Last Saturday night, I went to meet some friends on Capitol Hill to go to a queer dance party in the street. I was excited to celebrate, dance and attempt to push the idea of pride weekend a little further away from its current state of corporate sponsored, assimilationist dismissal of all that is joyful, free and queer. I brought my bunny mask as it seemed like just the sort of occasion to wear it.
There was supposed to be a sound system, to dance to. However the people who brought it decided to take off at the last minute, because there were cops on every corner, in every alley, on every street. They were afraid their equipment would be confiscated, which is understandable. A few of us discussed going home, sad to not be able to celebrate in the way we felt was best. An anti-corporate, free, all ages, semi-spontaneous dance party in the street seemed like the perfect thing to do on Capitol Hill that night.
From out of nowhere, we heard a saxophone wailing. I turned and saw a friend, a high school student, walking boldly down the street, playing his saxophone with wild confidence. Immediately, we all walked into the street, and joined him. We followed him down the road, clapping, banging on makeshift drums, and yelling. A few minutes later, someone joined in with a small stereo and a megaphone. They played silly pop songs, and the crowd amplified them by singing/screaming along with them. We went on like this for about 30-40 minutes, it seemed.
As we neared the blocked off streets of the “official” pride celebration, our path was barred by a line of riot police. They were guarding the edge of the real pride party. Dancing and carrying on with the police wandering through our crowd got old, pretty quick. So we decided to move on, and walked a block or two towards Madison street. In doing this, we lost half of the people due to the other crowds. We decided to move on anyway.
When we rounded the corner, and started walking up the street, the police decided they had watched us have fun for too long, and saw that we were now more vulnerable, due to having fewer numbers. Without warning, they swerved their car in front of us, narrowly missing hitting the people in the front of the crowd. A few more cop cars pulled up next to the first to completely block off the street. As they jumped out of their cars, yelling, and aggressively swarming towards us, most instinctually moved out of the way. They yelled at us to get on the sidewalk, and started shoving people within arms reach. One person was shoved from behind while moving towards the sidewalk. She was forced to fall forward into three more cops, who immediately threw her to the ground and arrested her. It was very obvious to those around her, that she was thrown into a trap.
I walked up onto the sidewalk and figured the party was over, it was time to leave. I joined a friend of mine named Hudson on the sidewalk, and we were just standing there, sort of frozen, watching the police overreact to the situation. I felt relatively safe, standing there on the sidewalk with friends nearby. I was proved to be very wrong seconds later.
Immediately after this, I saw a cop quickly rush towards us, from 10 feet away or so, and come within a foot of my friend’s face. He was holding a huge canister of pepper spray, which he proceeded to deploy as much as he possibly could, directly into Hudson’s face and eyes. I was covered in the toxic spray as well. I was immediately disoriented and reached out to hold onto someone in front of me. A second later, I felt myself being pulled forward, and more chemical was sprayed, all over us, from every direction, it seemed. Every part of my exposed skin was burning with it.
My vision was pretty much gone after this moment. They were now upon us, and shoving violently in every direction. Eventually they must have effectively pushed us into the wall of the building behind us. I only knew this because I felt cold brick on my side, which felt comforting for a moment. Anything other than the anonymous ogre bodies, hitting us from every direction, was comforting. That was, until one of them grabbed me by the hair and slammed my head into the building. For the first time since the chaos started, I could see something clearly. They were pretty little yellow and white stars.
At this point there was clearly no escape. I felt myself get heavy and try to drop to the ground. I put my arms around my head, trying to protect my skull, and tried to pull myself to the ground. It was pretty easy, since they were also shoving me down at the same time. I curled up into a ball on the cement, with my back against the building, and just thought about surviving. Multiple bodies were upon me, knees and feet slamming into me and holding me down, pushing me further into the cement. Again came more of the pepper spray, this time directly into my ear. It was so close to my head when it was sprayed, that it was forced to travel deep inside my ear canal, filling my sinuses and impairing my hearing.
I had taken my glasses off moments before I was surrounded, and was clutching them in my hand. One of the attackers stomped on my hand and crushed them into pieces. My other hand, which was pinned beneath me, was dragged out. My knuckles were bloodied by being scraped along the ground and handcuffs were placed around my wrists. I felt myself being dragged for at least 20 feet, off the sidewalk and back into the middle of the street. There they forced me up and made me walk. Everything hurt, I couldn’t see a thing and I could barely breathe. Along with 5 others I was shoved into a van, where I quickly made some new friends. One of them did her best to wipe the pepper spray out of my eyes, which were swollen shut at this point. I was in such pain, that it was almost impossible to breathe normally or talk. The ear pain I experienced for the next 24 hours was like nothing I have ever felt.
