with Janee Woods
They call us the CityLine Dozen. I laughed when I heard it for the first time, because it sounds more like a donut shop than a group of racial justice activists who got arrested for shutting down a major intersection in Hartford, Connecticut.
We are part of the Moral Monday movement, a coalition of faith leaders and grassroots folks who provoke awareness and conversation through disruptive nonviolent demonstrations that target injustices against oppressed and marginalized people. About one hundred people gathered at the intersection that divides the city’s poorest neighborhoods to protest the stark income equality and pervasive lack of economic opportunity plaguing Hartford. Twelve of us blocked traffic across several lanes, chanting, “Black Lives Matter,” to bring awareness to the people driving their SUVs and luxury cars home to the suburbs after working their corporate jobs downtown, who are benefitting from city resources like wealth and leadership but aren’t being held accountable for the deep-rooted injustices shattering the region into a segregated landscape. Here, rich white people live on tree-lined streets in charming houses while poor black and brown people struggle daily to exist in rundown apartments next door to fast food joints and empty store fronts.
Two white women standing next to me on the protest line were the first to be arrested. A couple of officers escorted them to their police vehicles, walking on either side like they were going for a stroll in the park. Yet when I was arrested, several officers surrounded me in a circle, blocking my body from the crowd’s view. A male officer forcefully grabbed my arm even though I wasn’t doing anything that required him to physically subdue me. I responded by stating calmly that I would not resist arrest if I was being arrested and would walk peacefully to the police vehicle. The officer let my arm go, told me I was under arrest and then we walked off the protest line. As we walked, I heard people in the crowd singing my name in a show of support, and as more protesters were arrested.
All together, nine women and three men were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct. I learned later that the only other black woman to be arrested was also surrounded by several police and almost fell onto the pavement after being pushed by a male officer. It’s telling that her arrest and mine involved being circled by several police and being handled roughly, when the arrests of the seven white women were handled more gently and with far fewer officers. That right there is the heart of institutionalized racism.
As I suspected, going to jail is not a good time even when you go with 11 of your comrades. We spent an excessive amount of time locked in the crowded police vehicle before we even made it to the jail. We also made a strange stop in a parking lot nowhere near the jail where at least twelve police cruisers were gathered, and several more police officers just stood around.
Everything about the jail experience was dehumanizing: the cell was constructed entirely of cold concrete, the walls were windowless, the toilet was out in the open with no privacy. No clocks anywhere, so after a while it was hard to tell whether you’d been locked in that cage for two hours or ten hours. Losing your sense of time can be maddening when you’re wondering how much longer you need to wait before bail is set and you can go home.
After about six hours, bail was set at $5,000 each for ten of us and $10,000 each for the remaining two. Eventually, the bail commissioner released us from jail without needing to post bail if we promised to appear in community court a few days later. Even though the prosecutor later told us that we were being punished for the act of blocking traffic and not for chanting the message that Black Lives Matter, the bail was set unreasonably high considering that all of us were nonviolent and did not pose as flight risks. Ten were first time offenders. Two were second time offenders due prior arrests for protesting a few months earlier. Several people were clergy members. Compared to the now infamous UConn Mac & Cheese incident, which happened around the same time, it’s hard to argue that our bail was fair when that guy (a white guy, of course), who not only assaulted a civilian but also had prior incidents where he yelled racial slurs and battered a police officer, had his bail set at only $1,500. Ask me again why my bail was set at $5000?
This post (including the awesome graphics and photos) was published originally on Scenarios USA, where I am a new contributor. Scenarios USA is where young people and millennials go to talk about social justice issues, the Internet, culture, film and whatever else is on their mind! Scenarios USA is a national organization that uses writing and film to foster youth leadership, advocacy and self-expression, with a focus on marginalized communities.