The following is a guest post by Hannah, who was arrested this October on Brooklyn Bridge while taking part in Occupy Wall Street. The following is her account of her experience with racial profiling and the NYPD. This is a story that really needs to be shared. Above are two of her photos from that day. Hannah can be followed on Tumblr.
Let me preface this by explaining that I am a New York-born U.S. citizen. My family, however, comes from Syria, and as part of my Muslim identity I choose to cover my hair. I have been wearing a hijab - the Islamic word for head-covering - for over six years. I am currently a sophomore at an undergraduate institution. On October 1st, 2011, I left my college in upstate New York and travelled with a few friends down to Manhattan to visit Zuccotti Park and learn more about the Occupy Wall Street movement.
You may have heard from other sources how the events of this day played out. NYPD allowed protestors to march on the Brooklyn Bridge, and then trapped over 800 of us on the Bridge for almost two hours by blocking off the Brooklyn and Manhattan exits. They then began to systematically arrest every single person on the Bridge.
I was one of the very last people to be arrested. When the police finally reached me and my friends, we did not resist the arrest. We followed their orders and separated by gender, with boys lining up on one side of the Bridge and girls on the other. We allowed them to look through our bags and search our pockets. We did not object when they put handcuffs on us. We were as peaceful as we could possibly be.
But before the handcuffs were put on me a man came up to me, clamped his hand down on my shoulder, and led me away from everyone else. He was wearing a long black trench coat. This detail sounds comically villainous, but I specifically recall it because it worried me that he was not wearing a police uniform. The first thing he said to me was that he was “not a cop”. I knew immediately that these were not reassuring words to hear, and later my suspicions were confirmed when my lawyers told me that this likely meant he was an FBI agent. This man isolated me from my friends to interrogate me, threaten me, and attempt to intimidate me into answering his questions, which were all along the lines of, “Who are you and what are you doing on the Bridge?” His manner made it clear he assumed that I was on the Bridge for a reason other than participating in a peaceful protest. I told him several times that I was exercising my right to remain silent, and he became more aggressive. He finally shouted to the other cops, “This one’s a keeper!”
After this, I was handcuffed along with the last few people on the Bridge and herded onto a Bee-Line bus. We were on the bus for about an hour, even though the jail we ended up being taken to was only a few blocks away. The cops stopped to get coffee. They laughed and joked amongst themselves. They repeatedly referred to us as “bodies”. Not arrestees, not detainees, not perps, not protestors, not even suspects. “Bodies.”
In the jail, I cooperated very willingly when they asked for my driver’s license and other information. I handed over my belongings, which included a backpack and a raincoat. Then, my arresting officer told me I had to remove my hijab. I was not shocked. The thought that they might try to force me to take off my headscarf had just crossed my mind minutes earlier, and I was prepared to refuse. I explained that I wear it for religious reasons, and asked if her demand was really necessary. My arresting officer called over another officer, one who I believe had a higher position than the first one did. This second officer told me I had to remove my hijab because it was a “security issue”. I could choke someone or commit suicide with the scarf, I was told. I argued that the same could be said for a pair of pants, anyone could take their jeans off and wrap the legs around someone’s throat and hurt them. The cop’s dismissive response was, “Yeah, but no one’s going to take off their pants.”
Allow me to break this down for you. The flimsy excuse that I was at risk of committing suicide with my scarf is ludicrous. This officer did not know a single thing about me. I doubt she even knew my name. The only thing she knew about me was that I had been arrested at a protest on the Brooklyn Bridge. To me, it is apparent that she simply looked at me, registered that I have tan skin and a head-covering that is associated with Muslim women, and interpreted this to mean that I was a potential threat.
Being forced to remove my headscarf in that jail was probably one of the most humiliating experiences I’ve ever had. I felt incredibly degraded and disrespected. After they led me down to my cell and locked me in with four other girls, I broke down and started crying. It took me a few minutes for me to explain to the other girls that I wasn’t crying about being arrested, but rather because of the way I had just been treated.
I travel frequently. I am used to being singled out by airport security and patted down for no particular reason, or having my carry-on bags rummaged through. But to experience this kind of treatment in my home state, at the hands of people who are supposed to protect and defend innocent people, was a huge blow to me.
If you think the Occupy Wall Street movement is simply about fighting economic disparity in this country, you’re not getting to the heart of the issue. To me, this has become a civil rights issue. This is a demand to be treated as more than just “bodies”, but as citizens who have a right to speak out against wrongdoing – whether it is on Wall Street, in banks all over the country, in the government, on college campuses, or, for me, in jail being treated like a threat because of my ethnicity and religion.
This movement has the potential to develop into an extraordinarily significant moment in U.S. history, and I for one – regardless of my negative experience – intend to continue supporting it.