Arrested at the Eris Parade
by Anonymous by request
Wednesday, Mar. 09, 2011 at 10:00 AM
This is my personal account of parading in Eris 2011 and the crazy arrests that followed. I hope you can use this or print it somehow.... please feel free to post it anywhere and everywhere.
This is my personal account of parading in Eris 2011 and the crazy arrests that followed. I hope you can use this or print it somehow.... please feel free to post it anywhere and everywhere. I want to remain anonymous because I fear reprisal, based on the threats the Fifth District officers made over the course of the evening and from witnessing their insane misbehavior with my own eyes. Personally I have lost all faith in our police department. It is increasingly clear that the NOPD problem isn't "bad apples" but an institutional evil reaching far deeper, and now I have experienced it firsthand. So, I am frightened, but my outrage has moved me to write, to make the truth known. I was a peaceful parader, as were (I believe) almost if not all of the others arrested on Sunday night, many of whom I can vouch for personally. Mark my words, New Orleanians... if this can happen to me, it can happen to any of you.
SEVERELY FUCKED UP
The mood in the 5th District station house was grim. Not only the line of twelve cuffed prisoners kneeling on the floor of the hallway-- we were grim alright-- but the police themselves were somber and uneasy. The mood was subdued, punctuated with explosions of anger from the still adrenalized officers who'd been at the scene of the Fifth District's bulldozing of Eris.
"Y'all fucked up," ranted a fat officer, pacing up and down the back hall where we arrestees knelt. It was hour two of what would be over four hours kneeling cuffed side-by-side on the Fifth District's linoleum before transfer to Sheriff's custody. "Y'all done fucked up now. I hope I see the motherfucker who hit me. I'm gonna find him. I'm gonna see that motherfucker on the street, and I'm gonna whip the shit out of him. You DO know that. When I see that motherfucker I'm gonna fuck him up bad, and I hope he's one of y'all's motherfucking cousins. I should'a shot that motherucker! You heard me?"
The station Sergeant was angry too, but he wasn't venting at the arrestees. He was angry at the French Quarter's 8th District police force. "I can't believe they got on the radio talking all that shit," he said, his voice getting louder as he spoke. "What the fuck was that? Getting on the radio and telling us there was a riot heading our way. Like it's a joke to them. 'Oh yeah, we got this big crowd throwing trash cans and rioting, so look out. We've got them heading right your way.' That is severely fucked up."
A junior officer grunted in acknowledgement. Several pairs of handcuffs were unaccounted for, and he was trying to sort out whose handcuffs were whose. The police couldn't agree who'd arrested which of us.
"If they really had a riot on their hands," the Sergeant continued, "the only thing they should'a been saying on the radio was 'send units.' They should've taken care of it their damn selves. And instead they send it to us! Well, we handled it for them alright. The Fifth District takes care of a riot. We cleaned up their shit for them." He laughed bitterly. "And now we get to ride this horse allll the way home."
The Krewe of Eris' 2011 parade had not been a riot by any stretch of the definition. It had been a parade. It had been a jubilant and unruly parade, as it has been every year since it began, but also like every year it had been a positive, joyful, and creative parade, not a protest, an angry march, or anything remotely violent. The elaborate, lovingly handmade floats and costumes we had spent days and in some cases weeks on were made for celebration. This year's theme had been "Mutagenesis," partly in response to the BP oil disaster, and was meant to explore how new birth and change could arise from toxic horror. Prevalent in the parade were sea creatures and shorebirds, some adapted by their creators from earlier use in the Krewe of Dead Pelicans, Halloween and other parades and events reflecting the New Orleans spirit of responding to hardship by redoubling creative and constructive energy.
The parade had been without incident for the first several blocks, wending through the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods. People seemed happy to see us as they always are. As we passed below one building, a resident threw out handful after handful of letter-pressed Carnival bookmarks to us from a high window, swirling like giant confetti. They said "Carnival 2011 -- This is Heaven."
