Dismissed!

Originally published on Occupy New Hampshire’s website.

Back in May I wrote about my experiences after being arrested at the #noNATO rally in Chicago on May 20th. Yesterday was my court date. My case was dismissed.

In the weeks leading up to the hearing, I spent the time gathering pictures of my wrist, getting the injury treated at the Concord Community Acupuncture, finding myself a place to stay, booking plane tickets, contacting the lawyer, and attending a fundraiser by OccupyNH to help pay for the NLG lawyer. To say I was busy is an understatement.

As much as I was working on gathering what I needed to be prepared, I was trying hard not to think about the actual hearing. I knew if I allowed myself to think on it too much I’d start getting really apprehensive so I focused on the details and some other work I have as a way to ease the apprehension.

I was so grateful to OccupyNH for hosting a fundraising dinner for me. The NLG wanted $100 in payment (though they didn’t require it) so I wanted to make sure I gave them some compensation. That ONH was able to come together and gather that amount, plus a bit more for, as Ryan put it, “a burger at Ruby Tuesdays”, moved me almost to tears. I announced at the end of the night that it was in the top 3 of “the best nights of my life, ever.”

Will Hopkins, Executive Director of New Hampshire Peace Action put me in touch with Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She provided me with a warm, dry bed, a shower, and some food. I was so grateful I got to meet someone I’ve been admiring from afar for a really long time.

Kathy is so kind, warm, and generous and really really busy. I could see how hard she works and did my best to stay out of her way while I was there. I also got to meet Brian Terrel and Joshua Brollier. Brian was especially influential on me because he gave me a perspective of Catholicism I had never seen before. Though my paternal side of the family is Catholic and my inlaws are also Catholic, I had never heard of the Catholic Worker. The flavor of Catholicism preferred by those I’m related to by blood and marriage is of wealth at any expense. To meet a male Catholic who was not partriarchal, demeaning, disrespectful of women and their choices, and chose to live a life of poverty in keeping with the tenets of “voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and foresaken.” (source) had a profound affect on me. So much did Brian affect me, when the announcement for Catholic Mass came over the loudspeaker at the airport while I was waiting to go home, I attended Mass.

It was the first time in years I’d been to church. I’m Pagan so going to Mass is something I only do at weddings and funerals and only because I have to. Catholicism, and Christianity do not call to me. While I believe in “God” I believe him to be a minor god in the pantheon and one I only pray to when I need money since he has always been a god of greed to me. That’s my own personal opinion. It is not my wish to start a faith debate here.

The airport chapel was pretty devoid of character, I assume to accommodate every Abrahamic faith. There was me and one white man, about 40ish. Late in the service a young Latina joined us. The priest, an elderly white male of the Passionist sect talked of how a beautiful flower may grow on a garbage heap. I took the metaphor to mean the Occupy movement is the flower on the garbage heap of environmental and economic devastation imposed on us and Mother Earth by the Industrial Revolution which has continued to this day leaving nothing but destruction and the wealth of a few in its wake.

Father MacDonald also spoke of bringing together those who don’t always agree. He spoke of Matthew and how, as a tax collector, he wasn’t well liked by the Jews. Jesus brought Matthew to an event and everyone was pretty pissed at Jesus for doing so. But Jesus just wanted to show the tax collector was human (I’m totally paraphrasing here). I took the sermon to mean the Occupiers, police, and city leaders (any city or town) can come together to solve problems even if we don’t like and trust one another.

But I digress.

I left from Manchester-Boston Airport on July 4th. My flight left at 6a so I got to the airport around 4a which meant I got up around 2a. As horrid as this sounds, I hadn’t been sleeping through the night for the last couple weeks. Each time I went to bed I’d be up by 3a at the latest. This is totally out of my norm. But the hearing and my other work has really been weighing on my mind so sleep just wasn’t staying.

