My arrest in Occupy LA

 

The job of summing up the last month of Occupy is right in front of us: Understanding the suppression of encampments in many cities, understanding the role of the Democratic party, local police and federal authorities in that, getting a sense of what comes next (not just tactically, but politically and strategically).

We are not sure how to jump start that discussion. But sharing experiences of the last weeks is an important place to start. And we urge you (from various cities and encampments) to think about sharing with us write-up that sum up specific aspects of the conflict (including where things stand, but also the important debates over racism and its central role in U.S. society).

The following is a piece that speaks powerfully about what happened in LA (where, as in so many cities, the Democratic city government expressed "support" for the goals of Occupy, while they sent in thugs to try to end it.)

My Occupy LA Arrest

by Patrick Meighan

 My name is Patrick Meighan, and I’m a husband, a father, a writer on the Fox animated sitcom “Family Guy”, and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica.

I was arrested at about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning with 291 other people at Occupy LA. I was sitting in City Hall Park with a pillow, a blanket, and a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Being Peace” when 1,400 heavily-armed LAPD officers in paramilitary SWAT gear streamed in. I was in a group of about 50 peaceful protestors who sat Indian-style, arms interlocked, around a tent (the symbolic image of the Occupy movement). The LAPD officers encircled us, weapons drawn, while we chanted “We Are Peaceful” and “We Are Nonviolent” and “Join Us.”

 

As we sat there, encircled, a separate team of LAPD officers used knives to slice open every personal tent in the park. They forcibly removed anyone sleeping inside, and then yanked out and destroyed any personal property inside those tents, scattering the contents across the park. They then did the same with the communal property of the Occupy LA movement. For example, I watched as the LAPD destroyed a pop-up canopy tent that, until that moment, had been serving as Occupy LA’s First Aid and Wellness tent, in which volunteer health professionals gave free medical care to absolutely anyone who requested it. As it happens, my family had personally contributed that exact canopy tent to Occupy LA, at a cost of several hundred of my family’s dollars. As I watched, the LAPD sliced that canopy tent to shreds, broke the telescoping poles into pieces and scattered the detritus across the park. Note that these were the objects described in subsequent mainstream press reports as “30 tons of garbage” that was “abandoned” by Occupy LA: personal property forcibly stolen from us, destroyed in front of our eyes and then left for maintenance workers to dispose of while we were sent to prison.

When the LAPD finally began arresting those of us interlocked around the symbolic tent, we were all ordered by the LAPD to unlink from each other (in order to facilitate the arrests). Each seated, nonviolent protester beside me who refused to cooperate by unlinking his arms had the following done to him: an LAPD officer would forcibly extend the protestor’s legs, grab his left foot, twist it all the way around and then stomp his boot on the insole, pinning the protestor’s left foot to the pavement, twisted backwards. Then the LAPD officer would grab the protestor’s right foot and twist it all the way the other direction until the non-violent protestor, in incredible agony, would shriek in pain and unlink from his neighbor.

It was horrible to watch, and apparently designed to terrorize the rest of us. At least I was sufficiently terrorized. I unlinked my arms voluntarily and informed the LAPD officers that I would go peacefully and cooperatively. I stood as instructed, and then I had my arms wrenched behind my back, and an officer hyperextended my wrists into my inner arms. It was super violent, it hurt really really bad, and he was doing it on purpose. When I involuntarily recoiled from the pain, the LAPD officer threw me face-first to the pavement. He had my hands behind my back, so I landed right on my face. The officer dropped with his knee on my back and ground my face into the pavement. It really, really hurt and my face started bleeding and I was very scared. I begged for mercy and I promised that I was honestly not resisting and would not resist.

My hands were then zipcuffed very tightly behind my back, where they turned blue. I am now suffering nerve damage in my right thumb and palm.