After crossing Elysian to Frenchmen St., the parade gained a tail, an Eighth District police car that followed some yards behind the parade with its lights on but no siren. I was a participant in the parade, and I figured this police escort to be two things, neither of them alarming or unreasonable. One, it was keeping tabs on where the parade was heading, which struck me as proactive and (from a police point of view) understandable. Two, its blue-light presence at the back of the parade served as a warning to civilian vehicle traffic that the road ahead was not passable. When the parade paused for twenty minutes or so at the intersection of Frenchmen and Burgundy, the car paused with us.
At some point during this pause, one parade participant did something to attract the attention of the officers inside the car-- I didn't see this, so I don't know what it was-- and he was arrested without incident.
The parade then moved forward, finally, following a course that took it into the French Quarter. We didn't get far; it was clear the Eighth District didn't want us there. Some neighborhoods are okay to parade in, and some, apparently, are not. The response to Eris entering the Quarter was swift and markedly more aggressive. A helicopter swept us with its spotlight-- wait, does NOPD have a helicopter now? There was definitely one present. Police cars blocked off two sides of every intersection, directing the parade into two right turns: up one block and then directly back out towards Esplanade. All the cars at the intersections had their sirens going at ear-splitting volumes, as did the now-multiple cars behind us, which accelerated and roared their engines. Many paraders broke into a trot and then an unnerved run. Some crowded onto the sidewalks.
The sirens drowned out the marching band and made verbal communication impossible, even at a shout. As the tail cars nipped at the parade's heels, some younger paradegoers began dragging the gigantic French Quarter residential trash bins out into the streets to slow the police behind us down. Just as promptly, other paradegoers put the cans upright and dragged the cans back to where they'd been. Still scrambling to stay ahead of the police cars, the trash draggers and trash replacers angrily chided each other. Of course, it was impossible to hear what anyone was saying over the sirens, leaving this an argument conducted in pantomime. This lack of a unified response is perhaps not shocking in a parade named for the Goddess of discord.
The cop cars and their super-sirens kept on us all the way to the dividing line between the Fifth & Eighth districts, where they vanished. Many paradegoers had dropped out, but the couple hundred people still left cheered, as if being shunted around by effective crowd control was a victory. "Whose streets? Our streets!" chanted some as they fled back across Elysian.
It had not been a particularly fun visit to "Da Quarters," and my partner and I discussed heading home, but we figured we'd stick it out, since there were only a few blocks left before the parade was officially over anyway.
A little way up Chartres St. a police car approached the front of the parade, driving the wrong way on the one-way street. Occupying the center of the road, it drove straight forward into the front of the parade until the parade flowed around it on all sides, and then it stopped. The siren came on, then turned off, and the parade continued past the parked police car while the officer inside it glowered silently. This was bizarre, but also much more like the buffoonery I expect from our boys in blue, and for that reason was almost comforting.
At Chartres and Franklin, there was a melee.
At Chartres and Franklin, cars swarmed into the body of the parade. They tried to block the parade on all sides, and the parade ballooned in the middle as the cheerfully oblivious marchers in the back marched forward into those discovering the obstruction. There weren't sirens, but there were a lot of flashing lights, and the officers were shouting profanities as they laid into a confused and frightened crowd. Why had this ambush happened? Where had this come from? What the fuck was going on?
One man was grabbed and thrown against a car. "He cut my tires!" an officer was shouting. "I saw you pull that knife out your own pocket!" someone else shouted back. Two female officers began deploying giant waves of pepper spray as they backed away from the crowd, the spray arcing up and drizzling like fog over the parade as well as the officers in the center of it.
Officers were lashing out with batons and tazers, chasing down those who ran. Eris, like most things that are great about Mardi Gras, is a family affair, and there had been parents present with their children of all ages. If there had ever been an official demand we disperse, nobody I've spoken to heard it.
