It happened almost by accident. I was walking past Union Square after dinner with a friend in June 2016 and there was a protest, speeches. It was a weird moment. I had to say to myself: If you join this, something could happen. I had that in the back of my mind as I joined the demonstration and we started marching. We were on a highway when I got arrested. That was the moment when my Black Lives Matter activism began.
In a way it’s strange that it took until then. I’ve always been actively involved in politics since I was young, helping with campaigns and writing to representatives; I studied Political Science in college. When I moved to New York, I had a need to acquaint myself with my culture. I’m half white and half Black, and I grew up in a homogenous city in Colorado. I wanted to meet people who had a similar background to me.
I didn’t necessarily seek out the Black Lives Matter movement so much as I was seeking connection with my people and the creation of a society that is sustainable for all of us. I joined the Democratic Socialists of America when Trump got elected, and the organization offered structure, community and resources to aid in my pursuits of societal change.
On May 29, with protests sweeping the nation, I was arrested again in New York City. I won’t describe the exact circumstances because of a pending legal case. Getting arrested can be both physically and psychologically traumatizing. From the moment of arrest when I was lying on the ground, I was fearful for my life. So there was a sense of relief at just being picked up off the ground, but then, very quickly, overwhelming anxiety settled in. You start wondering, where am I going? What is going to happen?
All of us who got arrested kept talking to one another, just trying to make the moment less daunting.
I saw cops continue to brutalize people while I was in handcuffs. I was receiving threatening comments from cops like, “Look who is in handcuffs…” from white cops in front of cops of color. I was around people who have guns and power, and who didn’t know what they were doing. I had to remain calm.
After I was arrested two officers walked me to a precinct. There was a line of people who were arrested waiting to get in to be processed. A lot of sergeants dressed in white were coming in and out of the building, some of them bloodied from what was happening. I remember wanting to cry, but I felt that I couldn’t show that fear in front of the officers. All of us who got arrested kept talking to one another about our personal experiences and what was happening, just trying to make the moment less daunting.
One officer kept harassing me for the Black Panther T-shirt I was wearing. It was incredibly childish. While we were all waiting in line handcuffed, there was a verbal altercation between a cop and a young man. The cop then shoved him up against a wall, holding him there until other officers convinced him to get off the man.
One by one, we were brought into a cell in the back where they took our items and stripped us of everything. I was overly fondled in my chest area because my phone was in my bra. When the officer found it, she searched to the extent that people in the cell saw my breasts.
The jail cell we were put in was probably six-by-four feet, and there were nine of us crowded in there for about an hour. We all got acquainted and shared our scars and bruises.
At one point, one person pulled their mask down and there was a gash on their face, their whole mouth was crusted in blood. They also had a gash on the side of the head and a broken ankle. There was no medical attention in that precinct. I asked for a cloth or a first aid kit; nothing was offered.
After they took us out of the cell, they brought us by bus to another precinct. There was a lot of confusion. There was no paperwork and the arresting officers, who were from the Bronx and Queens, weren’t with us to answer questions from the cops in Manhattan. They didn’t tell us what the charges were. Unfortunately they don’t have to read you your rights or give you a phone call when you’re arrested, unless there is an intention of questioning. We had no ability to contact friends to tell them where we were and that we were safe and alive.
I want to keep in the forefront of people’s minds that this is not just going to end with us walking down the street and making demands.
As a Black person in this country and a member of DSA, I’ve been thinking about, how do we structurally change this system? I feel that we have to completely dismantle everything that is in place, otherwise nothing can move forward in a fruitful way. As much as it’s awful that Black people have to be the ones who are exposed the most to this violence, this struggle is so tied to every other issue in our country. It’s tied to healthcare, education, homelessness and mental health. Policing is just one pillar.
I fear losing the fire of these protests. That we get some reforms—like the repeal of 50-a, the New York regulation that prevented police misconduct records from being made public, or city council members in Minneapolis saying they’re going to dismantle the police department—but we start to settle for those victories without keeping in mind we have to continue the pressure.
The solution is definitely abolition of the police; reforms haven’t worked. To try and go solely through the legal system of just changing laws is not going to be enough. We have to show the politicians that we are serious because there has been, and will continue to be, a lot of pushback from people in power. They’ll continue to drag their feet. If we persist in abolishing the police, people aren’t going to take that sitting down. We need to be ready for whatever negative factors our actions will bring.
I think as people get complacent with the protests, they forget about that. They forget about the retaliation that is going to occur. I want to keep in the forefront of people’s minds that this is not just going to end with us walking down the street and making demands.
This story is as told to Filter Senior Editor Helen Redmond. Photograph of police at a different protest in New York City by Helen Redmond.