Two Pitzer Students Arrested at Occupy L.A.
Alyssa Solis PZ ’13 and Morgan Bennett PZ ’13 had no intention of being two of the 292 protesters who were arrested in a police raid of the Occupy L.A. movement that began at 12 a.m. on Nov. 30 at Los Angeles City Hall. But according to Jennifer Roach PZ ’13, another student protester who had been exchanging text messages with Solis throughout the night, Solis and Bennett were arrested sometime after 1:45 a.m. The two students were not expecting a raid, as the previous Sunday’s scheduled raid never occurred and reporters at the protest were not anticipating one that night.
“We were talking to the media because apparently at the other Occupy raids, the media was told to leave at a certain time... but the media said they weren’t told to leave,” Solis said after she was released last night. “So we were just hanging out and that’s when [the police] came out of City Hall.”
Solis and Bennett had arrived at Occupy L.A. separately from Roach and another Pitzer student who attended the protest on Thursday night. The L.A.P.D. had barricaded a five-block radius around City Hall, keeping protesters out of the central Occupy L.A. location. Solis and Bennett were able to enter the perimeter while Roach was shut out.
“By the time we found where they were talking about, they had very well shut down that area," Roach said of the surprise raid. "We knew it was five minutes to midnight, so we knew the raid [was about to start] and it was pretty scary. It's hard to understand at first the extent of the police presence.”
An estimated 1,400 police units were at the raid to move the protesters out of City Hall. As scheduled, the raid began at midnight and L.A.P.D. gave a dispersal warning, ordering all protesters to leave the barricaded area or be arrested. However, according to Roach, the dispersal warning was confusing and some protesters who wished to leave, in order to avoid arrest, were unable to do so.
“A lot of people tried to leave but couldn’t get through," she said. "The police barricade was really confusing [to protesters who didn’t know] where they were supposed to go,” Roach said.
Solis agreed, adding that many of the protesters felt that the police were not well organized and gave contradicting instructions.
“If that was the case, then that mistake should have been rectified before I was held in jail for 37 hours,” Solis said of the police misunderstandings. “They were completely unprepared.” After the police had dispersed much of the interior crowd, they began to arrest protesters who remained at the barrier, where Roach was.
“They started pulling people out of our group and arresting them, saying the entire group would be arrested,” she recalled.
Preemptively, Roach texted the number of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) to Solis who was still in the interior of the perimeter, in the event of her and Bennett’s arrest.
“I texted her the number of the NLG and she said, ‘Don’t worry. We’re not going to be arrested.’ And I texted her back, ‘I think we might be,'" Roach recalled. "I told her they had us cornered and then she texted back, ‘us too.' I texted her a few minutes later, ‘We got out, where are you? When are you leaving?' ” et cetera, and I didn’t get anything [back] until 7 a.m."
Meanwhile, Solis had run into conflict with police and was being arrested.
“You saw [the police officers] counting the zip ties and say, ‘Oh, whatever, just get them all,’" Solis said. "So my entire group of people got arrested on the corner of First and Broadway. I was charged with failure to disperse and others were charged with unlawful assembly.”
To escape, Solis, Bennett, and the group of protesters they accompanied moved toward a construction area and were cornered. Solis said she heard the police give the order to arrest them and was forced into the construction site.
“I was grabbed by a police officer and I was previously instructed to just drop because instinctively some people pull, you know, away. And I didn’t want to risk that. So I just dropped," Solis said. "And they forced me into the construction and said I was trying to resist and that I was trying to kick them, which I couldn’t because I was face down in the ground. I kept screaming, ‘I have no intent to resist arrest. I have no intent.'"
Fifty arrestees, including Solis (Bennett had been separated from the group), were then bound and placed on a bus, according to Solis, where they were not given access to water and facilities. Arrestees were reportedly forced to urinate on the floor of the bus out of necessity, while the police, who were standing by, denied requests to use a bathroom. Solis said she was lucky, as other arrestees’ hands were turning colors because the zip-ties were tied too tightly.
However, Solis said that as they were driven to various jails before being processed, the arrestees were able to break the zip ties with a “multi-tool” that had not been confiscated by the police. Solis also said her phone was not confiscated, so she was able to call her mother and send texts to her friends. They were finally processed at 8 a.m., but Solis was not booked until 5 p.m. that night.
“When we got there they fed us… but they wouldn’t give us soap," Solis recalled. "At Occupy L.A., the health department was there every night, making sure everything was sanitary and providing us with hand sanitizer and stuff. And those things were not provided to us in jail… [M]any people were sick and we had just been in the bus where people were peeing."
Ironically, the Occupy protest, which was scheduled and authorized by permit for four months, was evicted two months early, on Wednesday, because of reported health concerns.
According to Solis, the arrestees were also never read their rights in case they had to be tried in court.
“When someone asked, ‘Aren’t you going to read us our Miranda Rights?,’ the cop said, ‘This isn’t the movies. We don’t have to do that,'” she recalled.
NLG lawyer John Michael Lee confirmed that the policemen were probably following the law.
“Miranda rights are meaningless. They don't count much anymore, but also they only have to do with confessions," he said. "They don't need to read you your Miranda rights until they attempt to take a statement or a confession.” Because most protesters were not going to be interrogated, police did not take the time to inform the arrestees of their Fifth Amendment rights.
Roach also reported police abuse from her experience at the raid. Although they were outside of the five-block perimeter, Roach said she and the group of protesters she was accompanying were ordered to move to the sidewalks. Police told protesters that those wishing to be arrested in further demonstration should sit in the road facing the cops, she recalled.
“About six people do what they’re told and sit in the middle of the road in lines facing the cops. And then they lined up, a bunch of riot cops, in three or four lines next to each other and they trampled the people who they told to sit in the middle in the road,” Roach said. “They just lined up and on someone’s command, all started running and they ran right through people, and tripped on their bodies and stepped on their faces. That was pretty extreme.”
Roach said the police violence she observed at the raid did not match reports from several media outlets, which praised the L.A.P.D. for using a minimum amount of force.
“A minimum should be no police violence,” Roach said. “They had a press conference this morning congratulating the L.A.P.D. on what a peaceful job they did clearing out the protest. That was kind of sickening that while they were giving the press conference, they were denying our friends water and bathroom at the same time.”
When asked about the treatment Solis, Bennett, and Roach experienced, L.A.P.D. Public Information Officer Karen Rayner said, “I have no knowledge of anything like that. That's the first I've heard of that. If that is the case, then they have the option of making a formal complaint to the department. We have a process that is investigated through the internal affairs division.”
Solis, however, continued to question the legitimacy of the justification for the raid and maintained her full support for the protest.
“I got arrested on a public sidewalk while peacefully protesting with a lawful assembly," she said. "I obviously had no intent to be arrested, but I don’t regret it at all.”