It's one thing to engage in an act of civil disobedience and get arrested. It's another for a legal observer to inquire of the arresting police whether she can stay and observe until the arrests are completed and then leave unmolested, get an affirmative response from the commanding officer, AND THEN GET ARRESTED.
But such was the duplicity of the California Highway Patrol as seven protesters against police violence - and one legal observer - got arrested February 13th at the State Building in Oakland while demanding that Attorney General Kamala Harris "Do her job!" and prosecute killer cops.
Anne Weills is a noted civil liberties lawyer who has been challenging the solitary confinement policies of California for years. She has been slogging up to Pelican Bay (one of the state's infamous SHU facilities) on a regular basis, and two days before this protest had gone to Sacramento for formal hearings on solitary confinement policy. On Feb. 13th, donning her National Lawyers Guild observer's hat, she found herself inside Oakland's State Building on Clay St. at closing time.
Anne Butterfield Weills has been a civil rights and equity activist since her teenage years. She was one of the first organizers of the women's liberation movement in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to becoming an attorney, Weills worked as a union organizer for the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union and the International Garment Workers Union.Seven Justice 4 Alan Blueford Coalition members and friends were inside, holding a banner demanding that Kamala Harris prosecute killer cops. After the 5:30 PM closing time for the building came and went, the California Highway Patrol arrived in force, dressed in black Imperial Storm Trooper outfits - some of them patrolling the inside perimeter with shotguns while others blockaded the doors. They ordered the protesters to leave or face arrest. None of them left. The seven continued to chant...
encouraged by a crowd outside that had recently ended the outdoors protest rally and was looking in through the glass walls into the lobby.
All These Killings Have To Stop.
Prosecute The Killer Cops!
Elaine Brown, Jeralynn Blueford and the rest with fists raised showing solidarity with those inside.
By 6:00 PM the CHP had apparently had enough. They ordered people to leave or face arrest again, and again no one left. As they began the arrest procedure, Anne Weills approached the commander and asked if she could stay and observe, then leave without being arrested. The commander agreed.
Dave Welsh was one of the arrestees. A retired postal worker and indefatigable Bay Area activist, Dave has participated in countless protests and likely a very large number of civil disobedience actions. He helped Occupy the Berkeley Post Office for 33 days in August, sleeping outside in his tent on the concrete steps. If there is a picket line with community support in the Bay Area, chances are Dave Welsh is walking in it.
It was therefore no surprise to watch Dave get peacefully arrested and hauled off; but as the last protester was led off in handcuffs, CHP officers moved in to arrest Weills!
When one is arrested for civil disobedience one is sometimes "cited and released." or, as is often the case in San Francisco, booked quickly at the local jail and released. Not so in Oakland.
Anne, Dave, and the six others, handcuffed, were carted off to Santa Rita jail (about forty minutes away, in Dublin, CA) after being "processed" for more than an hour in the basement of the State building.
Once there, the men were thrown into holding cells for the rest of the evening and the wee hours of the night.
For the women, it was worse. As Anne tells it male guards - with male detainees watching - demanded that the women take off their upper outerwear "to be searched." Anne refused. The guards stuck her, and two of the other women, barefoot, in solitary confinement holding cells with no bathrooms, perhaps five feet by five feet. One of the women was kneed viciously into the cell by the lone female guard.
After some hours with no progress towards release Anne and the others demanded to be allowed to go to the bathroom, and they were taken to a 5' x 8' holding cell with a number of other young women in it, a toilet that was completely clogged up, and feces and blood on the floor near the toilet.
(Wait, you don't believe me? Well, you shouldn't believe me... this is completely absurd, right? But this is straight from Anne Weills with corroboration from the others who were there. I. Really. Am. Not. Making. This. Up. And. No. One. Else. Is. Either. This is jail, USA 2014.)
It wasn't until 5:00 AM that Anne was released. It wasn't until 6:00 AM that all but one of the others were released.
At 6:30 AM Dave Welsh was still inside, and no one knew what had happened to him. We found out later that through some kind of SNAFU, he had become disassociated with the rest of the protesters and apparently "lost in the system" because he was not even fingerprinted until sometime after 6:00 AM.
Finally, at 10:00 AM on Friday Dave, probably bleary eyed and decidedly no longer bushy-tailed, walked out of Santa Rita - completely missing the comrade who was there waiting for him, and vice versa. Fortuitously finding a ride to BART, he arrived back home a few hours later and (one would hope) had a very long nap. But true to his nature by noon on Saturday - just twenty four hours later - Dave walked up to me at the Staples in Berkeley where the American Postal Workers Union and community supporters were again protesting the outsourcing of Postal Service jobs, shook my hand, took a protest sign, and began waving it at the oncoming traffic.
Dave at the Staples protest, Saturday, February 15th,
24 hours after getting home from Santa Rita.
Oh, and Anne. How long did it take her to recover? She was up and out before Dave! She appeared in fighting trim Saturday morning at 9:30 AM, ready to go out and gather signatures for a ballot initiative to increase Oakland's minimum wage to $12.25/hr while helping her husband campaign for Mayor.
Let us all hope we can be half as vigorous when we reach a mere sixty years of age.
I have just one more thought to offer you about this tale, especially concerning what happened to Anne Weills:
If the guards and the system at Santa Rita were willing and able to treat a older white woman as described, I want you to imagine how they treat twenty-something women of color.
Now you can go and throw up.