Jail was a very educational and inspirational experience. I’m going to tell you all about it but first can I just share something with you?
I know what you’re thinking. What kind of lunatic puts her mugshot on the internet? Well, this lunatic made it her profile picture on Facebook. It’s a really good picture. Most of my selfies don’t turn out this well. Who knew that fluorescent lighting would be so flattering?
Moving on now.
The planning for this action started months earlier. We wanted to pick a date that gave everyone the time to prepare for possible arrest and the issues that can arrive from that. We also wanted to attract media attention close to the start date of the law, which was February 1st, while giving the City Council time to come to their senses. They didn’t.
There was obvious symbolism in selecting a day that honored Martin Luther King Jr, although I cannot take credit for that brilliant idea. The life and legacy of MLK is often white-washed. People like thinking of him as a God-fearing, peace-loving man and he was. He was also arrested twenty-nine times for civil disobedience and related charges. The government has no problem making his holiday a “national day of service” but they desperately want us to forget that being God-fearing and peace-loving are not synonymous with law-abiding.
A woman called into a local News hotline called “The Rant” to complain that we had no right to sully MLK’s big day with a protest. Yes, you read that correctly.
There were a lot of the people who wanted to participate in the protest but couldn’t. I have a pretty solid armor of white privilege. One of the reasons that I felt compelled to participate in this protest was because I’m a white, home-owning, mother of three. I am active in my Church and my community. It would be hard for the Mayor to make me look like a criminal.
Despite my best efforts, no amount of facial piercings or edgy hairstyles can wash away my distinct aura of suburban mom. I used to fight it but it is as much a part of me as my stretch-marks or my astigmatism. There is something unsettling about seeing someone wholesome looking on the wrong side of the law.
Don’t believe me? Look at this picture of Dorothy Day and tell me you don’t automatically want to side with her.
I still came very close to chickening out. I’m not proud of that fact but I want it on the record. I was worried that me getting arrested was going to scar my kids, it was going to negatively affect my annual Diaper Drive or that it would prevent me from becoming a foster parent someday.
A lot of people tried to talk me out of it, not because they didn’t believe in the cause but because they worried for me. I asked my concerned loved ones what they were worried about. I would be peaceful. I wouldn’t resist arrest. I have no record. What could happen? That question made people very uncomfortable because as much as they didn’t want to admit it, they were afraid that I’d be hurt by the cops. Whether we talk about it or not sometimes cops hurt people without justification. If I was in danger than so was every homeless person on the street.
In the end, I didn’t chicken out. The day of I met up with a handful of friends and a hundred or so strangers and we marched from city hall to Casino Center Blvd under the Fremont Street Experience.
We walked into the crosswalk and we set up our tents and sleeping bags. We held signs, we chanted, we yelled into bullhorns. To clarify, the illegal portion of this protest was simply blocking the street. The charge we received was “pedestrian or vehicular interference.” I would have preferred civil disobedience, it sounds much cooler.
There were a few dozen marshals, a few dozen metro officers and even mounted police. They gave us warnings to disperse at which point we got everyone that wasn’t prepared to be arrested, out of the street.
After the warnings, the police arrested us. I was toward the front so I was swarmed by a dozen officers. Two scooped me up by my arms and dragged me a hundred feet from the commotion. The rest of the officers went after the person behind me.
My personal items were taken. I was zip-tied and sat on the curb. I sat there for most of an hour which is longer than I was actually in the road protesting.
The two officers that took me into custody apologized to me. They thanked me for not resisting and made it very clear that they didn’t want to be there. Five feet from me, a woman was screaming “I’m not resisting,” as an officer violently twisted her arm for no apparent reason. Fifty feet away, my friend Kelly was pinned, picked up and then dropped on his head. He was bleeding long before they put him in the paddy-wagon.
This is important to acknowledge because if Metro officers are not consistent and act with unnecessary force with dozens of news cameras present, imagine how they will behave when those cameras aren’t present.
The laws that criminalize homelessness give police officers a lot of discretion. They can look the other way, they can give a warning, they can ticket the homeless person or they can arrest them. They can also chose to help the homeless person get to a shelter but they are by no means obligated to do so. This flexibility that the police have regarding when or how to enforce the law is a big problem.
