EDITORS NOTE: This is the first of the “First Arrest” series. It is very important at this point to remind people that this is no way is meant to serve as “legal advice” and hopefully those who follow this series will see the arbitrary pattern of arrests. This is about providing people with a mass amount of experiences from people who have been arrested during their activism so as to have a fuller picture of what that experience sometimes looks like. Outside of that – for those sending over their answers – make sure to send over a photo to attach as well. Without one I will choose one. As always – send over your answers to these questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also always find post specific to First Arrest under that category on this site. We are not encouraging people to get arrested – but were also not not encouraging people to get arrested.
When was your first activism related arrest?
When you were arrested were you prepared/intending to get arrested?
Yes, I intended to get arrested. There was a line I was not supposed to
cross, and I intentionally crossed it to get arrested and bring wider
attention to the issue we were protesting against.
How did you react to your first arrest? Did you fight any
I followed the advice of my public defender, which was a bad idea. For
one trespass charge I took a deal, which meant a guilty plea, a year of
unsupervised probation, and a $750 fine. I had no idea what I was doing,
and had no context for this stuff. My PD said it was a bad idea for us
to fight the charges, and I believed him. What he really meant was that
he didn’t want to deal with it.
How did others react to your first arrest? Did you feel you supported?
Well, the crowd of people at the protest were very supportive. I will
never forget the feeling of being turned around to be handcuffed, and
seeing 1,600 people behind me cheering me on. That was a kind of support
one rarely gets the opportunity to feel.
In the weeks following, people on the street were supportive. I worked
for Greenpeace at the time, as a canvasser, and a few people recognized
me from a picture in the LA Times and thanked me for what I’d done.
However, the group (which I will not name) who trained me for the event,
and said that they would help fund-raise for legal fees after our
arrest, disappeared after the protest, and never helped us. I ended up
paying the court costs and $750 out of my own pocket, as did the 24
others who were arrested and who were also told they would be helped.
This was very frustrating, and made me a little cynical about the
promises of some above-ground organizations.
Looking back on your first arrest what would you have done differently?
What did you wish you knew then?
I probably would have brought it to trial. If I’m going to be found
guilty, I might as well make the State work for it. Instead, I just gave
them money and my time, and limited my ability to engage in more direct
action or civil disobedience for a year. Plus, after three subsequent
activism-related arrests since this first one, in this case I faced the
least amount of time in jail or overall penalties, but it resulted in
the only charge that ended up on my record. And that’s because I never
fought it, and never even gave them the opportunity to offer me a better
deal. Which, looking back, I’m certain they would have. In all my
following cases–when facing time in prison or much harsher fines or
probation–I’ve turned down terrible plea deals, and either been offered
better ones or had the charges dropped.
What impact, if any, did that first arrest have on your activism later
Well, technically it prevented me from being arrested again for the rest
of that year. However, thanks to the lack of communication between
states in this country (USA!) I was arrested during the raid on Zuccotti
Park during Occupy Wall Street in NY, while on probation, and it didn’t
matter–it never came up. The trespassing charge did come up in one case
where I was arrested in another state, and helped in a bail hearing to
demonstrate that I have a “pattern of criminal behavior,” but it didn’t
increase my bail. I ended up with the same bail as the other who were
arrested. Really it hasn’t had much of an affect, and I would say that
exposing the issue we were fighting in major news outlets was a much
larger positive effect than any negative effects I have personally dealt
with since as a result.
What do you feel are the biggest misconceptions about state/corporate
repression within activist communities?
This is a very difficult question. There are a lot of misconceptions.
But I’d say one of the biggest misconceptions is that getting arrested
in general is a big deal that will follow you around for the rest of
your life. It is not likely that getting arrested for misdemeanor
charges will have a large impact on your life. At least in the USA, jobs
won’t ask you about misdemeanor charges when applying. And people won’t
think of you as a criminal or judge you because you arrested for
standing up for something you believe in. State repression shouldn’t
stop us from standing up for what we believe in. Spending 8 hours or a
few days in jail is not fun, but it’s not a big deal, and it is often
very much worth putting a dent in the system, or at least showing the
government and corporations that they can’t kill the planet, or take
away our basic human rights, without a fight.