Skip to main content

My arrest at Occupy Wall Street

By Molly Crabapple, Special to CNN
September 23, 2012 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
HIDE CAPTION
Memories of Occupy
Memories of Occupy
Memories of Occupy
Memories of Occupy
Memories of Occupy
Memories of Occupy
Memories of Occupy
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Molly Crabapple: I was arrested for taking part in an Occupy Wall Street rally
  • Crabapple: I was inspired to see people care passionately about inequality issues
  • She says getting arrested for a social protest is like being put through aversion therapy
  • Crabapple: The movement won me over, I would protest again

Editor's note: Molly Crabapple is an artist who has created work for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Royal Society of Arts, Red Bull, Marvel Comics and DC Comics. She also contributed to CNN's 'Power' gallery. She was among those arrested on Monday during a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Read more about the day. Follow her on Twitter: @mollycrabapple

(CNN) -- We were not the first round of protesters this prison cell had seen. On the beige walls, former residents had scratched "OWS," "love" and an expletive about the police.

At 1 Police Plaza in New York City, our cell was 5-by-7, freezing cold, with a padded bench just long enough for three of us to sit on. A fourth woman was curled on the floor. In the corner, there was a non-functioning sink and a toilet. When one woman needed to use it, we formed a line to block her from the male officers. In the 10 hours I was held, there was one meal: Four slices of bread in soggy Saran wrap, a packet of mayo and a mini carton of milk.

Last year, Occupy Wall Street happened outside of my window. As a local, I was supposed to deplore those "dirty hippies." But I found I couldn't.

See Crabapple's art in CNN's digital gallery

At the time, I made my living drawing for ferociously swanky nightclubs while watching the world crumble and people from Tahrir Square to London take to the streets. Everyone said that Americans were too apathetic for that sort of thing. Occupy Wall Street proved them wrong.

Molly Crabapple
Molly Crabapple

While I was initially skeptical, Occupy soon won me over. Across the street, Zucotti Park had transformed into a mini-city where anyone could get a book, a meal and basic medical care for free. I was inspired by seeing Americans, of all backgrounds and beliefs, caring passionately about income inequality and financial corruption. I wanted to help however I could.

I turned my apartment into a press room, offering coffee and Wi-Fi for journalists filing copy about the young movement. I donated money and marched in protests. While I have been political before, I never let it seep into my artwork. Now I created posters, some of which ended up on the streets as protest signs hours after I uploaded them to the Internet. These posters remain some of the work of which I am most proud.

But that was 2011. This is 2012.

2011: Occupy Wall Street begins
2011: Occupy protester's 'Change-a-luia'
Occupy seeks foothold on anniversary

On the morning of my arrest, I wasn't sure whether the Occupy Wall Street movement was over. I went to the demonstration out of loyalty and nostalgia for the days of the Zucotti camps. The people's library, free clothes and gourmet soup kitchen were gone now, or reduced to shadows of their former selves. But I wanted to pay homage to the movement that had brought out more of my artistic voice.

At seven in the morning I was on the sidewalk outside my apartment, tweeting pictures of the marchers and police. The NYPD had turned lower Manhattan into a mess of checkpoints. In that way, they were ridiculously effective at disrupting traffic. There were hundreds of cops -- some in riot gear, some on horseback. There were trucks piled high with metal barricades.

We just walked. Some were on the street, most like me cautiously stayed on the sidewalk. We shouted the shopworn protest chants that feel so meaningful when you're chanting them.

At one corner, I saw a cop grabbing the arm of a woman in front of me and pulling her into the street. It was the same gesture you might use to escort an old lady, and, when the next officer did this to me, that is what I thought it was. But then, halfway across the street, he cuffed my hands behind my back.

There was no warning. No Miranda rights like in the movies. At first, I was incredulous. It was not until I got my desk ticket that night for blocking traffic that I had any idea what the officer was accusing me of doing.

I was a head shorter than the officer. I said to him, "You know I was on the sidewalk." He wouldn't meet my eyes. I was two blocks from my apartment. But because I was part of a protest, I was no longer a local. I was an obstruction to be cleared.

Going into the police van, they snapped my picture on a Fujimax Polaroid knockoff, hipster party style. I gave them my best grin. A man in a suit passed by, looked us over, and said to the police, "nice work."

In the van, there were eight people, including an elderly nurse and a legal observer in his official green cap. We had all been plucked off the sidewalk.

The van door shut. I edged my cell phone out of my purse, texted friends about my arrest and then, bored, began dissecting the situation on Twitter. I regretted being such a random little duck, pointlessly arrested to stop the protests.

In the police yard, we traded our bags for vouchers. We waited to have our pockets searched while our shoulders ached from an hour in zip-cuffs. The woman in front of me had wrist injuries. The searching officer yelled that her wrist braces were weapons and threatened to send her through central booking -- "the tombs" -- where everything took twice as long and was covered in filth.

Jail is waiting. Depressing waiting. Humiliating waiting. Pointless, tedious waiting in a crowded cage with dead roaches and no running water, where officers processing you through the system laugh at your discomfort and fear. The women sang songs to pass the time. "Solidarity Forever." "The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow." The booking officer screamed she'd send us all to the tombs if we didn't shut up. We sang anyway.

Time seemed interminable. Soon you find yourself banging on cell bars in unison, amplifying the voice of protesters who needed medicine, or who didn't get their phone calls for eight hours. When the male prisoners burst into cheers, we shushed each other and grinned.

I was the last person released from my cell. The woman who left before me, a middle-aged lawyer who had been arrested multiple times that weekend, reassured me that I'd get out soon. When I did, friends were waiting with hugs, pizza and the National Lawyers Guild. Occupiers have a strong support system for those who are arrested, whether it's in the form of food, drinks or a pro bono lawyer. I felt incredibly lucky, essentially a tourist in that miserable place. In the pizza joint across the street, we bought beer for a woman who'd been held for 38 hours.

While I was alone before my release, pacing back and forth, it was almost impossible not to suspect that I was stupid, that my actions were futile. Which is the point of an arrest. Getting arrested for a social protest is like being put through aversion therapy, a punishment in and of itself. A relative of mine, an Occupy supporter, said that after my arrest, she'd never protest again. And that's the point.

Me? I'd be back.

Occupy Wall Street taught many middle-class white people what poor people and people of color had already known. The law is often a hostile and arbitrary thing. Speak too loudly, stand in the wrong place, and you're on the wrong side of it. My experience was infinitely easier than most. Many people arrested came out to a lost job, or they have to deal with nerve-damaged hands from being in cuffs for too long, or they face a society that believes they asked for it.

While we were in the cell, after we banged too long and chanted too hard, an officer stared at us. "Look at you people," she said. "What do you hope to accomplish? You brought this on yourselves."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Molly Crabapple.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT