On Saturday, a group of Occupy Wall Street protestors were arrested in the LaGuardia Place Citibank. Among them was freelance photographer and actor Marshall Garrett. Garrett, who has a bank account with Chase, had originally intended to go to that bank, close his account, and go to the big Times Square event in the evening.
Instead, when the Citibank crew needed more people, he and three friends went along for the ride, got arrested, and spent the next day and a half in custody.
We spoke to Garrett on the phone today. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
How did you get involved with what happened on Saturday?
With the Occupy movement in general, I’ve had a lot of viewpoints. I have friends who work with the things Occupy Wall Street is against, and I have a lot of friends who are on the other side. I’ve followed what’s been happening, and watched a lot of the videos. The day before [the Citi arrests], that Friday, I decided to check out the actual rally near Wall Street.
A bunch of my friends were staying there overnight. That’s when I first showed up, and I knew I wanted to throw myself into the whole thing. The next day, I originally was going to go straight to Times Square. But by the time me and my friends got together, we decided to join the General Assembly, and they wanted to make a statement towards financial institutions.
We met at Washington Square Park. And we wanted to talk about, you know, entering the banks. But we made it an effort to not be violent, or extremely disruptive of the banks we were protesting. We chose to go to a Chase and a Citibank near Washington Square Park, and we were very, very careful in planning it. We talked and didn’t want to create any violence, but we wanted to create a scene that would get our point across to everyone. That’s what planned actions have historically been. We’re a very smart, very, very peaceful group of people. We didn’t want it to turn violent, or into the mass arrest which it did. We planned to stay until the moment we were told to leave or we’d be arrested, and then leave.
So we split into two groups. I was going to go to Chase, because I have an account there and I was going to close it. Part of the planning involved closing down our accounts. But we needed more people to support the Citi action, so me and three of my friends decided to go to Citi.
How big was your group?
It was about 27, 28 of us. When we got to the bank, we marched in, and clapped, and had a meeting. We had an open forum, and we actually tried to involve the bank employees, if they wished. And a few people talked about student loans and what debt was doing to them as individuals, and what could be changed about that. Unilike a lot of the reports, it was very respectful. We told the employees that we wanted them to keep their jobs and we were respectful. And they asked us to leave.
But legally, we’re allowed to stay until the cops come and say, if you don’t leave you’ll be arrested. But what was unknown to us and to a lot of people that day, including those in Times Square, was that there were undercover cops already there, paid to be disruptive and to be loud. One undercover cop present [at Citi] was louder than the entire group.
How did you know he was an undercover cop?
He arrested one of the protestors outside, and slammed her into the wall, and pushed her back into the bank. We all saw him at the precinct with us. He was laughing with the fellow white shirt cops, telling them about what we’d been saying, basically. It was a bit startling how inside their information was – how they were being paid to go to these protests and put us in situations where we’d be arrested and not be able to leave.
Anyway, after that, they announced they were closing the doors. But they were closing the doors as they said this. They pushed everyone –
“They” who? Bank security?
Yeah, the bank security, along with the undercover officer, pushed us back and locked the doors. They would not allow us to leave, which is illegal, and said the cops are on the way and you are all arrested.
At that point, right before we left, three people who came with us were gone. That’s why it was 24 arrests.
How were they able to leave?
They left when the bank teller first asked us to leave. Everyone there but me and my two friends had a Citi account. But nothing was able to happen because they immediately locked us in. They didn’t care if we were customers or not. Then the police started to show up. After about 15 minutes, there were about 100 to 150 people outside, and lots of cameras. And the cops tried to block coverage by pushing people away from the bank who had cameras.
From that point, they arrested us all, and they took us outside and put us in vans, and the situation was quite weird. The white coats were in the bank, patting the officers on the back, saying “Good job, good job.” And all I could think was, this is in a lot of ways illegal. I don’t know how they could say you’re doing a good job when they are illegally arresting protestors!
So after that, we were taken to a place that seemed to train officer who just got on the force. We were put in flex cuffs for the entire ride. We went to One Police Plaza, I believe, and our photos were taken, and our IDs were taken, and our stuff was put in bags and taken into custody. My arresting officer said it would last two to three hours at most, and we’d be out the same day. And that was not in fact true. We were placed in holding, and the paperwork processing every prisoner wasn’t done until 11 o’clock.
What time did you go in?
It was about 2:30. We didn’t get to the facility until 4:00, because they took a lot of time taking our Polaroids. Then we were patted down, and our money had to be checked. They were being purposefully slow to keep us from going to Times Square. We were in the holding area for a long time. Paperwork took four hours that normally takes an hour. There was a lot of relaxing on the officers’ parts, a lot of laughing and deciding to be very slow.
We got fed regular peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and milk, or cheese sandwiches. They kept telling us court would be open until 1:00 AM and then we could leave. No one told us it was the weekend and court closed at 11:00 PM. By the time we could go, the judge had left already.
Then we were transported to corrections and we were searched again – this time through metal detectors. We went to prison in chain link cuffs, as if we were real prisoners instead of just protestors. After that, we were put in correction cells. By then, we knew we were staying overnight. And they separated the males and the females.
We found out later in the evening that these white coats – and this is something you should emphasize – these white coats are hired by these banks, and that’s why they’re more violent than regular cops. They have jurisdiction to do a lot of things because they are hired by these banks to protect these banks.
There are a ridiculous amount of undercover cops within the Occupy Wall Street movement that are making things less safe. There will be a mic check about how to stay safe, stay out of traffic, and the undercover cops interfere, lead people in the wrong way, in ways that are illegal, and get them sent to prison. You saw this in Times Square.
How did you actually get out of custody?
It was a long process, because the white coats in charge delayed the process. The next day, they decided not to take any prisoners to court until after the judge’s lunch, which ended at 6:30. So we were in holding from 11:00 AM to 6:30 PM.
Then, literally, my hearing took five minutes.
Were you processed alone?
We were processed with our arresting officer, me and three other people.
Did you make bail then, or were you just processed?
I was processed. We could plead guilty – it was basically a plea bargain. But, since I have video of the entire situation, I pleaded not guilty.
Is that video up online yet?
It’s still on my phone. It shows the way we were behaving in the bank, the way things were said.
Are you going to put it up in You Tube?
I haven’t decided yet. I would like to, but I want to think about it before putting it up. It does show the entire thing.
The process of getting out was quite long, tedious, and clearly political. We were not able to get our stuff until [Monday] morning, because the place where they were keeping our things was locked. And, a few protestors had things taken from them. One lost a $1,500 camera. Someone else, a few people, lost their cell phones. Luckily, I got everything back.
Me and my friend, we got arrested together. I couldn’t go home [without keys] and I had to stay at her place. This morning, we went and got our stuff. We both had all of our things. But we knew people who didn’t get all of their items.
Are you going to go back and get in on the Occupy Wall Street action, now that you’re out?
Yes, I am. Now, it means more than ever. Seeing the inner workings, and seeing how silly some of these arrests were, and just being able to be in a state to take action, it’s important for me to keep doing this. This is affecting so many people.
I’m not trying to get arrested again, though, having seen how they treat people. I don’t want our movement to be a movement of pity, or where we try to play the victim. We do try to get things done for the greater good of everyone. But I am trying to get the word our there to clarify what happened.