Saturday, September 15, 2007

Arrested at the Capitol

A personal account from the civil disobedience that followed the national peace march on Sept. 15, 2007
By Jes Richardson

In the movie Gandhi there is a powerful scene showing a long line of men standing in rows of four slowly moving forward. They are supporting workers on strike. As each row reaches the front of the line, the men are systematically clubbed by the waiting police. The next row of four steps forward to replace them and they, too, are beaten. This goes on for hours. These courageous acts of non-violence, and others like them, would eventually bring independence to India.

I watched from the steps of our nation's capital as the police threw demonstrators violently to the ground. They pushed people's faces into the cement and held them down with their knee as they tightened the plastic handcuffs behind their backs. One man was pepper sprayed in the face. Another woman had her arm pulled from the socket. The demonstrators were non-violent and did not resist.

The Iraq Veterans Against the War led the way. One by one they climbed up and over a wall and descended into the waiting arms of the police. They knew they might be injured, but their determination to end the war moved them forward.

I quietly joined them in line. Before I knew it, it was my turn. Medea Benjamin gave me a boost and up the wall I went. I stood on the top for a moment and looked back at Leslie. She sorely wanted to join me, but because of Lieberman's "unlawful entry" charge, she needs to stay out of trouble for the next six months. We each did our best to muster encouraging smiles. Filled with emotion, I held up the peace sign and over the wall I went ...

The policeman grabbed me by the arm. “Get on your knees,” he said. He tightened the handcuffs behind my back and guided me up the steps to the front of the Capital Building. I talked with him about my trip to Iran and how I’m doing my best to create a better world for our children. He didn't say anything, but he did seem to loosen his grip.

They loaded all 192 of us into four air-conditioned buses and a small paddy wagon. Wouldn’t you know I’d get the paddy wagon. On New Year’s Day I was arrested with CodePink on the Golden Gate Bridge and I got the paddy wagon then too. Just once I’d like to get the bus …

I was charged with "crossing a police line" and after approximately 15 long hours of processing I was "cited and released". The final consequences: a $100 fine, nothing on my record, and one act closer to ending the occupation of Iraq.

An interesting incident in lock-up ... We were getting a little loud at one point and one of the officers bellowed, "Keep it down!" Not a group to take orders easily, we took advantage of the prompt and proceeded to raise the roof with our hooting and hollering. The solidarity felt good. Later, we were told to sit down. People were standing up everywhere and an officer chose me to use as an example. "Sit down," he said after tapping me on the shoulder. I felt like a patsy. I took small footsteps and circled in front of my chair. "Really, you have to sit down RIGHT NOW!" he said. I continued the small circles, pretending not to hear him. "OK, that's it!" he said as he pushed me toward the side of the room. Six of them held me while a seventh slipped on the handcuffs. "Help!" I yelled out as they started dragging me towards the door.

Their commanding officer intervened and asked me what happened. I told her I felt like I had been singled out. She told me I needed to respect her officers. In general I thought they were acting professionally and I told her so. She told me she would consider dropping the additional charges if I thought I could behave myself. I told her I could. I asked her if she'd be willing to remove the handcuffs and she said she'd consider it ... in a while.

I walked out of there at 7:00 in the morning and was greeted by Leslie and a whole CodePink contingency. They met me, and a dozen other CodePinkers, with sandwiches, tea, and big hugs. They had been there ALL NIGHT because they didn't know when we'd be released. Thank you, CODEPINK, for your dedication and courage and thank you, Leslie, for your love.

Peace and Freedom,

Jes & Leslie

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