community-based, non-corporate, participatory media

About Contact Us Policies Mailing Lists Radio Video Publish! Calendar Search

A Peace Advocate's Tale of 23 Hours in detainment
by Ben O'Dell Friday, Mar. 21, 2003 at 10:52 PM
bdo2@pitt.edu 412-648-3437

On Thursday March 20th, at approximately 7:30 PM, I was arrested for the charges of...

On Thursday March 20th, at approximately 7:30 PM, I was arrested for charges of “Failure to Disperse” and “Obstruction of Public Passages” on the 700th block of William Penn Palace. Feeling the need to exercise my civic right to protest against a war I do not believe in, I met with various groups at the Federal Building downtown at 5 PM. A large Police presence was already visible, including surveillance techniques by undercover and uniformed officers including A) Polaroid Pictures and B) 8mm and standard VHS video.


The snake-march throughout downtown began at 5:30. Upon initially taking the streets, no message about the march being un-permitted or in violation of the war was presented by the Pittsburgh Police Force. This was despite an overwhelming presence in and around the Federal Building. Given the peaceful, respectful stance taken by officers at recent events (mostly held in University of Pittsburgh jurisdiction), many in the crowd felt that the Police where there to do their job: Serve and Protect. Oh, how we were wrong.


For the first 2 hours of the march things were going remarkably well. Downtown, Mellon Arena, and Veterans Bridge had all been sites of our efforts. Around 7 PM, the protest made its way past Station Square and up a narrow, unoccupied street near the South Side. At this point, a police blockade was instituted. Far removed from the TV cameras of KDKA and Action News 4, officers began moving protestors to the sidewalk. At this time, several bicycle cops (including one female officer in particular), had begun to take it upon themselves to ride by protestors shoving them off to the side.


This caused confusion amongst the march. Stalled on the sidewalk, the group split up into three separate directions. Unsure of where to go, and attempting to get out of the industrial wasteland we were currently located in, I began marching with a small faction of about 500 demonstrators back towards the downtown area. Upon crossing the Fort Pitt Bridge, several arrests were made for individuals who were riding bicycles in the street (I suppose it would be preferred that they were ridden on the sidewalk?).
At this point, all order in the Protest seemed to have been lost. Groups were being driven on instinct. The fact that it was very dark outside didn't help. It only worked to cover up the violent attitudes many Cops were adopting. For future reference, I feel that we should work to organize a general gameplan for these snake marches as well as work to keep them in daylight and for the most part on main streets. Under the current lack of planning/communication, the crowd I was surrounded by ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Facing a tense situation with aggressive police officers yelling at the crowd to move along or go to jail, we proceeded across the bridge. At the other end we found a slew of Police Cruisers, dogs, and Officers in riot gear. We began marching down one of the main streets downtown (perhaps Liberty or 5th Avenue?) under heavy and growing police supervision. Our numbers were dwindling at this point and there was a struggle to stick together in the crowd. Several, highly visible undercover cops (such as a 40 year old Italian man in a black leather jacket and blue jeans….let me know if you saw/have pictures of him) made attempts to confuse the group and cause a traffic jam. It worked, as from there we made an error in our turn and took a left by the federal building.


Blockaded Straight ahead and unable to turn around, orders came from the Police to disperse. Given no place to move, protestors stood in awe. Within 30 seconds, orders were given to move to the sidewalk or be arrested. Finally, with all protestors standing on the sidewalk, many (including myself) with their hands raised in peaceful submission, we were attacked.


