth, each checking to see how the other was holding up.

It became that the other arrestees on the bus had been waiting a long time. They were anxious to know when we’d be leaving and where we were being taken. The cops onboard looked tired and aggravated. They made no attempt to quiet the rising swell of conversation now passing back and forth between arrestees. A short time later, something remarkable happened: that’s when the singing began. It was slow at first, but then everybody started in, loud and fearless. We made it part or all the way through Johnny Cash- Folsam Prison Blues, Bob Dylan- Like A Rolling Stone, The Beatles- Hey Jude, Bob Marley- Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, and many others. It was quite impressive actually but the best was absolutely yet to come.

In a very Simple Twist of Fate type of way, the ageless, mirrored lathe of the cosmos seemed to turn in on itself and all the ironic forces of sheer ridiculousness that dictate the ebb and flow of the Universe and every atom comprising its vast and incalculable quilt of Coincidences and Contradictions somehow saw fit that our bus (filled with the first fifty out of two hundred or so unlawfully arrested U.S. citizens) rolled out for Ramsey County Jail just as a boisterous and exalted rendition of The National Anthem caught fire: “Ohhhh SAY, CAN YOU SEE…?” And in that moment, it felt as though an entire life time of witnessing, dealing with, and attempting to adjust to all the endless injustice and hypocrisy of America rose in one collective swell and poured like thunder from the dark mountains in our hearts, reaching out for every jail cell, detention center, and prison camp on Earth.

Ours was the first bus to leave. As we passed flash bulbs sparked and reporters rushed to get photos of the commandeered public transport filled with singing prisoners. Officers detaining the last of the poor souls extracted from the park, talking to other cops, or just plain standing around paused for our Anthem. Some shook their heads in disgust. Others stood slack jawed and stunned, seemingly unable to process what was going on: “Jesus Christ, Stevens! Check it out… is that really a bus full of asshole protestors singing the National Anthem? Good god, it sounds like they really mean it…”

And mean it, we did. Not in any ugly, pride bloated, nationalistic sense. And not just to give voice to the sheer irony of innocent people singing an anthem of freedom while in the process of being illegally detained. But simply to say that having a badge, waving a flag, or misinterpreting your astronomically fortunate luck at simply having been born inside the legal borders of the most privileged nation on earth and misconstruing that as some sort of divine endowment or indicator of personal value, does not make you even a single drop more American than us.

The crowd building outside of the police perimeter gave a resounding ovation as we passed and we rode out like patriots; unapologetic, unbowed, and unbroken. Singing for strength, and taking heart in the sound of each others voices, like the kidnapped, shackled, and wrongfully imprisoned have always done since the beginning of time.