I was put on a paddywagon with other nonviolent protestors and taken to a parking garage in Parker Center. They forced us to kneel (and sit--SEE UPDATE) on the hard pavement of that parking garage for seven straight hours with our hands still tightly zipcuffed behind our backs. Some began to pass out. One man rolled to the ground and vomited for a long, long time before falling unconscious. The LAPD officers watched and did nothing.

At 9 a.m. we were finally taken from the pavement into the station to be processed. The charge was sitting in the park after the police said not to. It’s a misdemeanor. Almost always, for a misdemeanor, the police just give you a ticket and let you go. It costs you a couple hundred dollars. Apparently, that’s what happened with most every other misdemeanor arrest in LA that day.

With us Occupy LA protestors, however, they set bail at $5,000 and booked us into jail. Almost none of the protesters could afford to bail themselves out. I’m lucky and I could afford it, except the LAPD spent all day refusing to actually *accept* the bail they set. If you were an accused murderer or a rapist in LAPD custody that day, you could bail yourself right out and be back on the street, no problem. But if you were a nonviolent Occupy LA protestor with bail money in hand, you were held long into the following morning, with absolutely no access to a lawyer.

I spent most of my day and night crammed into an eight-man jail cell, along with sixteen other Occupy LA protesters. My sleeping spot was on the floor next to the toilet.

Finally, at 2:30 the next morning, after twenty-five hours in custody, I was released on bail. But there were at least 200 Occupy LA protestors who couldn’t afford the bail. The LAPD chose to keep those peaceful, non-violent protesters in prison for two full days… the absolute legal maximum that the LAPD is allowed to detain someone on misdemeanor charges.

As a reminder, Antonio Villaraigosa has referred to all of this as “the LAPD’s finest hour.”

So that’s what happened to the 292 women and men were arrested last Wednesday. Now let’s talk about a man who was not arrested last Wednesday. He is former Citigroup CEO Charles Prince. Under Charles Prince, Citigroup was guilty of massive, coordinated securities fraud.

Citigroup spent years intentionally buying up every bad mortgage loan it could find, creating bad securities out of those bad loans and then selling shares in those bad securities to duped investors. And then they sometimes secretly bet *against* their *own* bad securities to make even more money. For one such bad Citigroup security, Citigroup executives were internally calling it, quote, “a collection of dogshit”. To investors, however, they called it, quote, “an attractive investment rigorously selected by an independent investment adviser”.

This is fraud, and it’s a felony, and the Charles Princes of the world spent several years doing it again and again: knowingly writing bad mortgages, and then packaging them into fraudulent securities which they then sold to suckers and then repeating the process. This is a big part of why your property values went up so fast. But then the bubble burst, and that’s why our economy is now shattered for a generation, and it’s also why your home is now underwater. Or at least mine is.

Anyway, if your retirement fund lost a decade’s-worth of gains overnight, this is why.

If your son’s middle school has added furlough days because the school district can’t afford to keep its doors open for a full school year, this is why.

If your daughter has come out of college with a degree only to discover that there are no jobs for her, this is why.

But back to Charles Prince. For his four years of in charge of massive, repeated fraud at Citigroup, he received fifty-three million dollars in salary and also received another ninety-four million dollars in stock holdings. What Charles Prince has *not* received is a pair of zipcuffs. The nerves in his thumb are fine. No cop has thrown Charles Prince into the pavement, face-first. Each and every peaceful, nonviolent Occupy LA protester arrested last week has has spent more time sleeping on a jail floor than every single Charles Prince on Wall Street, combined.

The more I think about that, the madder I get. What does it say about our country that nonviolent protesters are given the bottom of a police boot while those who steal hundreds of billions, do trillions worth of damage to our economy and shatter our social fabric for a generation are not only spared the zipcuffs but showered with rewards?

In any event, believe it or not, I’m really not angry that I got arrested. I chose to get arrested. And I’m not even angry that the mayor and the LAPD decided to give non-violent protestors like me a little extra shiv in jail (although I’m not especially grateful for it either).

I’m just really angry that every single Charles Prince wasn’t in jail with me.

Thank you for letting me share that anger with you today.