Let it be known that while this scene had unfolded, there was never a formal statement from a head arresting officer (Sgt. Kacsuta, as the court summons appears to read). Rather, orders came in confused yells from several over-zealous Police officers. Police dogs were present, and officers were decked out in full riot gear complete with large wooden night-sticks (for protestors who carried no weapons or means of attack). Several officers banged their shields and sticks together to create noise, confusion and intimidate the protestors. One officer inciting violence may have been in charge of the situation. He was not in riot gear, but rather regular police fatigues. He was approximately 6’ 5” and a black male in his late 30s with a graying moustache. The officer ran up to someone innocently standing right in front of me and pushed them in hopes to incite violence, yelling that we would all soon go to jail. After making an attempt to disperse and leave the scene, the officer told me to “Get the fuck back against the wall before I make you”.
Soon thereafter commotion took place up the street as a group of officers wrestled one protestor out of the crowd, attacking with mace, their shields and night sticks for no clear reason. The crowd stood trapped and paralyzed in fear. Another officer, whos badge I thought I saw read “Wilkens” took someone down right in front of me. If anyone knows anything about Officer Wilkens or has photos of him in action, please bring them forward. The individual in front of me was treated extremely violently for no clear reason other than the fact that they were at the front of the pack.
Knowing that I was surrounded and attempting to end the violence, I turned around and placed my hands on the brick wall behind us. By urging others to do the same, I feel I prevented a lot of further violence from taking place. Next, I was approached by a Police Officer who failed to: A) read me my Miranda Rights, B) inform me of what I was being arrested for (after attempting to disperse and obeying orders of standing on the sidewalk). Of the 120+ who were arrested, many included innocent by-standers such as news media, independent media, street medics, ect.
Thankfully, despite his flaws, the officer who placed my hands in plastic binders was kind enough to not cut off circulation and allow me to stick together with the friend I was traveling with. Whoever you may be, this officer deserves respect for handling the situation in a calm and respectful fashion despite of being surrounded by the arrogant, aggressive, and destructive tactics of his fellow co-workers. As far as actually placing my hands in binders, the officer was only acting under the inappropriate orders of higher ups (whom I assume to be Sgt. Kacsuta.
From being placed in binders, I was led with my friend aboard a commandeered PAT Transit Bus. While on there, we met several other protestors. Some one board had wounds as a result of Police Actions including: A) Bruises, Cuts and Abrasions as well as B) binders placed on too tight. I saw one young male who had his wrist broken as well as a young lady who had the binders digging into her bracelets causing her wrists to bleed. Another young man I know only by the name of Manny, had his hands turn blue. For ½ hour he waited on board the bus (with and officer fully aware of his condition), before proper medical treatment was given.
At approximately 8:30 PM our bus arrived at the Allegheny County Police Station. From there, we were filed off into a see of cops who were standing around joking at what a great job they had done. Here is where the verbal abuse came into play. I was referred to as being Stupid, an Idiot, Ignorant, a “Hippie”, ect. Things reached a low point when I entered the room which held 4 young police officers in their 20s. The men were joking around, calling each other names and making things take longer than they should by horsing around. Likewise, whenever one of our political prisoners would make a hesitation in following their lack of directions they would attack us. I personally had to endure the verbal of one officer who felt the need to scream “C’mon junior, what the fuck are you waiting for!” in my face at point blank range. Might I add that I had still been completely peaceful up to this point, having willingly accepted arrest with resistance upon facing the entrapment of the riot police and in the face of their outbursts of physical violence. However, understanding the situation, it is of little wonder these officers were in such great spirits. They were, after all, being compensated “very heavily” for their service as one Cop pointed out.
Over the next 3 hours we were detained in the various holding cells throughout the building, approximately 30 individuals to a room. During this time we were routinely moved from room to room for no apparent reason other than the sheer waste of time. We had not been read our rights or what we were being charged with. At the same time, throughout the night, many officers felt the need to poke and prod with questions about when the next big protest was going to be.
After approximately 1 AM, we had filled out forms about receiving our bail bonds and many expected to leave by 3 to 5 AM. How wrong we were. It soon appeared that everyone but night watch had left for the evening. We would have to wait until the morning to actually leave.
Our spirits remained strong up until 4 AM when fatigue started setting in. The rooms were, as to be expected, disgusting. They were also very cold, with air vents on full blast all night. At 6 AM we got out first food since being detained nearly 11 hours early. This consisted of a tiny bowl of cereal and elementary school sized box of milk. All in all, about 300 calories for a group of starving people, still not formally charged with any crime.
At 9 AM we met with the Warden, who said that because the building was owned by the City and the Mayor’s power exceeded his; we would be facing difficulty getting out of jail in any timely fashion. The Warden made efforts to show goodwill towards us and guaranteed we would be out by “no later than 3 PM”, but did not show up at any other point during the day.
At 10 AM we met with our Public Defender. The Defender had a plan to get a group arraignment consisting of 30 people per group (or 4 groups), to get us out of there as quickly as possible. We later found out that that request was soon shot down (again, at the Mayor’s request) and that we would be going through the Arraignment/Booking process one at time. This process was expected to carry on throughout the night.
The day was slow and dreary with more room hopping, pitiful meals, and a general feeling of frustration. We had no idea why we were there, how many of us there were, or what was going on in the world. The guards repeatedly refused to answer our questions, save for the occasionally kind soul.
Finally around 4:30 PM, they announced that they would be speeding up the Booking Process for people with a Pennsylvania License. Another hour spent waiting around for what seemed like absolutely nothing and finally around 5:30 PM we were dealt with. Shortly after, we met briefly with the judge who delivered our Court Summons and moments later my cell of what was now 15 was released into the world.
After 23 hours of receiving the run-around, it took the Judge to actually tell me what I was being charged with. My rights were never read despite subtle questioning by guards on duty in relation to future protests that may be held. As I left the building on a side entrance away from the protestors outside (thanks for showing support guys, it is needed for those that are still in there Friday Night!!!), I gained a new found respect the freedoms I am able to enjoy as a law-abiding citizen. Unfortunately, I did not gain a new found respect for the Police Officers of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania or the manner in which they handled our cases. Our extended imprisonment was both rude, irresponsible, and disrespectful for a group which was withheld A) without evidence, B) without prior convictions (for the most part), and C) without an actual arrestible offense officially stated. If the Police truly respected us, we would have been in and out of there within 4-8 hours (12 max). Judging from prior arrest reports I’ve read from other protests, this time frame seems absurdly high and I can’t help but wonder to what effect politics played in that decision. Today’s protest was unfortunately focused on our situation rather than the real problems looming in Iraq.

Keep those stories coming guys…Get heard!!!

add your comments


LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 25 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
TITLE AUTHOR DATE
NOT PRISON, JAIL Prodigal Yunzer Sunday, Mar. 30, 2003 at 1:34 PM
It is a shame DC Thursday, Mar. 27, 2003 at 6:02 PM
it's all such a shame laura maloney Thursday, Mar. 27, 2003 at 5:10 PM
two sides to everything DC Thursday, Mar. 27, 2003 at 12:50 PM
The real Cowards Sara Thursday, Mar. 27, 2003 at 12:15 PM
Boo hoo Freedom Lover Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2003 at 2:39 AM
Boo hoo Freedom Lover Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2003 at 2:39 AM
tactics Dave Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2003 at 6:35 PM
To: Just someone law4activists Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2003 at 9:39 AM
Miranda Rights Just Someone... Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2003 at 7:21 AM
© 2001-2009 Pittsburgh Independent Media Center. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not endorsed by the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center.
Disclaimer | Privacy