The police had the option to cut us loose. We didn’t resist arrest and none of us had warrants. They could have ticketed us and released us, saving the city thousands of dollars. They chose instead to arrest a dozen people and waste the incredible amount of resources that involved. They didn’t need dozens of cops, mounted police or marshals to make arrests. They chose to do that.
Remember this when politicians and public relations officers claim that the police don’t arrest ANYONE unless it’s absolutely necessary.
The twelve of us were transported to the Las Vegas jail.
In case you have never been inside of a jail cell, I will describe it. It was filthy. There were piles of half eaten food in every cell and they moved us from cell to cell without any explanation. There were used bandaids sitting on the floor in two of the cells. The floors were sticky. The walls looked like they were supposed to be white but they were gray with grime. The vents were so caked in dust that one of the protestors had to be given medication to stop an asthma attack.
In the center of the room is a metal toilet. There was a roll of toilet paper and a tiny sink with no soap and no warm water. The door had a plexiglass window that we spent most of the night taking turns looking out of. We could see the main desk and computer screens so we could see information on everyone they arrested. We could see the correctional officers pulling up our Facebook pages and news footage from our arrests.
On the window there was taped a long list of bail bonds offices with the phone numbers but there was no contact info for the public defenders office. That tells you everything you need to know about the prison industrial complex.
There isn’t a special cell for protestors so me and the ladies I was arrested with were thrown into a cell with two women who were accused of domestic violence. They were very nice to us but they just as easily could not have been. A woman who allegedly burned her boyfriends house down came in next . She had a drug problem and had been living on the streets for a while. She told us her entire story and sobbed onto my shoulder until they took her away.
There was a phone in the cell and unlike TV we were allowed to make as many calls as we wanted so I checked in with my husband a few times and called back a few more times to ask him what time it was.
Did you know that when you call someone from jail, you have to listen to a recording about sexual abuse by correctional officers every time? In the last of our three cells, there was a television and a video playing on loop about sexual abuse at the hands of correctional officers as well. Why do you suppose that is?
Another woman was put in with us. She didn’t say a word for the entire night but when I sat down to pee she made eye contact with me the entire time. Luckily for me, I have kids so I haven’t peed without interruption for nine years anyway.
When I was checked in, hours before, a nice female officer took me into an empty cell to change and give my urine sample. Her shift had ended shortly after.
A trans male was put in with us hours later and they forced him to pee in front of a large group of women, twice, because they lost his first sample.
To clarify this man was not easy to mistake as female. He had a beard, he dressed as a man and we didn’t understand why he was in with us until he explained it. At least three times a cop would walk by, catch a glimpse of him through the plastic window and charge in. I don’t know if they thought he snuck in or what but he had to explain himself over and over. This is an obvious example of the disparity between how a white woman and a black male are treated in the same damn room.
They had no problem dragging him away and being rude to him but when I banged on the plexiglass and yelled that I was watching them, their behavior became more appropriate. An officer came in and explained that he was just trying to protect us from a potential threat. He wasn’t happy when we told him that he was the real threat there.
Through a small window in the other side of the desks, the decorations for a lunar new year party were visable and it appeared that the jail staff were taking turns attending the party. Sadly, it did nothing to improve their mood.
There were lots of comments by COs about how the homeless people were smarter than us because they got out of the street. They repeated, “I bet you won’t do this again.” Every officer took a turn asking us “how often do you volunteer with the homeless” or “what are you doing for the homeless besides making a scene?” When I answered that I volunteer once or twice a week, directly with the homeless and spend a third day doing food rescue and collecting items for donation, they shut up pretty quickly.
While I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations about correctional officers, the ones I encountered, besides the lady that I mentioned earlier, really tried to upset us. They didn’t interview us, they just randomly inserted themselves and made rude comments. When a woman with hypoglycemia asked for help they ignored her until she was dizzy and on the cusp of losing consciousness. Then they insisted on testing her blood sugar before giving her a paper cup of warm, orange, sucrose that got her blood sugar back up. God forbid she had a few sips of orange drink without having a medical crisis.
It seemed to me in my limited time there that the whole institution of jail is reliant on shame. Without that shame, jail was just kind of boring and gross. The officers were annoyed by the time we left that they hadn’t more successfully crushed our spirits. We chatted, sang, played Tic,Tax,Toe with toilet paper and explained to the other prisoners why we were arrested. We had implied that housing is a human right. In the end the cops were happy to see us go.