Patrick Meighan

-------

UPDATE (12/9/11): Hey all, thank you for the nice thoughts from many folks who have read this account. One necessary clarification about the 7 hours spent by the roughly 100-of-us in the Parker Center parking garage immediately following our arrest:

though we were indeed forced to kneel on that parking garage pavement for an extended period and though we did in fact have our hands tightly zipcuffed behind our backs for that entire seven-hour stretch on the pavement, and though we were barred from standing and moving for that time period, the LAPD officers, in point of fact, did allow us to shift ourselves out of the kneeling position onto our butt-cheeks, our side-legs, etc., as necessary. At the very least, when we began to do so, they did not stop us. I apologize for implying otherwise.

I also want to say that I don't consider my above-described treatment at the hands of the LAPD to be, in any way, uniquely-brutal, or that I was especially victimized. Yes, getting arrested and going to jail was scary and sometimes painful and it generally sucked, but jail is supposed to suck. Again, the point of this blogpost is not that I was treated especially poorly by the LAPD officers who arrested, processed and held us. The LAPD officers were just doing their jobs, as they understood them. The point of the blogpost is simply to contrast the legal response to nonviolent protestors against the the legal response (or, rather, non-response) to the perpetrators of the largest act of coordinated larceny in economic history, for whom the next arrest will be the first one.

Best,

Patrick Meighan Culver City, CA

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  • Guest (Carl Davidson)

    For an alternate blow-by-blow account of 'Occupy LA' from one who insisted the enemy was Wall St, not mainly the LAPD, read Clay Claiborne's diaries, which cover the internal debates--very sharp at times--as well as his arrest. http://www.dailykos.com/blog/Clay%20Claiborne/

  • <blockquote>"one who insisted the enemy was Wall St, not mainly the LAPD..."</blockquote>

    The main enemy of the oppressed of the world is the capitalist-imperialist system and its die-hard defenders. That is what causes the oppression of billions. It is what threatens to destroy the planet's biosphere.

    We need to unite the many, oppose the few. We need unite all who can be united against the main enemy. But that main enemy is the system and its defenders. We may shatter and fragment them at some point (at some <em>late</em> point) -- but certainly in any strategic sense there is no sense in treating them as distinct entities.


    It's not like the main enemy of humanity is "the banks"... but NOT the Marine Corp, the CIA, the LAPD, the NYPD, the neo-nazi fascists, the apparatus of state operatives and agents that help those banks rule and exploit. This state apparatus (plus the informal All-American non-state apparatus of lynchers) has always been the instrument through which the banks and monopoly capitalists rule and murder. It is theirs, and it is as much a target as they are.

    The ruling class is not just the literal/juridical <em>owners</em> of finance capital -- it is also the layers of administrators who enforce and manage that ownership (generals, FBI directors, spy masters, the mainstram media Ministry of Information, and so on).

    Henry Kissinger (who ultimately directed war and imperial alliances) became as much part of that ruling class as is the Nelson Rockefeller who initially hired him.

    And what (in particular!) is the point of making a <em>distinction</em> between Wall Street and the LAPD now (precisely <em>after</em> the cops in city after city have confirmed their <em>nature</em> for all to see, and have cleared up this controversy in so many obvious ways)?

  • Guest (dh)

    Mike-

    Said beautifully. Except for this:

    <i>We need to unite the many, oppose the few. We need unite all who can be united against the main enemy. But that main enemy is the system and its defenders. We may shatter and fragment them at some point (at some late point) — but certainly in any strategic sense there is no sense in treating them as distinct entities.</i>

    That's a very broad enemy, consisting of many people who've never even thought systematically about politics or know the narrative of the world they've been fed is drivel.

    Wide-eyed rookie PD guy is not the enemy. When you start insisting that he is, you need to step back and think about how realistic your vision is and how consistent you are being with your value system. And this isn't even to say every rookie cop is naive and guileless. Certainly not.