Around 1am we were moved to the East precinct, where we were held for about an hour or so. Hudson and one other person were held at the precinct for an additional 6 hours. This meant that they were handcuffed, cold and uncomfortable that whole time. I later learned that Hudson’s shirt and hoodie were ripped so badly in the police attack, that he was left shirtless in the cold cell. The rest of us spent the night in the holding cell at the jail, where we were unable to even lay down until we were booked around 7:30am. It wasn’t until 1:30pm on Sunday afternoon that I was released on bail.
While leaving the jail, I realized that they didn’t give everything back that I came in with. They kept my phone, my car keys, my food stamp card, and my (very broken) glasses. When I asked about them, the jail staff said there was no record of them. According to them, I didn’t come in with those items. This was incredibly maddening. I had parked my car on Capitol Hill the night before, and needed to get home. Thankfully it was Sunday, and I had a spare set of keys at home. But I could have very easily had my car towed if this hadn’t been the case. Driving home with swollen eyes, and no glasses was not exactly the safest thing either. When I got home, I called the SPD evidence department and asked about my missing items. They told me they had no record of any of these things being attached to my name. Told me to call back later, and maybe they would turn up.
So, effectively, the police stole my main mode of communication, transportation, food, and my vision.
The police are playing a game, and enjoying themselves. Trying to do their best to harass, intimidate, and destabilize anyone who stands up to them, and to the system that they protect. It is a common police tactic to accuse people of assault whom they have assualted, and accuse others of trumped up charges to legitimize their force. When brought to court, these charges are often dismissed by the judge or never even filed. Or worse, the charges stick. This is often due to poverty and discrimination within our court system, and people have to do time or go on probation because of it, severely interrupting their lives.
Hudson’s assault charge was dismissed almost immediately when he went to court. The judge scoffed at the SPD’s evidence on him, which soley consisted of a one sentence handwritten note. Myself and one other person are still facing charges from that night. I am being accused of “obstructing an officer”, and the other person is being accused of “pedestrian interference”, as well as “obstruction”. We start our trials next month.
Earlier in the week, I attended a public meeting, in a public building and was arrested for “trespassing”. It was a meeting between the mayor and the people of the Central District, at the Northwest African American Museum to talk about violence in the neighborhood. When the meeting turned into a discussion and calling out of the issues the mayor was ignoring, such as the privatization of the museum, and the idea that it should belong to the community, the mayor left, and the police kicked us out. After we were asked to leave, I was walking out of the building with the rest of the small crowd. A cop grabbed my arm, as well as a few other people around me, pulled us back into the building, and arrested us. I had to spend the night in jail, but when I went to court no charges had even been filed.
One of the things that angers me the most about this, is that by the time the charges are dropped, the public has forgotten about it. So, in their minds, whatever the cops did to arrest us must have been justified. The average person doesn’t seem to understand that often, the police ARE making shit up, and using their power in all kinds of abusive ways. It is hard to see this, until you are face to face with it, and it JUST KEEPS HAPPENING.
This was highlighted for me by my trip to the doctor’s office, the day after I got out of jail. I wanted to get my ear checked out, and document my other injuries (head trauma, abrasions, bruises, muscle strains, and chemical burns in a few places) with my regular doctor. This is a doctor who has on multiple occasions had very caring conversations with me about my mental and physical health. When I told her why I was there, and that I was assaulted by the police, she seemed confused, distant. She asked me what I did to make them do this to me. When I tried to explain what happened, she cut me off, multiple times. It was like she just couldn’t quite fathom how a cop could possibly do that without me deserving it somehow. This reminds me of a feeling I had when I was trying to tell someone about being sexually assaulted years ago, and not only did they not believe me, but they told me that I must have asked for it. This is a disgustingly common way of thinking.
One very important point to make here, is that this type of brutality (and much worse) happens every day to people of color, trans*, and homeless people. I am not any of these things. However, I am a queer who didn’t conform to the mainstream pride celebrations, and that has become enough of a reason for them to beat on me and think they can get away with it. The worst thing is, that many of those affected by police violence never get their voices heard when something like this happens. No one believes them, and no one cares.
The police love to use this kind of collective denial to their advantage, and they want people to keep quiet about it. They’d like us to shut up, and carry on with our very regulated, permitted and planned out lives. There’s something wrong when anyone who wants to blur those lines, or question those regulations, are squashed and immobilized, even for just dancing in random places like we were that night.
Also, I lost my bunny mask during the arrest. So if anyone has it, let me know.