What It’s Like to Get Arrested for Protesting Trump
Following Trump’s Immigration Ban, there was a plan to protest at Battery Park on Sunday afternoon and march through lower Manhattan.
After hearing about this plan from my roommate, I decided to join my fellow New Yorkers in holding our government accountable. I suggested to some other friends that they should go as well, and they decided to head over at a later time than us.
When I arrived at the protest with my three white friends, New York City’s local government officials had just begun speaking out against Trump’s policies and thousands of people were waving creative and witty signs. We marched with like-minded people and left after a few hours, feeling completely empowered.
My other friends, however, who are black, had a totally different experience. I was enlightened when I realized that being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong shade of skin can cause people to have a completely different experience than me at the same exact event. I sat down with them to talk about the experience in order to provide my fellow millennials with the same revelation.
How old are you? What ethnicity are you, and what gender do you identify with?
Nairobi: I’m 19 years old. I am a black French West Indian woman; a rich dark chocolate I would say.
Jeffrey*: I am a 19-year-old black man.
Why did you decide to get involved with this specific protest? Do you regularly participate in protests?
Nairobi: Well, ever since Trump was elected, and even a few BLM protests before, I have been regularly participating in protests of these sort. I feel like it’s important to vocalize dissent, especially when we’re rallying against a powerful man with racist and misogynistic ideals.
Jeffrey: I decided to participate in this protest because I believe that an injustice to one group of people is an injustice to all people. I think that it is easy for us to listen to the labels that people have generated for certain folks in our society and forget about the humanity that binds us all together. We label this person black, this person an immigrant, this person “illegal”, and we forget that they are no different from us. I participate in protests regularly and often.
How was the atmosphere of the protest prior to your arrest?
Nairobi: The protest was winding down actually. People were walking out of the square in front of the courthouse headed for the subways at that point. There were still a few people walking in the streets as well. While people were still holding their signs and flooding out in a manner similar to walking in the protest, it definitely wasn’t as interactive as the height of the protest earlier that day.
Jeffrey: The atmosphere of the protest prior to my arrest was very peaceful. Everyone was chanting “No hate! No fear! Refugees are welcome here!” with the occasional “Fuck Trump!” to add in a little spice.
Did the number of police officers increase prior to your arrest?
Nairobi: Yes. The police seemed to be wrapping up the protest as well; unblocking streets, scurrying away on mopeds etc. A few came out to do that, but right before the arrest several more seemed to come out of the woodworks.
Jeffrey: The number increased significantly, it went from us talking to one police officer, to three, to a crowd.
What exactly led up to the moment of you being arrested? Did the atmosphere change?
Nairobi: The atmosphere definitely got more intense than I first described. While people were initially on their way home, small crowds began to form around us and the police. The police demanded we stay on the sidewalks and get out of the streets, but as we were still at the protest to demonstrate civil disobedience; we felt this was excessive. Our actions hadn’t changed since we first arrived to protest, so why had theirs?
Jeffrey: At the end of the rally we started to chant “Take the streets! Take the streets!” so that’s what I did. I noticed that all of the protesters began to walk on the sidewalks, and I thought to myself, “Aren’t we supposed to be in the streets?” So we continued to walk in the streets. Once the first police officer appeared the atmosphere shifted, everything began to feel chaotic. They started to yell “get onto the sidewalk!” “get out of the street!” I decided to stay in the street and continue to protest because it isn’t civil disobedience if you don’t disobey; and something about listening to the police at a protest just didn’t sit right with me.
Can you describe the experience of being arrested?
Nairobi: Honestly, being arrested was surreal. In light of recent events and atrocities committed by those in power, namely our elected “president,” the entire process nearly seemed like a farce. We felt that two college students being detained and punished for not being on a sidewalk, while Trump is actively denying people fair treatment as human beings, was pretty outrageous. What foundation then does our justice system lie on if that is justice?
Jeffrey: I felt extremely uneasy. I especially hated the feeling of being constrained while in handcuffs. The arrest happened very quickly in a disorienting manner.
What reasons did the police give for your arrest? What ethnicity were the officers?
Nairobi: The officer who came on the scene and called for the arrest was a white man. The actual arresting officers who took us downtown were both minorities of seemingly Afro-Latino descent. They said we disobeyed although we informed them that’s what we as protesters were here to do, disobey civilly.
Jeffrey: The police said they arrested me for disorderly conduct and pedestrian in roadways.
Was anyone else, besides you two, arrested?
Nairobi: Five people total were arrested: two white women, Jeffrey, another black man, and I.
Jeffrey: I was arrested with my friend who is a black woman, a black man, one white woman, and another woman who was pretty racially ambiguous with lighter skin tone.
What did it feel like to be in the back of a police car and to be processed? Where were you taken to? How many hours were you detained for?
Nairobi: Luckily I was arrested with a friend or else I imagine the whole process would’ve been different; it would’ve been much a scarier. We must continue to fight for those who aren’t released after just an hour or two.
Jeffrey: It felt asphyxiating to be in the back of the police van. We were taken to One Police Plaza. It took unnecessarily long to be processed and we were detained for 3 hours. I just remember hating the feeling of being stuck.
Did you see other protesters being detained at the same location as well?
Nairobi: Nope, just the five of us taken in together.
Jeffrey: Only the people mentioned before.
Were you charged with anything? And if so, what exactly?
Nairobi: Disobeying orders and being a pedestrian in the street.
Jeffrey: While I was in the police station, the police officer searched my wallet and found a fake ID that I use to get into bars. I was charged with a class A misdemeanor for that, in addition to the other two charges that the rest of the protesters received. I looked it up online and there’s a possibility that I could face up to a year in jail/prison. I don’t think I’ll get that, at least I hope not.
Would you do it again if you could?
Nairobi: If need be, yes. And in these next four years, who knows what may be needed.
Jeffrey: Yes, absolutely.
Will you be involved in future protests? And if so, why?
Nairobi: Yes. We still have to protest the wrongdoings of those in power, in order for our abhorrence and outrage to be communicated and hopefully understood.
Jeffrey: I will be involved in future protests because my drive for change will not be shifted by the system.
Do you think your experience should discourage other people from protesting?
Nairobi: I think that’s part of the police’s goal when they arrest people at the end of a protest, to make an example and deter others from doing the same. So no, people should not be discouraged.
Jeffrey: The one thing I have to say is my favorite quote by Martin Luther King Jr. “The time is always right to do what is right.” If you believe that what you’re doing is right, then do it. Don’t ever stop pursuing justice.
*Jeffrey’s name has been changed to respect his privacy.