  • Guest (bobh)

    The <a href="/http://exiledonline.com/" rel="nofollow">eXiled's</a> Yasha Levin has had some excellent coverage of the arrests in Occupy LA. He was in the same cell as Meighan. In general the eXiled has done some really good gonzo-style journalism on neoliberalism, etc. Their stuff is not exactly PC but well worth reading.

  • Guest (Mike E)

    DH writes in response to my expression "that main enemy is the system and its defenders":

    <blockquote>"That’s a very broad enemy, consisting of many people who’ve never even thought systematically about politics or know the narrative of the world they’ve been fed is drivel. Wide-eyed rookie PD guy is not the enemy."</blockquote>

    I tried to make my point a bit more subtle than that:

    Our enemy is the system and its "diehard" defenders (as I also put it). Which (if you think about it) makes sense. We seek to target and isolate those who rule this society, and those defend it with armed brutality -- and my point is that this is not <em>just</em> those who own it (in the most narrow legal sense), it also includes those who administer it (at the highest levels) and those who will kill for it.

    Is our goal to separate the armed organs of the state from the ruling class? (i.e. to divide and conquer) Or do we view those armed organs as integral to the defense of the society -- and the target of our work of exposure and isolation? I think it is the latter.

    The idea that we should not focus on the LAPD (at the moment when they are brutalizing the people directly!) and should singlemindedly focus on "the banks" ignores the basic point that people are <em>learning</em> the extent to which the police actively (and brutally) <em>serve</em> that one percent (and not society at large).

    No, we are not trying to isolate the bankers (in the narrowest sense) while trying to cleverly unite with Keynsian government techocrats, industrial capitalists and the organs of the police (which is precisely the strategic view of some on the left who are supporters of Obama and the Democratic party).

    To respond to DH's thoughtful comment on another point: I don't think I am indicating a "very broad enemy." I am saying that our exposure needs to delegitimize and isolate more than just "the bankers" and also needs to undermine the very organs of power that prop up this system (the police, the military, the system of injustice, the legal apparatus of law-making and enforcement).

    How broad is that? Well, the arrival of the 1 % vs. 99% arithmetic is welcome, much needed, and a rare moment where modern Americans think in such terms. That does not mean, however, that these numbers are literally and permanently and simply the analysis needed.

    Our revolution is against a system that causes suffering for the vast majority of humanity (in the world). And the replacement of that system would be (to pick a number) in the larger interests of probably 90% of the population (even here in the U.S.) -- in other words, I think socialism is in the interest of the broad middle classes in the U.S., and not just the poorest people or oppressed nationality.

    But this is a complex society, and we need analysis, not just a slogan. For example: The question about the police is not merely "are they part of the 1% or the 99%?" -- the answer to that is "They are part of the people who violently serve and enforce this system." In other words, they are "part of the 99%" but a <em>particular</em> part that is arrayed against the people (especially when the people rise up in resistance.)

    Similarly revolution in the U.S. is not simply "99%" against 1%. To speak analytically for a moment: There are <em>two</em> currents that produce revolutionary possibility in the U.S. One is the movement of people for socialism, against the rule of a small and reactionary ruling class. The other is the movement of oppressed nationalities for their liberation, against a structure of white supremacy (which also, ultimately serves that small and reactionary ruling class.)

    The revolution is not <em>just</em> the vast majority against the economic control of capitalists -- its main wellspring (historically) has been the powerful movements against racism, structural inequality, and countless outrages of white supremacy (theft of land, denial of education, lynch law, environmental racism, economic devastation of inner cities, bankruptcy of Black farms, superexploitation of undocumented immigrants, reversal of Native treaty rights, and so on.)

    One of our challenges is to welcome the sentiment of "99% against 1%" -- while creatively helping to inject a higher consciousness about the nature of U.S. class society, <em>and</em> the central role played by the liberation struggles of oppressed nationalities. And, in case it isn't obvious, it is in the discussion of police that the question of racism (and structural racism in particular) comes to the fore rather quickly -- no, the police are not part of the people.

