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by Marta Russell
Friday, Mar. 21, 2003 at 10:38 AM
email@example.com 818 784-5315 16022 Moorpark St., Encino, CA 91436
As a disability activist I decided to get arrested at the Westwood Federal Building demonstration on March 19 along with 33 others. This is the story of that arrest.
I got arrested today at the LA demo near the Federal Building. It was not planned. There were several hundred of us who gathered at noon and marched west on the sidewalk towards Senator Feinstein's office. We never went to the Senator's office. The cops blocked us off at San Vicente Blvd. I wanted to break through and go on down to the Senator's office but I would not want to do that without a reporter with me and cameras. At this point there were 4 helicopters overhead but no news networks that I could see. The protestors did a lie down in the street -- people on their backs immobile. I wanted to get in the street but a cop was blocking the access ramp. He would not let me pass. I kept telling him that I needed the ramp in order to go with the other protestors but he demanded that I stay in front of him. As I was giving it some thought another cop came up and asked me if I wanted to use the ramp. Well duh, the rules are so rigid or something.....so I got behind the police line. The cops were nervous about shouting at me "you can't come up behind us like that" but I darted right back around them into the crowd as it was heading back towards the Federal Building. It only takes one act like this to break down the barrier that the police erect between them and the people marching. If I got behind them then.......what? They were going to beat me up? I did not see it but there was a report that several marchers did get hit by batons. Someone's authority got challenged and tensions flared. The march back was entirely on Wilshire Blvd, not on the sidewalk. But then we were to get back on the sidewalk -- but most of the crowd did not adhere to this. We stayed in the three lane street interacting with the cars travelling west in the oncoming three lanes. After we passed the turning point to get back up on the side walk per police instructions, eventually the wave of us were stopped by police on motorcycles who blocked the Blvd. They got off their cycles and confronted us. Finding myself surrounded by others and being in my power chair I was kind of pinned in by the situation. Cops were all around us in the way they do with batons out legs spread. Since they had "caught us" their heartbeats were up and they did not look in any mood to give us any space. Everyone sat down and chanted "peaceful protest" over and over and the mood cooled. By now all the media was present: CBS, NBC, etc. Some people decided to move onto the sidewalk. There were people of all races, genders, ages there. I could have wheeled out of the blockaded area but decided against it. Several things made me stay. For one the young had come out strong at this demo and I wanted to back them up. It would not have been right to just leave them all out there after we had travelled a couple of hours together on the streets. Besides they had showed respect for my needs. When there was no curb cut they assisted me so that I might stay in the march. Then it was also true that my presence had an effect on the officers. They clearly felt uncomfortable with the thought of arresting me. They were almost begging me to leave. They were too courteous. I did not want to give them any satisfaction. I told them they would need an accessible van to haul me out of there. It made an impression on the others who were facing arrest to see me do that. They could have well done it without me, don't get me wrong. They would have done it fine without me but there was a kinship I felt had evolved during this demo. I wanted them to know that disabled people supported them and to encourage them to keep it up. And most importantly, disabled people need to be visible at these events. Crips Against War has finally formed out of Chicago and issued a statement. We are late but then that is the way it goes. The arresting officers arrested and carted away everyone else (33 of them) before me. It took a long long time. They had not gotten an accessible van so they just wanted to just release me. They kept giving me the option of getting out of it all, going home with no citation, nothing, but I would have none of that. They had not gotten an accessible van for me. They had no intention of hauling me in like everyone else. Why? Did they not have the equipment? Did they not want the bad press? Were they just in a rush and did not want to take the time? Several of them pondered my situation and they pondered it some more and one of them was told to take my picture and write me my citation on the spot and then release me. The next bit was like the Keystone cops. NO one knew how to write up the form. Several of them tried. They had to call the station to get advice. They started one form then that was wrong and so they wrote up another one. I kept asking but how am I going to know what court to go to? They told me to go to the Airport court. What I said, I never heard of that. Then it turned out that was wrong. Then the officer writing it up gave it to another officer and he had to start all over again. How would I know what date to show up I said. They had to call the station for that. They had cel phones. Really, this is what is running our LAPD. The side of it I saw was so disorganized and unprepaired - they were humans in a uniform. They knew how silly they looked. Their armor dropped and they joked about it. Still they were against me insisting that I get arrested along with everyone else. Of course this is who is going to protect us in the event of a real threat. They just were not prepared for me, a wheelchair user. How would they deal with something infinitely more complex I wondered? Will they be prepared for me next time? I could see the others in the bus sitting in the rows of seats. The two young men in the front row told me thanks for coming. I knew then I had made the right decision at that moment in time. As the bus carrying everyone else drove off, a couple of officers lifted me onto the sidewalk. They gave me my green copy of the citation for a 490 violation. They were so nice. They were confused young men. They said they should be spending these resources they were spending arrested us on homeland defense, I told them they should be more concerned about our government spending a million dollars per bomb and killing innocent people with them. I tried to talk them out of working for the state, esp the police department. Driving home KPFK news informed me that I had achieved the status of the "elderly lady in a wheelchair" who got arrested. That was the worst part of the day. Couldn't they have said a disabled protestor? That is not such a victimized picture. I am certainly no victim and I'm not so old, am I? We need to think disability rights, disability culture, disability not as tragedy but as empowerment and emancipation.
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