The escalation was instantaneous, ongoing and exponential. Police were flinging people around, and onlookers' cameras were smashed. A tazer boomed-- it sounded like a gunshot-- and began crackling. Then another. Then another. People were screaming in fear and running in all directions. As the officers pursued and tackled the scattering parade-goers, a few angered paraders circled back to the now-abandoned cruisers, opening the cars' unsecured rear doors to let out those who'd been confined. Further down Chartres, arrestees struggled free or were yanked free by groups of their friends as the situation spiralled further out of control. A man ran down the street in handcuffs.
"Lost my taser!" one officer panted, running past the car inside which your humble correspondent was quietly cuffed. "The fuck's my goddamn taser?"
"Someone got my baton!" shouted another.
More cars roared into the intersection and fresh officers jumped out, tense with anticipation and excitement. They ran out into the darkness with their batons extended in their hands. Officers who'd suffered the effects of pepper spray were staggering like drunks back towards the blue-lit ring of cop cars, shouting and cursing while holding their faces and rubbing their eyes.
One girl was grabbed and arrested for taking photographs. Several brass band members had their instruments taken from them and deliberately broken. Twelve paradegoers that I know of went to jail and a whole lot more went to hospital.
We arrestees were in the fifth district station for what seemed like an eternity, but was actually just over four hours. We could hear the police in the offices arguing loudly about the reports. A senior officer was scolding them and emphasizing how important it was that the reports agree with one another.
In the back hallway where we kneeled, different police came and went, some shouting at us, some ignoring us, some giving us brief paternal lectures on our misconduct. Some threatened us, and some were relatively friendly. None of the cops seemed happy, and there was a clear sense that things had not gone well. "All this shit happened because one of you childish fuck-ups started drawing penises on cars," an officer told us. "You know that? We don't care if you parade, but we got a call saying someone was drawing penises on cars. That's the cause of this whole situation. How you feel about that? You proud of drawing penises on cars? You some grade-schoolers?" The next day when I got out of jail, the friend who gave me a ride home had a penis painted on the side of her car. She, a parader herself, had apparently been among the victims. The penis washed off with soap and a sponge.
Back in the station-house, one of the arrested paradegoers had been tazed so long and hard that he had urinated on himself. "Y'all motherfuckers stink," a Fifth District sergeant said. He was not one of the relatively friendly ones. "Y'all make me sick. It's disgusting. You oughta be ashamed of yourselves, stinking like you do." He left the room and returned with a big can of room deoderizer in each hand. "Y'all some foul motherfuckers," he said, walking up and down the line and spraying the tops of our bowed heads with the intensely scented aerosols. Tightly cuffed, we cringed away as best we could. "Y'all some filthy motherfuckers."
The ordeal was a mix of menace and unintentional burlesque. Addressing one of the brass band members who'd been arrested-- their large instruments had made them slow to escape, leading to a disproportionate number being detained-- an officer told him, "I saw you slash them tires. Oh yes. I saw you. Think you cute, using your mouthpiece on them tires. Well we got your mouthpiece, there's DNA all over it." In spite of this compelling physical and scientific evidence, that particular musician has yet to be charged with slashing anyone's tires.
Later, the same officer came back into the hallway waving a gleaming clean pair of safety scissors. "This it right here," he said triumphantly. "This here is what you used on them tires." He waited to see if anyone would react. "Yep," he said, "you in trouble now." He went back into the office.
At one point an officer who wasn't in uniform came and looked at us silently for a while without speaking. When he did speak, his voice was quiet. "This is a job to me," he said, making eye contact with each of us. "Okay? I want you to know that. This here is just my job. I come here, I do my job, I pray god I go back to my family at day's end. That's all. Arresting anyone don't get my dick hard. I want you to know, it don't do nothing for me. I am just here to do this job." He stared at us longer, seemed about to say more, and then left.
