Ben Koatz is a senior at Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan. He’s 17, from Queens, and writes for the school newspaper. He’s also among the 80-90 people arrested during Occupy Wall Street’s march on Union Square this past Saturday. Ben gave us an account of his arrest for disorderly conduct and detainment that day that’s the most detailed we’ve heard so far. He says that he “fell in love with the fact that [Occupy Wall Street] was a direct democratic process” and started going down to Zuccotti Park every day before the chaos of Saturday with some of his friends from school. (Keep in mind that this is the account of just one protester and doesn’t necessarily speak to the experiences of others.)
Runnin’ Scared: Can you tell me what happened to you on Saturday?
We started around 12 or 12:30 in Zuccotti Park, which was renamed Liberty Park by the protesters. We started making our way up — I wasn’t paying attention to exactly what streets, but we made a lot of twists and turns based on which streets cops barricaded and where they led us. We made it to a couple blocks below Union Square when the police formed a line and split off the protest into two separate groups. There was one group of a couple hundred people, one of closer to a thousand people [ed: Numbers have not been confirmed at this time]. I was part of the bigger group that made it to Union Square. People were joining us all the way up, it was totally peaceful. We were just doing what protesters do in a march. So we made it up to Union Square and made speeches and stuff, and chanted. After a while we decided we all wanted to go home, meaning back to Zuccotti Park. My legs were tired. We started chanting, “Let’s go home, let’s go home.”
The police brought out the orange kettling nets as we turned around. They had used them a couple blocks before but they had basically been measured about it. Now they were using them to cause confusion. Kettling — basically, it’s like we were popcorn kernels, like we were stuck in a bag — so we started agitating. It’s my belief that it’s the police really caused much of the chaos that broke out around Union Square.
We didn’t know which way to go. Some people were yelling “this way!” and others were yelling “that way!”
Then the police started beating protesters. As you saw in the video, they maced those innocent women [ed: It was actually pepper spray]. I saw them punch a girl who couldn’t have been more than 16 or 17. They were dragging people by their hair.
I personally escaped the mayhem with about 50 other people. We walked down 12th Street to University Place, I think. At that point, there was police netting there, too. We were all tired and too scared to turn around and go back. The cops told us that if we waited and were peaceable they would let us through. So we’re sitting there and chanting. The people outside the barricade were calling for us to be let go.
We started moving around because we got a bunch of conflicting police orders. One cop told us to go one way, another said another way. While that was going on they brought another net from the other side of 12th Street. We were netted in on both sides. [ed: DCPI wouldn’t confirm or deny any of this; the officer said “there were numerous arrests in that area” and that they couldn’t speak to specific incidents.]
Did you get out?
One white-shirted cop and a bunch of blue shirts approached. They wordlessly threw a man against the wall and handcuffed him. After that arrest they told us all to stand against the wall. I was one of the last people to be arrested. I kept asking what I did wrong, saying I’m just a kid, I’m a minor, I want to go home and do my homework. I remember a cop saying “your pleas fall on deaf ears.”
A cop turned me around and arrested me and we all sat against the wall. We weren’t informed of why we were being arrested and very few of us were actually told we were under arrest, but I don’t know if that’s a thing.
How did they take all of you down to be booked?
After 20 minutes they took us into different vehicles. I got into a bus with about 35 other people and about seven cops. There were people outside the bus chanting. My handcuffs were really loose and I managed to raise up my hand and do a peace sign to everyone outside the bus. Everyone did a peace sign back.
I was crying at some points because it was my first time being arrested. I was so flustered by the entire situation.
The bus ride lasted an hour. We drove from 12th and University to One Police Plaza. We tried to keep it as jovial as we could; we made jokes. Some guy pressed the “stop requested” button about five minutes after the door closed.
We got to One Police Plaza and they kept counting and recounting us in the bus for 45 minutes. They had one male cop count the men, one female cop for the women, and they still weren’t satisfied. One woman was messing up the count because she was very androgynous-looking; they pulled her out of the bus and asked if she was a man or a woman.
Then me and seven other people were put into a van where we waited another 35 minutes. A couple of officers came by and talked to us. I don’t know if this was “good cop-bad cop,” but if they were genuine, the cops started agreeing with us. They were asking why the protest is going on, and we gave them our explanations. They’re working class guys whose pensions are at stake. Ideologically they were with us. The blue shirted cops were nice, the white shirt ones, not so much.
One guy said “I don’t know why I’m doing this, I’m sorry you have to go through this.”
When were you actually put in jail?
After waiting an hour and 15 minutes total. It was about 5 at that point — I was arrested at like 3:15 or 3:30. We finally start getting processed, and they put us in a holding cell.
How many of you were in the holding cell?
There ended up being about 40 people in the holding cell. At first we were basically silent. I ended up meeting a lot of cool people there inside the jail. The newcomers trickled in. We applauded each time a new person came in and patted them on the back.
How long were you in custody?
I was in police detention but not jail for two and a half hours. I ended up being in jail for about six. It took them about seven hours [ed: from when they were arrested] to get us food.
What did they feed you?
Well, they brought in a water cooler but it took them 30 minutes to bring in cups. Then they brought what they said were PB&J sandwiches but with no jelly. And cheese sandwiches and milk. We had leftovers and were allowed to stockpile a bit.
We could overhear the cops talking; one guy was like, “I’d better get my drink on after all these protesters. They ruined my motherfucking day.”
When were you released?
Around 11:30. We were released by groups according to our arresting officers. I was like the seventh person to leave, so I don’t know the exact way they did the rest.
Did your parents know where you were? Had they been worried?
My arresting officer called them about four hours after I was taken into custody and told them I was safe and O.K. Yeah, they were very worried and at first they were extremely angry at me. They said it was “anger produced of fear” — you know, not wanting their son in jail, wondering if it would affect my college applications.
Ben’s court date is November 3rd. He says he hasn’t been back to the protests since Saturday for fear of being arrested.