I got to the airport and immediately after checking in, the TSA bullied me. I had to dump out a bottle of water and throw away two oranges, and I wasn’t allowed to eat what I brought with me. The TSA agent followed me to the bathroom, pretending to wash her hands. When she asked what was wrong I said “we’re in the middle of a drought and you’re asking me to dump out water.” She then said she didn’t make the rules she just enforced them. Then she called me by my first name. I responded with “how presumptuous of you to call me by my first name. You can call me Mrs. Hill.” Then I told her the Nazi’s were just following orders and that she was acting like a predatory bully. I’m sure I’m on the TSA watch list now.

Getting to Chicago wasn’t an issue once I got past the police state. My time in Chicago was spent just trying to stay cool. The temps were in the high 90s the whole time I was there. Brian and I walked to the lake for a small BBQ Joshua was having. The lake is so very beautiful but the trash that littered the beach and park, and in the water at times, was really disconcerting. It was July 4th yet I only saw four trash barrels that were totally overflowing. And while I believe in the “leave no trace” philosophy of outdoor events, I do believe the City of Chicago should’ve provided more trash and recycle barrels for residents to use. Also, I noticed there were only two bathrooms with long lines. Being a very hot July 4th, it would seem someone in City Hall would’ve thought to add porta potties to the park as a way to accommodate the thousands of people that were there. The trash barrels and porta potties may have been lacking but the police were highly visible. About every five minutes a large CPD SUV drove the strip. As a tourist, the litter, lack of bathrooms, and high police visibility didn’t make me feel safe or welcome and certainly didn’t inspire me to return.

Thursday I spent at the house trying to stay out of everyone’s way. Kathy and Brian had a lot of work to do so I didn’t want to be a bother. I read quietly and engaged them when they would come out of the office for a break. I tided up the kitchen a couple times. As the day wore on, it got mildly cooler due to some brief showers. I decided to take a walk around 4p. As I was walking I found a used bookstore and picked up two classics I never read: On the Road and The Idiot; I also got Brave New World, something I haven’t read since high school. Then I got myself something to eat and went back to the house.

I had finally connected with the lawyer on Thursday. Jeff Frank who works for, or with, the NLG called me before I went for the walk. We talked about my case. He felt the City would be offering me community service though he did prepare me for a mini-trial if it came down to that. Mr. Frank said we wouldn’t know who the arresting officer was until he saw the paperwork which is something he wouldn’t see until we arrived at the courthouse in the morning. I told him my story about how I tried to move off the street but wasn’t able to, how a male officer took me by the right hand and put me in a control hold then handed me over to a female officer who was very polite, courteous, and gentle with me. I also asked him what I should do with my backpack. “I doubt the bailiffs are going to let me in with it” I said to him “it’s got all my clothes. As soon as I get out of court I have to head to the airport so I don’t know what to do.” He said he would bring his car and I could put it in the back. We then described ourselves physically so we’d be able to recognize each other come morning.

Morning came and I made my way through the Chicago’s subway system to get to the courthouse on W. Fournoy Street. I got there before the building opened so I milled around outside with about 20 other people. I wore a long black dress, with teal jewelry. I stood out like a sore thumb for a three reasons: 1. I was dressed up. 2. I am white. 3. I had a big yellow backpack with me. My fellow defendants — not occupiers, rather victims of a broken system — where mostly young black or Latino men. They looked at me with confused curiosity for a minute or two then totally ignored me. Their loved ones, closer to my age, also looked at me with confusion and curiosity though no one spoke to me. I was curious about them too. I wanted to engage in conversation but none would make eye contact with me so I didn’t press the issue.

The bailiff, an African-American male about 45ish, came out and made this 5 minute long speech about how to get through security, what to do, where to go once you’re in the building, and about being polite and courteous. He then looked at me and said “ma’am you cannot bring that bag in there.” I responded with “The lawyah said he’d put it in the trunk of his ca’ah but he’s not he-ah yet.” The bailiff then smiled this broad, beautiful smile full of white teeth and said “HELLO BOSTON!” Everyone laughed, myself included, so I responded with “Hello Chicago!” The problem of my bag was solved as soon as Mr. Frank showed up.