One arrestee had a broken cheekbone and a large, matted bloody wound on the back of his head from being beaten with a police baton. Later, this injury would require surgical staples. On the wall where we were kneeling, there was a growing bloodstain behind his head where his injury had bled onto the drywall. "He's bleeding," said another of the arrestees. "Officer, that man needs medical attention."
"I say you could speak? Shut the fuck up," the officer currently watching us replied. A couple of the arrestees had earlier been demanding lawyers, and he had told them to shut the fuck up too. He was big on that phrase. Earlier, he'd told yet another arrestee, "I'm a trump your charges to the sky if you don't shut the fuck up."
An officer walked in cradling his hand and smiling. "You need hospital?" The silence-oriented officer asked him.
"Yeah, I'm going in a minute," said the officer with the wounded hand. "I knocked motherfuckers tonight, tell you what."
"That hand definitely look sprained," said the shushy officer. "Please tell me you tagged one of these assholes."
"Nah, none of these here," the officer said, looking us over. "I don't think it was none of these. But whoever the fuck it was, he damn sure know it." He poked his knuckles tenderly. "I'm a be out on this one for a while," he said, and grinned. "Might have to stay home Mardi Gras."
When we finally got transported to OPP, we sat for a while on an outdoors bench with all the other unfortunates who'd been arrested that night, many of whom still had Mardi Gras beads on. One of the boys from the Fifth District station house, a scrawny white officer from Indiana, waited with us until we could be processed into jail.
"I'll tell you now, they're gonna take your shoes," the scrawny officer warned us. "I mean, they're bad in there. They're like savages in there, and I guarantee you guys won't go before a judge before Thursday at the soonest. Courts are closed for holiday. You'll be in there a week with those animals. Really, you guys will be lucky if getting your shoes taken is the worst thing that happens. You know what I mean? I pity you. It's bad in there. I wouldn't want to be in there."
None of lost our shoes. Except for the pitiable cases who were visibly mentally ill, the other people incarcerated at OPP and the House of Detention were on the whole quite good-natured. Our fellow inmates found it hilarious that we were covered in sparkly makeup and had been arrested while parading. "You ain't shot nobody? You just paradin' with a band? Ain't that some shit!" The fact a number of us had been playing in the brass band went a ways with the inmates as well. "Man, the fuck they always arresting horn players for?"
There was a certain amount of teasing about our bizarre and scanty outfits, but unlike our experience with the paid professionals of NOPD, the inmates didn't threaten us or bully us. There was only either camraderie or indifference.
Only a couple of us had ever been arrested before, and OPP was new to all of us. These more experienced inmates explained to us newbies how the byzantine processing system worked. They showed us how to operate the janky telephones, warned us which guards were mean, and when the food cart came around they made sure we "parade folk" got sandwiches. Don't get me wrong, OPP and HOD are miserable to be in, but after the Fifth District, the Sheriff's department staff were quite frankly a fucking relief.
When we went before a judge the next day to get our bail set, he remarked on the unprofessionalism and sloppiness of the police reports, noting that they lacked any detail and didn't address who did what. That is, the random assortment of charges we'd each been given weren't linked to specifics in the police reports, which were almost all just exact duplicates of each other, characterizing the parade in general terms as a violent and dangerous riot.
The last word should perhaps go to the Sheriff's officer whose job it was to process us into the jail. His cubicle, at the end of the long outdoor bench, was the point where the NOPD handed us off to the custody and responsibility of the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff's Office. When the arrestee with the broken cheekbone and the matted, bloody head was brought in, the Sheriff's officer in the processing cubicle shouted so loudly he could be heard on both sides of the doors.
"Oh, fuck you! What the fuck is this shit?" the Sheriff's officer exploded. "You trying to slide him in here, busted up like that? Oh HELL NO. This man is going to the goddamn hospital!"
The Fifth District officer responded inaudibly.
"The fuck you are," the sheriff's officer said, still loud. "We are not taking this. No way. He's going straight to the hospital. No way you're passing your fuckup off on us."
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