Reflections on a Brutal Arrest – 10 Years Later

I posted about this a few hours ago on Facebook, but wanted to elaborate here and write a little more as well as share some writing my friends and I did following our arrests. That publication can be found here.

Ten years ago today I was brutally arrested in Miami. Watching video footage of that day still makes my blood boil and the hair on my neck stand on end. I realized this was the tenth anniversary of my arrest the first time I looked at the date on my phone this morning, and was surprised a bit on how hard it hit me.  It’s been a day of reflecting on the many ways in which my experience at the Free Trade Area of the America’s protest shaped the last ten years of my life.
On that fateful day I was a senior at St. Lawrence University on a field trip for a class called Strategies of Social Protest. About half of our class had traveled down together for a four day get away.  We were joined by several other campus activists who were part of the student group SAGE, Student Activists for Global Equity.  I was there expressing my opinions on the devastating economic impacts of corporate globalization. I’d been to a couple of anti-free trade protests in the previous year, staged protests on campus, and had been to many mass-mobilizations in New York and DC.  Even so I was relatively new to direct action tactics and culture, and had yet to experience police brutality first hand.  I had gone down to Miami to add my voice to the tens of thousands who traveled from around the world to speak truth to power.
On the day of the main protest (November 20, 2003) I was tear gassed in a city park just five minutes after the protest permit ran out.  My ten dollar home-depot air filtration mask and my cheap swim goggles didn’t do much to keep the chemicals out of my lungs.  I fled and called it a day, glad not to be one of the hundreds scooped up in illegal mass arrests.  The next day I was downtown sight seeing when I stumbled upon a jail solidarity rally outside the police station where many protesters were being held on trumped up felony charges.  I joined in, chanted, and danced in the street.  Just hours before I was to return to campus to report back to the rest of my class, I found myself in the opening scene of the following movie.

In the above movie clip I was part of the 60 who escaped the initial arrests, which were even more brutal than ours.  The riot cops who circled that initial group of about 40 protesters were grabbing at my backpack to pull me in, but I pulled hard and escaped. As I ran away I could hear my fellow activists screaming and crying out in pain, but I couldn’t help them.  I was shot in the back of my legs with rubber bullets, and still had the cuts and welts days later. There was enough pepper spray in the air my eyes watered even though I wasn’t hit directly. I left when they asked us to leave and yet using mobile units on bikes with radios, they chased me down five blocks away and violently arrested me. They pointed a gun at my head, yelled in our faces, and spit at us.  They cut the backpack off my back and kneeled on the back of my neck, grating my face into the concrete. They cuffed me so tight for so long that I lost all feeling in both thumbs for more than a year. What followed was a grueling 36 hours in general population at the Miami Dade County Jail, 15-20 of which was with no food, water, bathrooms or phones. When I finally got access to the phone (hour 26), they’d blocked all calls to the legal hotline – so I called and woke up my grandmother. When she suggested calling the ACLU, our phone conversation was instantly cut off. I wasn’t allowed a second phone call.

After spending a sleepless night in a jail cell with a white-power dude from Canada who tried to teach me how to smuggle cocaine across an international border on a public bus, I was put in four point shackles attached to a line of about eight others and led to a video conferenced bond hearing. In the end I lucked out and got my bail set at only $40.  The judge ordered the police to allow me to pay my own bail out of my property, an order they ignored.  The judge was quickly pulled off the bench and scolded, so everyone else got much higher bails set, I lucked out.

All of the SLU students in Miami who weren’t arrested (all but three of us) returned to campus that day, except one or two kind souls who stayed behind to bail us out and drive us home. Upon returning to campus SAGE put together a publication sharing our experiences in Miami. That publication can be found  here.  The first article is the one I wrote which has a more comprehensive and fresh in my mind account of my experience that day. Please do check it out, I hadn’t looked at it for years but I must say it’s a pretty neat publication with lots of great analysis, as well as really intense police state photos.

In so many ways that day shaped my life, permanently destroyed my faith in our so called justice system, and showed me first hand how bad the system is. Born from this moment ten years ago today, came a year long criminal case, a five year civil case, a cash settlement that funded my transition related expenses, and a long life as a radical activist. Much love to my comrades on the street that day. May the system that continues to perpetuate this type of violence every single day, move one day closer to it’s inevitable collapse!


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