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back to A16 homepage A16 protest, Washington DC 16.04.00

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Busted in Washington!
'Busted in DC' recounts her experience in the DC cells
17th April 2000

I spent from about 5 p.m Saturday until 10:30 am Sunday - upwards of 19 hours - detained by the police for participating in the prison industrial complex march. They claimed that we were told to disperse (read the Washington Post - even as a notoriously conservative paper they admit that NO such warning was ever issued) and that we were blocking traffic (funny, as we first shuttled into the streets by their attempts to keep us away from a Gap storefront nearby).

Anyway, so the decision was made after we had marched past the Dept. of Justice building to go home, save any conflict for Sunday - it was announced that we would go home two by two. When we tried to leave, however, the cops moved in from both sides (a new meaning to entrapment?) and detained us there as they got reinforcements. Still, no one predicted what would happen next.

At about 5, after a long period of being trapped there, we were crammed together closer by the cops (presumably in hopes that this would provoke a reaction? none came). Then they began arresting us one by one.


The spirit of the crowd was defiant, as this was obviously such a bullshit situation. A recurrent chant was: "This is illegal! The whole world is watching!" (Not surprisingly, shortly afterward the cops asked the media to leave)

Several bystanders, a Washington Post photographer, and almost all indy media people were arrested as well. Only the Post photographer was released - at 12:30 am.

Plastic handcuffs now (painfully) tightened. We were escorted onto busses (not by our arresting officers, of course - they seemed to screw up process up and down the line). Never in the 19 hours we were in custody were we formally charged.

Some of us were taken to an old mental hospital on the outskirts of the city (it's where "One flew over the cuckoo's nest" was filmed - no joke). This was the first out of many times my photograph was taken (again, not with my arresting officer). A bit of harassment later, I was in a room with 31 other arrested girls. The walls of the room were covered with dried blood and vomit; the floor was covered in dust.


Save requests for the bathroom, we were kept handcuffed for the next 7 hours or so. From 1 am until 4, we were uncuffed.

The police keeping us in the room there were almost solely trainees - no badges (or often, even nametags) were visible.

At no point in time were we informed what the charges were or whether even we were actually under arrest. Because we were not officially under arrest, no phonecalls were allowed. Never in the course of our detention were we read our rights. Others whom I have talked to, male and female, had said that their situation was the same.

For the first 14 hours, we were given nothing to eat or drink, save limited trips to a water fountain about which the police laughed - "I wouldn't drink out of there if I were you." One of the girls who I was with began suffering from dehydration; before the time we were transported, she threw up several times.


At 1 a.m., after seven or so hours of detention, we were told that "as soon as the buses arrived" we would be transported to a place where we could be processed and that they would be arriving shortly (do schoolchildren need these buses at this hour?) For the next four hours, nothing happened.

Many of the girls began drifting off to sleep in various awkward positions. I have heard that we did not have it as bad as many of the guys, who were handcuffed LEFT HAND TO RIGHT FOOT for hours. When they were finally allowed to make their phonecall, they were told to HOP to the phone.

Sometime before 5 a.m., the trainees said that they had heard from their superior (unusual, because many denied knowing who their superior was during the course of the night when people demanded to know what was happening to them) that we would be transported soon. We were handcuffed again, much tighter this time, for transport and lined up against the walls. Only those who loudly protested had their handcuffs loosened. One such girl, who has arthritis of her shoulders, was only able to convince them after she showed them her hands, which had begun to turn grey.


Once loaded on the bus, we waited about a half hour before it began to move, transporting us to a precinct at 5th st. and New York Ave.

There, they claimed they had "lost our paperwork" as it had been "snet to another location." We, still handcuffed, sat on the bus.

As with the rest of the night, any complaints were met with some form of "I'm just following orders - I didn't arrest you." (Oh, we ARE under arrest? No wait, you don't "know" what's going on) No one was "responsible;" no one knew when we were going to be released or even what the charges were.

The girl suffering from dehydration asked to be taken off the bus, which was an out of service Metro bus. When opening the back door to let out the handcuffed girl, the sergeant hit her in the head with it (was she supposed to be able to hold it open herself?) She threw up in his approximate vicinity...


At about 6 a.m., we were offered bottles of water and bologna sandwiches (vegetarians could have donuts - vegans were out of luck). After another hour or so, they began calling people by twos and threes to get processed (they just made up new paperwork for us). Perhaps most frustrating of all was listening to the police radios - the protests had already begun.

At about 8:30 am or so, I was finally photographed (4 pictures with two different cameras + a mugshot), fingerprinted (all ten, and my thumb on 4 separate documents) and sent to a holding cell, stripped of shoelaces, bobby pins, etc (normal holding cell policy...since we were such dangerous "paraders."

The protests outside were in full swing. The hours that followed were some of the most excruciatingly frustrating I have ever experienced. We were all exhausted by this time - hungry, frustrated, tired and angry.

An hour or so passed. We were told that "we would be processed as soon as possible" (of course, no one knew any further details). Our fingerprints had been sent to the FBI for analysis. As new arrests trickled in, we were told that we could not be released until they had been processed (everyone was so demoralized by this time I think more than a few of us willed them to have to wait on the buses for a while as we had...).


The details of our release were presented as follows: pay $50 or go to court that day (there was a 24 hour judge). Several girls who didn't have money or any means of getting money began to cry. We were at last allowed our phonecalls, let out one at a time (four or five people were packed into a single person holding cell).

At 10 a.m., my name was finally called. I signed what basically amounted to a confession of guilt, got my backpack back, and was allowed to leave.

Final insult? I plopped down on the steps outside to replace my shoes - and was told I would have to do that elsewhere. There was absolutely no reason to get handled as we were. I can only assume they took such pains in process to show trainees how to handle prisoners. Why we were detained so long is not so difficult to figure out. If they wanted to demoralize 650 people and bring them to the point of exhaustion, they did. In fact, the most common question I was asked was "So, you aren't coming back here, are you?" As everyone else did, I replied: "We'll see."

Few arrests were made on Sunday. Certainly many were doing the same things and more than we had the day before, but they were more numerous. It was a mindgame, of sorts, I guess.

We'll see what happens today now that there aren't as many people around. I suspect the cops will try to do this again.

'Busted in DC'

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