Mr. Frank is a very handsome man of 60. He’s well dressed and well groomed. He worked as a corporate lawyer for 20 years which he described as “intensely depressing.” He said he lived with the depression until he made the money he needed so he could do the work he wanted, that is to work for the NLG. He said the cop who is on the paperwork as being my arresting officer always shows up to court, that she is really dedicated. I was surprised the woman was my arresting officer. I’ll remind you she was the one who treated me with dignity and respect and who said to the Paddy Wagon officers “you don’t need to worry about her, she’s been cooperative the whole time.” I said to Mr. Frank “she’s not the one who assaulted me. That was a man.” He then went into some legalese about how that actually works to our advantage.

My name was called and I went up. The City prosecutor said “Can I have a few minutes Judge? The officer isn’t here yet.” Mr. Frank got all excited. I sat back down as the judge gave the minutes requested. Then, about 15 minutes later, I was called back up. The prosecutor said “The officer was here on June 6th.” The judge then asked “what was she told to do?” The prosecutor then said “She was told to come back on July 6th. I have one piece of paper that says June 6th.” The judge then said “the bail slip clearly states July 6th. The officer was informed to come back. She’s not here. Dismissed!” I was jubilant.

Despite being jubilant, I was a little disappointed. Part of me wanted to go to trial so I could employ the advice from Kathy: “speak a little louder than you normally do, be sassy, and remind the court you have a right to free speech and the right to assembly both of which you were doing in an orderly fashion.” I live by the theory that everyone is entitled to my opinion and I was willing to give everyone in that courtroom my opinion loudly and sassisly. Alas, that was not my fate.

I have the opportunity to have my arrest expunged now that the case has been dismissed but I don’t think I will. This is my first arrest and something I’m proud off. I’m thinking of making a badge for my old Girl Scout sash, one with #noNATO on it and some handcuffs.

The day just didn’t end there though. My good fortune continued as Mr. Frank chose to drive me to the airport so I didn’t have to take the subway (though I love taking the subway). It gave us a chance to talk and get to know each other a bit. I invited him to NH. He gave me a hug as I was leaving and thanked me for being an occupier and for agitating for change.

At Midway Airport, I got myself an earlier flight home. The wicked nice security guard at the airport received my CTA pass because it still had money on it and I didn’t want to waste it. I sailed though the TSA this time, who didn’t make me pour out the water in my water bottle and let me keep an orange I had in my bag.

I got on the plane, got home, and had an impromptu celebration at Margarita’s in Manchester. A bunch of my fellow ONHers came when I called and texted and we hung out for a while. It was another fantastic day and night.

I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me: my husband, mother, brother, the NLG, Jeff Frank, Kathy Kelly, Brian Terrell, Joshua Broiller, Will Hopkins, and, of course, OccupyNH. To all those I don’t know who tweeted and Facebooked* support to me let me say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I could not, nor would not, have done this without you. Your support is valuable and I really, really appreciate it.

xo,

Michelle

*When did “facebook” become a verb?

__

Here is a copy of the note I wrote to my arresting officer.

Dear Officer ____,

The tension was heavy in the air, our emotions all ran high on May 20, 2012 at the #noNATO rally in Chicago. Protesters tried to remain calm, officers tried to control their fear. It was that day you arrested me.

It was the first time I’ve been arrested despite being on the front lines of progressive activism for 25 years. I was very nervous to say the least. Over the years I’d heard and read in the paper stories of how badly protesters are treated by police and feared I would be treated the same. And I was. A male officer put me in a control hold bending my right wrist to control me through pain despite my compliance with him. He handed me over to you. You leaned in and quietly asked me “why didn’t you disperse when you were told to”? I wanted to respond but I know anything I say can and will be used against me so I remained silent. What I wanted to say was “I was trying but there was no where for me to go. I was kettled by the police.”

While I was in your custody you treated me with dignity and respect. You were gentle and kind to me. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You restored some of the faith I’ve lost in the police with your warmth.

I was hoping to thank you in person at my hearing on July 6th – I came back from NH despite the financial quagmire I am in due to chronic unemployment and overbearing student loans – but you were not there. I wanted to hug you for your kindness. Since I cannot do that, I write this note to you in thanks.

We are the 99% (even police!),

Peace, Love, and Happiness,

Michelle

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