What to Expect When You’re Expecting… To Get Arrested!

2 Feb

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I don’t know how you honored Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy in January, but I got arrested for civil disobedience on Wednesday while protesting the Senate’s refusal to call witnesses in the Impeachment Trial. Obviously I have a LOT to share on the topic, but since this blog is called pithypants, I’ll start with the lighter stuff first.

So here’s a quick primer on what to expect if you decide to take your outrage to the next level this year…

Lesson 1: If you’ve not yet been arrested (I hadn’t!) I highly recommend coming to DC and letting your first experience unfold with the US Capitol Police. They are professionals. While the experience isn’t exactly pleasant (I mean, it’s uncomfortable having your hands cuffed for hours), I didn’t encounter a single officer who seemed to be on a power trip. They were friendly, civil, and – if I’m being honest – entirely deserving of the salaries we pay them. In fact, when I learned that they probably wouldn’t be able to make change when I paid my fine, I suggested that they take the extra $10 and buy a six pack of beer.

Lesson 2: You shouldn’t offer unsolicited money to the police. Turns out, even if you’re being funny, they will get big eyes and respond seriously, “We can’t take that! We don’t do bribes!” Um… oops? Sorry about that. I wasn’t looking for a second charge!

Lesson 3: When you’re arrested in a “mass arrest,” you will be processed as a group. Which means: you’re only as fast as the slowest member of your group. The larger the group, the longer you’ll be in custody, because everyone has to go through all the steps before they start releasing people.

In a nutshell, the process consists of getting:

  • cuffed
  • patted down
  • having all your personal property (except clothes, ID and cash for the fine) removed and placed in a plastic bag
  • photographed
  • loaded in a paddywagon and transported to a processing area (in our case, a drafty warehouse over near the Navy Yard)
  • searched again (more thoroughly but still with your clothes on, thankfully!);
  • your cuffs moved from behind your back to in front of you
  • read your Miranda Rights
  • to sign your arrest certificate (after they run your ID through their database to check for priors)
  • fingerprinted
  • to pay your fine
  • your stuff back
  • released!

In our case, it took about four hours.

Lesson 4: Consider your clothing carefully if you think there’s a chance you might get arrested. I say this because most of my regrets were around aspects of my clothing. I was grateful to have my big winter coat for the hours that we were sitting in the cold warehouse. I was also glad to have worn a sports bra rather than a regular under-wire bra because it made the bra checks (performed by a female officer) easier. (In case you’re wondering, for a bra check, they ask you to lean forward slightly and they grab and shake the band of your bra so that if you have anything there, it will fall out.) Conversely, I kicked myself for wearing skinny jeans. Had I known my stomach would be exposed, I probably would not have worn something that showcased my tubby muffin top. Next time I might wear a dress. 🙂

Lesson 5: Know what you’ll be charged with. In my case, I learned a new vocabulary word: incommoding. Look it up.

Lesson 6: If there’s a chance you’ll get arrested, be sure to carry cash (to pay your fine) and a valid ID in your pocket. If possible, ditch anything else because it just slows the whole process down (see Lesson 3). In our case, our fines were $50, payable in cash, so for the people who didn’t have cash on them, we pooled our money to cover them.

Lesson 7: When possible, team up with an organized group that knows the ropes. I was fortunate enough to have been with a group that was familiar with the process. They let us know what actions might lead to arrest, made it clear what consequences we might face if we were arrested, and provided forms for us to complete before protesting to secure legal representation in the event that we got arrested.

After I was released from custody, I walked out the back door of the station, completely disoriented and unsure how I’d get home. As I was fishing my phone out of my plastic bag of belongings, I heard a small group of people cheering and chanting, “Thank you, we love you!” from a hotel parking lot across the street. I had not expected a welcome committee, but it was incredibly nice to be met by a lawyer who made a copy of my arrest record, asked how I’d been treated, and verified how many people were still awaiting release, while another person brought me food and asked if I needed to use a bathroom. They planned to stay there until the last person was released so that if anyone hit any hiccups or needed help paying the fine, they would be covered.

Lesson 8: Be sure you have an Uber/Lyft app on your phone so you have an easy way to get home. I was one of the few people from the DC area who got arrested. The others were from Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and even California. Which is to say: I’m probably one of the only people who had a remote sense of where I was in the city. And even so, it was after dark and I didn’t know how close a metro was, so I was grateful to grab an Uber.

Lesson 9: Even if you’re tempted, don’t tell your Uber driver, “I just got out of jail!” unless you want him to go silent, drive quickly, and look at you suspiciously in the rearview mirror. On second thought: definitely tell your driver you were arrested. Way better than making small talk for 20 minutes.

Lesson 10: Listen to the stories of the people who took the leap with you. (Not that it’s difficult – without a phone or any other source of entertainment, all you have to pass the time is each other.) You’ll be inspired by the retired Army Colonel who has been in town from New York protesting every day since January 6; by the soft-spoken college student who came out from Wisconsin because she doesn’t see the point of a college degree if our country continues on the path it’s on; by the young nurse from California who flew in that morning just to protest, knowing she might miss her return flight back because she got arrested; by the Marine running for US Congress, whose uncle was the regional president of the NAACP in Mississippi; or by the man who now wears a body camera to protests after losing multiple teeth in the violence at Charlottesville in 2017. These people made me proud to be an American.

And finally, if you want to see what we did that led to arrest, here’s a link to a pretty thorough video from that day.

 

 

4 Responses to “What to Expect When You’re Expecting… To Get Arrested!”

  1. emphasisonjoy at 11:07 pm #

    You are my hero! And thanks for all the tips for when the rest of us get thrown in the pokey. I think I’ll just start wearing a warm coat and comfy clothes all the time – wait, I think I do – all set! HUGS!

    • Alison at 6:41 am #

      You’re already half-way to arrested – just come to DC and make it official! 🙂

  2. Alicia at 9:08 am #

    I’d never thought about the “once you’re released” part…I think I’ll start trying to be part of the release welcome committee now. I’m all about making sure people can use the bathroom and have a snack! Thank you again for doing this.

    • Alison at 10:57 am #

      Totally! And I have to say – after hours of being keyed up, it was a helpful way to shift gears and get my bearings. It provided a nice bridge back to reality. FWIW – a lot of the people who were greeting us (aside from the lawyer) were protestors who have racked up too many arrests so they had to sit this one out. (The rule of thumb that was shared with us was that if you have more than five arrests in a certain period of time, you won’t just be processed and released after paying a fine – you’ll actually have to spend the night in jail, go before a judge in the morning and pay a higher fine.)

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