They didn’t take our mugshots until we had been there nine plus hours. From the cell that the women were in, we could see people getting their pictures taken and they could see us so we made faces at each other the whole time. They also rushed to feed us, unassembled bologna sandwiches before we left since you aren’t supposed to keep a prisoner overnight without feeding them.
At four-thirty in the morning, they released us. They gave us our stuff back and sent us into the night in the middle of nowhere. Some of our friends had volunteered to work as “jail support” calling our families, offering rides home, etc but again, this is a luxury that most people don’t have upon release. The last of us wasn’t released for a solid 24 hours after we were.
Now I have a ticket. I was hoping it would be dismissed but the city attorney refused. I will probably end up with community service which is fine since that’s my jam.
The next day, we were all over the news. The mayor refused to comment until she was cornered by a reporter at the National Mayor’s Convention. He asked what she thought of the protest and she said, “well complaining is nice.” What? She went on to say that none of us do anything besides protest. That obviously isn’t true. How does she think we all know each other? She added that she would be happy to discuss the homeless crisis with us. I have sent dozens of emails to the Mayor and I got one reply from her on January 28, 2020.
When she got back from the convention in DC, she went on the news and assured the city that we were all paid protestors, bused in from other cities.
Local reporter, Reed Cowan was the first to air the accusation that we were proven to be paid protestors. He posted his phone number for anyone that knew of it was a paid protestor from the event and he got a few calls from a few crazies.
I will let people call me a lot of crazy things but I will not sit by when the Mayor accuses me of being a tourist. I posted the reporters number on social media and asked anyone who felt inclined to give him a call. He called me the next day and said, “wow. You have a lot of friends.”
After confronting the mayor again, this time asking her to show evidence that we were paid protestors from out of state, she backed off. She said what she meant was we are all employees of various charities and were paid by those groups. We aren’t though. We’re all volunteers. While we are involved with a dozen various groups around town we all serve within the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, if you’re interested in joining us.
Later that week I went to a public meeting to speak with Cedric Crear, the city councilman for my neighborhood, in person. Almost everyone that showed up at that event was there to talk about the homeless ban. I brought up the risk of police using unnecessary force and two marshals flanked me and escorted me across the room. None of them could see the humor in that reaction.
A few weeks after that, we attempted to attend a Coffee with a Cop at The Cracked Egg in Centennial Hills. Councilman Stavros Anthony was supposed to attend and I wanted to talk some sense into him. Yes, he is a militant, former police officer but he’s also Greek Orthodox and surely his love of Jesus supersedes his love of power? Jesus was very clear about how we treat those in need. I guess I’ll never know.
I went inside to order a coffee and while I was trying to pay, a cop demanded that the cashier stop taking my order so that I wouldn’t qualify as a customer. The cops made us leave. I spent an hour on the sidewalk holding my sign and when I was walking to my car to leave, a police volunteer came up and asked me about the laws we were protesting.
I explained and excused myself to leave when a police officer detained me so that they could give me a trespassing violation. Of course, I wouldn’t have been trespassing, if they had just let me leave. An interesting fact about writing someone a trespassing ticket is that someone who represents the owner must agree to sign the ticket. The cops spent all morning and spoke to the manager of the restaurant, who refused to participate and the owner of the restaurant, who refused to participate. Eventually the property manager agreed to be involved but he was also very reluctant.
So tell me, are police officers supposed to spend their time and energy finding someone willing to participate in issuing a trespass warning? This was half an hour after the event ended and Stavros had only stayed for ten minutes. Is this the way the law is supposed to work? Should city councilors host public events at privately owned businesses? Is there any benefit to the community or is it all just a way to control who is allowed to attend public events?
So what is the Downtown Dozen up to these days? The same thing we’re always up to.
We will continue to support the hungry, the homeless and the marginalized in whatever way we are able to. We will continue to be a thorn in the sides of the Mayor and her cronies. The city didn’t crush our spirits by showing us what the inside of a jail cell looked like, they gave us the evidence we need to keep up the fight.
What is the Mayor up to? I probably don’t have to answer that for you.