Ashland protesters arrested for flag burning finally released from jail
Ashland protesters arrested for flag burning are released; share thoughts about jail
As previously reported on indymedia, two comrades were arrested in Ashland on April 12 after burning a U.S. flag and were charged with reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct. Both have been released from the Jackson County Jail, the first last Thursday, after six days in, and the second this past Monday, after 10 days in. Though they became ill in jail, both are happy to be released and are in good spirits. The community here in Ashland is very happy to see them again, and they have been warmly welcomed by old and new friends alike.
Neither comrade went into April 12's action planning to be arrested. Both were masked, though one unmasked before lighting the flag on fire, wanting to take "a dissident stance"; that is, an open "here's who I am" approach. Neither considered that the action was arrestable and were surprised to find themselves taken away by police.
Comrade A, who unmasked, identified to police right away with a legal name, but Comrade B held out for three days. At their Monday court date, the judge assured B that legal representation would still be available with "John Doe status". At the time of Monday's court date, neither had been fingerprinted. The judge explained that this indignity was necessary, and the five deputies who accompanied the sherriff for this process made it clear that fingerprinting would occur whether voluntarily assented to or not. Both chose to cooperate at that time.
On Tuesday morning, Comrade B met with the "release assistance lady" (whose name was something like "Jean Burroughs") who told B that neither a phone call nor a lawyer (which are both rights) would be allowed unless B shared legal identity information. B at first resisted, saying that this didn't jibe with what the judge had said. The release assistance lady said that B had "misunderstood" the judge, and was intimidating in other ways. B then agreed to share the legal identity information, thinking that release might come sooner (and not knowing that it wouldn't come for another six days).
I asked both comrades how they were treated inside. Comrade A said that the "deputies were hostile and threatening", with physical violence being "a clear implication". After speaking with them in-depth about the flag burning incident and the reasons why, they established some respect and were not so bad after that.
Comrade B said, "I felt constantly harrassed by at least some of them." In transport, on the way to court, and in other situations, the guards and deputies were verbally harrassing, engaged in name-calling, and made threats about what would happen if B didn't provide ID. After the ID was revealed, the harrassment lessened but never went away. In fact, B was put in "the hole" for eight hours. "The hole" exists for punishment, or for protective custody (when a prisoner's safety is threatened by other prisoners). B's placement there was not for protective custody, since at no time did B feel threatened or feel the need for it. "The hole" is a small dark room with a sink and toilet and no bunk. One must sleep on the floor, but there were two air vents on the wall near the floor constantly blowing cold air in.
Most of the time, our comrades were in a "dorm" situation, which is a large room divided in two with fifteen bunks on either side. An open area at the front with two tables is where meals are served. The food was terrible, as one might expect! Meat was served at nearly every meal, and both comrades are vegan. Milk was served at breakfast, "fake juice" at lunch, and caffeinated tea with sugar (!) at dinner. Vegetables were overcooked ("boiled to shit" is how they described them), and fruit was rare. Both comrades felt that the food made them sick at various times.
So what does one do all day long in jail with no reading material or anything? "Stare at the wall," said Comrade A, "or try to make or avoid small talk" with the other prisoners. Both comrades report a high level of misogynist talk from other prisoners, many of whom were in there for violence against women. A typical piece of dialogue from the prisoners, as related by Comrade B: "All I did was slap the bitch. I can't believe she called the police. Fuckin' bitch. I'm gonna kill her." Comrade A said it was difficult to approach the sexism, racism or homophobia (especially the last) in the jail setting.
I asked our comrades how the other inmates felt about why they were in there. Most "didn't give a shit", others felt negatively, but were quite willing to discuss it in-depth, some were approving ("shit man, this country is fucked up!") and enjoyed talking about radical politics with them, and a small minority were violently against their crime and made threats. Comrade A asked (successfully) to be moved from one "8-man" cell (which in these days of budget cuts hold 10-13 inmates) to another after being explicitly threatened.
I asked both the comrades if there was anything else they wanted to share with an indymedia audience. Comrade B said, "It was made very clear to me that I was in there for burning a flag" not for what the charges were -- reckless endangerment or disorderly conduct. B was reminded of this over and over during the entire stay with only one person saying, no, you're not in here for burning a flag -- you're in here for these endangering people. That was the judge.
Comrade A described jail as a "microscope view of society" that magnifies the sexism, racism, classism, homophobia and brutality that runs rampant everywhere in the U.S. Jail shows "how far we have to go to change our culture to make it even a liveable world." A went on to talk about "dehumanization". A book about the Holocaust says that it wasn't the people in the concentration camps who were dehumanized, but the guards and other Nazi collaborators who dehumanized themselves by making it happen. Jail, A said, is a place where such dehumanization is on full display, from the guards and deputies who choose this line of work, to the people in the so-called justice system who put people there. I would add that as a culture we are dehumanizing ourselves to the degree that we allow this system to continue without protestation.
Full disclosure: I am totally in favor of flag burning as a tactic. The hub-bub this action has caused in the Ashland area proves that; discussion about the incident has been everywhere, in the media and on the streets, and has resulted in further flag burnings and a chunk of time for official discussion at an Ashland City Council meeting (before which a flag was burned in the courtyard while councilors watched!) I had met one of the flag burners previously to this, but only briefly. In the time I've spent with them over the past few days, though, I'll say that they're two of the coolest and most thoughtful activists I've met here in Cascadia and they don't in any way deserve the treatment they've gotten from the injustice system. I stand in solidarity with their choice and encourage other people in other places to burn more flags, as often as possible. The grotesque murderous tactics of the dictatorial corporate oligarchy for which the U.S. flag stands must be resisted with high visibility, radical means like this.
Court dates for our comrades are coming up. Stay tuned to indymedia for updates.
add a comment on this article
add a comment on this article