Photographers abused and arrested

Police Academy, SW
Saturday, Sept. 27
1:13 p.m.

They removed my handcuffs. My hands are free to slip the laces back into my shoes. I grab my wallet out of the clear police evidence bag and stick it into my back pocket. I just spent 26 hours in police custody, handcuffed – just for doing my job.

I slept on a mat at the DC police academy gym. My wrist was handcuffed to my ankle. The last thing I ate at 6 p.m. was a thin slice of bologna coated with mayonnaise, smushed between two pieces of white bread, perhaps one could call it a sandwich.

It began around 9 a.m. After a call to my co-photo editor Andrew Snow, to find out where to shoot next, I made my way to Freedom Plaza on 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

The plaza was full of protesters. They were playing drums, singing, and dancing around the square. Business people, blocked from getting into work, came to sit in the park and watch the musical performance. I loaded a fresh roll of film into my camera.

The police presence was heavy. They began to surround the park. Leanne, another photographer I with me, decided to take off. After asking several police officers to let her through, she returned to me and said that she was not permitted to leave. I started to get worried.

Without much warning, the police circled around the plaza. Protesters asked to leave peacefully and started to make signs that read “Help!” People smushed together. We stood shoulder to shoulder, surrounded by a ring of police in full riot gear.

About 20 minutes later, MPD began handcuffing the crowd and throwing everyone in metro buses. First were the “volunteers.”

I asked a nearby police officer what would happen to me, my expensive camera equipment and my precious film. He told me it would be taken and I could get it when I was released.

Released! From jail!? The only things I knew about jail, I learned from The Rock, The Green Mile, and The Shawshank Redemption. Whatever movie you pick, this wasn’t looking like a good day.

It was about 11 a.m. I was handcuffed and seated on the Metro bus with about 40 other people.

Though the majority of the bus were protesters, I was seated with several of my friends, who are also members of the press. Washington Post writers and photographers were arrested. Others were people in business suits who were watching the demonstration, and a homeless man that was roving around the plaza with his bicycle-o-life.

After we arrived at the Police Academy in Southwest, we were identified as bus number six out of about 16. We would be processed in order. The officers said that it would take a long time.

We began to ask questions like, “what are we being charged with?” After about three hours of repeating this question, we get a response. We were arrested for “Failure to obey.” Failure to obey what was the next question, to which the officer responded, “I don’t know.”

The charge, I later discovered, was “failure to obey a lawful order given by a police officer.” We asked the officers what order was given that everyone disobeyed. According to officers, there were several orders given to disperse from the plaza. Many of the officers who were present at Freedom Plaza admitted they never heard the order.

For tthe next 10 hours, with the exception of restroom trips in pairs with a police officer, we sat on the bus parked at the academy.

At roughly 9 p.m., 15 of us were led to the front door of the academy to wait in line. Being “processed” included waiting in lines to be photographed, surrendering pocket contents, belt, shoelaces, and being put into the arrests database.

The lines proceeded into the gymnasium of the academy for us to sit on wrestling mats until our “paperwork went through.” The gym mat on which the officer placed me became my home for the next 14.5 hours. I got up once for a restroom break. I tried to get some sleep, but with all the protesters yelling and creating a scene, I slept for about two hours.

Once processed, people with ID’s and $50 could pay and leave. Those who refused to give their information, didn’t have an ID, or didn’t have access to the money were taken by MPD in buses to spend the night in jail.

I am a pretty patient guy, but sitting handcuffed to my ankle with nobody around who knew anything would be a frustrating experience for anyone. I paid the $50 to get out as soon as possible. A small price to pay to return to the free world. A world in which, I believed the police were all-knowing, respectful and worthy-of-respect. I’ll never return to that world again.

-Chris Zarconi

Andrew Snow
12th and G streets NW
Friday, Sept. 27
8:30 a.m.

When I set out to take photos of the protests, I didn’t expect the police department to drop me to the ground, like a cigarette butt – I just wanted a few good photos.

I followed a group of demonstrators down 15th Street. We were steered by the police down Pennsylvania Avenue. The police pushed us back up 12th Street, before being boxed in on 12th and G streets.

Immediately, the protesters clumped against a building. The police tried to pull them apart, things got slightly out of control. The police were wrestling with protesters, some of which were knocked to the ground.

Two other photographers and myself were about 30 feet from the protesters, standing in the middle of the blocked street, when a female DC police officer screamed “Get back, Get the fuck back!”

She used the end of her baton and jabbed me in the sternum, and then again in the throat, knocking me over backwards. She stood over the two photographers who had also been knocked down to make sure no footage was taken of the ensuing melee.

Looking from the ground, through the officers legs I could see the police were using all means necessary to subdue some of the protesters. The press was severely restricted, and pushed back about a hundred feet, with a line of police, virtually impossible to shoot through.

I scrambled to my feet as quickly as I could, and made it to the opposite curb, coughing and trying to catch my breathe unsuccessfully. Before I knew it, I was back taking photos. But, it took a little longer to catch my breath.

-Andrew Snow

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