  • Guest (Carl Davidson)

    Our adversaries have many loci of power. It's usually wise not to take them all on at once, but to keep the moral high ground and pick and choose those most advantageous to us. Of course, sometimes that's not possible. I wasn't there. But I found the account of the debates within the encampment worth studying.

  • Guest (Mike E)

    Carl writes:

    <blockquote>"Our adversaries have many loci of power. It’s usually wise not to take them all on at once...."</blockquote>

    The expression "take them all on" is a bit vague for this discussion.

    For purposes of <em>communist</em> exposure and analysis we need to <em>precisely</em> show how "they all" interrelate as a system that needs to be overthrown and replaced.

    When Mao was talking about taking on your enemies "one by one" -- he was (for example) working in a vast country of highly fragmented power where when pursued by government armies it didn't always make sense to fight every warlord army you encountered. Or when occupied by Japan, it didn't make sense to refuse the U.S. military aid of the Dixie airlift. And so on.

    In the U.S., it may be true that there are "many loci of power" -- though I'm not sure the FBI and the Marine Corp and the JTTF and the Justice Department and the local police departments are always that uncoordinated and juxtaposed. Mainly what characterizes the U.S. is how integrated state power is (single system of laws, cooperating agencies of control and repression etc.)

    I'm not against exposing the FBI for their raids on the Freedom Road-Fightback activists in the Midwest. But I also think it would be politically strange to focus only on the FBI, and <em>not</em> call out Attorney General Eric Holder (who obviously approved the raids) or President Obama (whose administration is carrying out this repression).

    That is not "taking on your enemy one by one" -- it is (by contrast) obscuring who the enemy is. These raids were not "excesses of the FBI" alone, but are policies of a political regime (coordinated at the highest levels in the White House).

    Similarly, it is not wrong to expose one "wing" of the ruling class (say the bankers) when their massive speculative bubbles burst and the country is plunged into desperation. And it is not wrong for people (who are foreclosed and out of work) to focus their anger on sections of the ruling class (as opposed to, for example, focusing their anger on international capitalist competition from China).

    But there is zero <em>strategic</em> gain (to the <em>socialist</em> revolution) to focus on bankers <em>to the exclusion</em> of the rest of the ruling class (and its government, and its president, and its other centers of exploitation).

    The hated and targeted banks are part of a system -- and bringing that out consciously to millions is part of the work of a new revolutionary movement. Otherwise the struggle all just gets led back into the bourgeois politics of more state regulation and demagogery.

  • Guest (Tell No Lies)

    Carl,

    Are you actually arguing that the LAPD should NOT be a target of protests, even after they have quite clearly and systematically brutalized people in a coordinated act of political repression?

    Are you suggesting that the LAPD is not, in fact, an important enemy, that its essential character is more ambiguous or that its just not that significant?

    The question, as you undoubtedly know, is not one of individual cops (any more than it is of individual bankers or members of congress) but of the role of the institution.

    I'm really trying to understand your argument. We are in the midst of moment when large numbers of people are learning first hand the class nature of the state in the form of batons and pepper spray. Many of these are people who have already largely decided what they think of the banks (though of course there is much room to develop understanding there as well), but who until recently had many illusions about the police. Large numbers of middle and working class white folk who had previously ignored issues of police brutality are getting a wake up call and they don't like what they see. If this is not a time to focus attention on the nature of the police, when should we?

  • Guest (Carl Davidson)

    @TNL

    No, of course not. The focus is on Wall St, but when the police attack, we respond. Even when they don't attack, we prepare people for how best to respond if and when they do.

    There is no need to try to force the issue. If you are doing your work well and growing (or even if not), attacks will come soon enough.

    But I place a higher priority on winning mass participation in OWS and OWS-related events, like the mass marches, the port shutdowns, and the occupation of bridges together with the unions, than lighting garbage cans and playing gas canister tag with cops in the streets. If the cops provoke things, it's best to have well-planned options and strategies, mostly non-violent at this stage of things. But any resistance is better than none.