Little Rock: lowdown from inside the jail cell
Rockin the boat in Little Rock -
What started as a weekend of education and an expression of outrage at Warren Stephens' investment in Huntingdon Life Sciences, quickly turned into a battle between riot cops and protestors.
What was the battle about you say? In the case of at least 5 of the 24 arrested, it was about defending their constitutional rights to free speech. And although our anger was directed towards Stephens Inc. and HLS (the animal torturers and bogus "scientists"), we were not there to antagonize the police. Just as I witnessed the pepper spraying and tear gassing of citizens in D.C. on April 16th last year, I saw the Little Rock police this time strap on their jockies in order to protect the real criminals.
In order to get the most information into this documentary with the least amount of crap, I'm going to list events that were the most significant to my time in Little Rock. Take from it what you can. Please read about HLS if you haven't already and what you can do to shut them down http://www.october29.org/shacusa/index.htm.
Undercover agents: what else could we expect?
Our group had a run in with a woman calling herself "Michelle." She came from Memphis and although she was alone, we believed her when she told us she hadn't met any other animal activists from home. She offered to drive us around town in her brand new Monterro, and being without transportation we accepted the offer. Several sketchy things happened that day (Saturday Oct. 27).
1. Her appearance. All of her clothes were brand-spanking new - canvas shoes, marine life t-shirt, etc. Her hair looked like she had tried to dye it and it didn't turn out - was almost gray in color. She had thick black-framed glasses.
2. She ate non-vegan food at the store we went to. I didn't even give this a second thought until later since many animal activists aren't strictly vegan.
3. She offered to pay for our food (all 9 of us).
4. One of the members of our group noticed her glasses had no prescription; they were just glass.
5. Anytime we were in her car she was constantly touching this beanie-baby monkey she had up on her dash. Keep in mind there was virtually nothing else in her car.
6. That night when she dropped us at our hotel, I mentioned to another member of our group that people were going out later, and she immediately snapped back, "Where are they going?" Needless to say we didn't give her any information.
The next day at the vegan bbq, Sunday Oct. 28th, we kept our distance from her but she cornered Darcie and said, "I'm really excited about tomorrow [Monday]. I hope I get arrested." Darcie replied, "I hope I don't!" The home demonstrations right after the bbq went really well, and I left feeling energized for the next day. After Darcie and I were arrested and were released from the police station Monday night, "Michelle" was standing at the exit in full police uniform. This was certainly not the only infiltrator around that weekend. One of the security guards at the Alltel Arena where the town meeting took place turned out to be undercover as well. He suggested we go to particular restaurants in town, one of which we now suspect is constantly monitored by police and FBI scum.
Suppression of Free Speech, Riot Cops and All
When we arrived at the "protest zone" Monday afternoon, I don't think any of us could have expected what it would be like. We knew a city ordinance had been passed in Little Rock three weeks prior to our arrival that designated a certain area for protestors to stand. The area amounted to a large cage in front of the Stephens building that we were only allowed to enter after being searched with a metal detector. After some people were denied entry because they were carrying gas masks, everyone who had entered the cage left it. We went back to the streets and marched up on Stephens again several minutes later, this time from another direction. Everything happened very fast, but the barricade came down and we heard shots fired. The mass of protestors that had gathered directly in front of the building were bombarded with tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. One activist was hit with a taser gun at least 10-15 times all over his body. Another person was hit in his right eye with a billy-club and had pepper spray rubbed directly into both of his eyes. Not surprising that none of the local media got pictures of that kid - it was ugly. Although the media reported that no rubber bullets had been used (this is what the police themselves had said), while we were at the police station that night one of the women arrested pulled a rubber bullet out of her pocket that she had picked up off the street.
Later, after more marching and multiple arrests, we decided to gather at the parking garage exit to greet the Stephens employees when they left for home. Five or six people sat down in the street, and while they were being arrested (creating a diversion for the cops), they decided to go after the "organizers." Three well-known activists were arrested for no reason; one of them was tossed behind some bushes and gagged so no one would notice. Just after this, six of us decided to stay on the public sidewalk while everyone else was being herded away from the building by horse cops, riot cops, and just plain asshole cops. We literally had our noses up against the horse's bodies - one of them stepped on my foot - but it certainly could've been much worse. Although we spoke calmly to the police and stood up for our rights to freedom of speech, we were slammed up against the metal fence behind us by two horse cops. I looked over and saw one of our six being thrown to the ground, and a stream of pepper spray shot past Darcie's head. 5 of the 6 of us were arrested (one of our Portland activists was somehow able to get away), and we were charged with disorderly conduct and violation of a city ordinance. I guess the United States Constitution doesn't apply in Little Rock Arkansas.
Ridiculous penalties, solidarity, and intimidation from within
When we showed up for our arraignments Tuesday morning, we were told that the court wanted us to pay restitution - overtime for the cops, etc. (Let's not forget the cops outnumbered protestors 200:175). We all agreed that was fucking ridiculous and that we weren't going to pay the cops for "protecting" Warren Stephens and HLS. Our lawyer came back a second time and told us that the judge was going to hold anyone pleading "not guilty" on $3000 bail/$300 bond. It took me a few minutes to fully understand what was happening; it was when I saw Wyatt breaking out into hysterics that I knew this was very bad. Basically, no one would be able to leave without forking over $300, and if we didn't we would be sent to jail for an indefinite amount of time, or until our trial dates came around. We collectively decided to fight back by not paying our bonds. The jail was completely over-crowded, and it would be a big pain in their ass to hold all of us. Those of the 24 arrested that didn't want to go to jail either left town or paid the bond money right away. Darcie and I decided to stay with the others, and extended our "vacation" in Little Rock. Those of us who were willing to stay decided to hold out until Friday; if we hadn't been released on our own recognizance by then we would pay the bond. One of us had no choice about the matter. In an act of defiance, Whitney flipped off the camera when her picture was taken in the courtroom. The judge gave her 10 days in jail for contempt of court.
I must say the best part about jail were the bright orange jumpsuits and flip-flop sandals they gave us - we were doin' time in style. All but 3 of us were in solitary confinement or "lock-down" as they called it (2-person rooms) for refusing to take our TB tests (our decision was based on ethics - chicken embryos are ingredients in the skin test). The other inmates were great; they were constantly coming by to see how we were doing, but the guards were a different story. After only one day of hungerstriking, we were threatened with being put on "suicide watch." They warned that we would be put in a padded room, wouldn't be allowed any phone calls, and would have nothing but a paper gown to wear. I knew they were just fucking with us, but this really seemed to get to the other girls on my floor. It was extremely frustrating not being able to communicate with Darcie or any of the other girls who had cells above me, but I focused my energy on keeping the women around me sane. I had the best cell in the building - my window had a view of the supporters who had camped out outside the jail. They were able to identify me in my window Wednesday morning, and they did their best to entertain me. I told the girls who's windows looked to concrete about the people waiting for us to get out - that helped keep spirits up.
On that same day, Officer Williams came to my door and said I wasn't being allowed my hour of time outside my cell because I had refused to take the TB test and I was a health threat to the other inmates. I asked to see her supervisor because we had consistently been told by everyone we came in contact with that we would have an hour everyday to make calls, shower, whatever. Officer Williams replied that she was sure her supervisor wouldn't be willing to come down to talk to me, and basically tough luck. I began to freak out at this point, and so did the activist across the hall from me. But there was no need to worry; she came back literally 15 minutes later and gave us our "free" hour.
Thursday came around. The jail was so full they put Whitney and I in the same cell. That morning our window was still facing the supporters outside in the parking lot, but about 9am or so (we didn't have any way of keeping time other than the standard meal calls and looking at the position of the sun, which I'm not very good at) a guard came and switched us to the room directly across the hall, and moved the prisoner in that cell into ours. I was disgusted. I quickly realized why everyone else had been so depressed - we couldn't see sky, only concrete from the new window. Everyone but Whitney was bonded out that night. Two of the others who had been on the "good side" of the building said that they had been moved that morning as well.
Whitney was released on Tuesday, two days ahead of schedule. Darcie and I made it back to Portland with a new education about the whole system. I would recommend everyone experience jail at least one time. I have a new found appreciation for activists behind bars; I will never be able to skip over that call to the jail demanding their release again.
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