Yesterday, I participated in a protest action organized by the Boston Jewish Community and Movimiento Cosecha. Here’s the event description from Facebook (quoting it here in case the Facebook event goes away):
**Join us (Jews + immigrants + people from all backgrounds) on Tuesday for an action in Boston to demand an end to ICE’s violence. WEAR WHITE! Meet at 4pm at the New England Holocaust Memorial for a program, march at 5:30pm.**
On Sunday June 30, hundreds of Jews are coming together in the New York area to put a stop to ICE. We are answering their call to action, and taking a stand in our own community.
We are Jews, immigrants, and allies with many identities. We have seen this before. Never again means never again para nadie, for anyone. Now is the time for action and we need mass participation to shut down business as usual.
As Jews, we’ve been taught to never let anything like the Holocaust happen again. From our many Jewish histories of detention, violence, and migration, both in Europe and all over the world, we know that we’ve seen this before. But the legacies of violence, white supremacy, detention and genocide are alive and well in our communities.
Right now in our country and in Massachusetts, there are families being torn apart by ICE, an agency created to dehumanize them. There are children being detained in horrific conditions. There are adults and children dying at the border as they flee violence.
What we mean when we say “Never Again” is never again para nadie (for anyone.) We mean that no one, no person or group, should experience the trauma of family separation, the violence of detention, the pain and deadliness of degradation and dehumanization, or genocide.
We DEMAND dignity and permanent protection for all immigrants/migrants and safe pathways for those seeking refuge from places plagued by colonialism and violence.
We DEMAND an end to detention #CloseTheCamps and the abolition of ICE #AbolishICE
Never again is now.
I participated in a similar action a year ago almost to the day, but this action was different in two really important ways:
- Conditions at the ICE detention facilities near the southern border of the U.S. have gotten much worse in the past year. Current conditions are horrifically inhumane. Furthermore, awareness of these conditions has increased significantly. Things were very bad a year ago, but they are much worse now.
- The earlier action was organized by Cosecha alone. For this action, Jewish activists in Boston took the lead on organizing the action.
This action was part of a nationwide movement by Jewish activists to acknowledge that the lesson of “Never Again” which Jews took from the Holocaust calls us to speak out and act when we see parallels between the Holocaust and modern events.
For me personally, the action was different in another, critical way: rather than just being one of the crowd, as I was at the last action, I was one of the protesters who engaged in civil disobedience (CD). We blocked the entrance to an ICE detention facility, and we expected to be, and were, arrested as a result.
I’m still recovering from the action and its aftermath, so I don’t have a huge amount of time to write about the entire action in detail. Furthermore, there are certain aspects of how the CD crew were organized and operated that I’m not going to write about here because I don’t think it would be wise to discuss them publicly. So, the following is a somewhat random collection of thoughts and impressions about the action.
By the numbers
Yesterday’s action in Boston was part of a nationwide campaign of actions this week, the first of which took place on June 30 in Elizabeth, NJ. Thirty-six protesters were arrested in that action. Thirty-six is a momentous number in Jewish tradition for two reasons: (1) it’s “double chai”, two times the numeric value 18 of the Hebrew word for life, “חי”, which is considered lucky; there is a chassidic tradition that there are in every generation 36 truly righteous people in the world.
Eighteen people were arrested yesterday in the Boston action, so we also got ourselves some of that “חי cachet,” though it’s not clear to me that it was intentional. There were actually only 17 people on the CD crew until a last-minute addition a few hours before the action. It’s possible that the last-minute addition was coincidental, or it’s possible that the organizers decided to drum up one more volunteer to get us to 18. [UPDATE: I’ve been told by another member of the CD crew that several members of the crew pushed for another volunteer to join the team to get is up to 18, so it wasn’t coincidence.]
At the ICE facility
Last year, when we arrived at the Suffolk County jail where ICE rents beds, we were greeted by a long row of jail officers decked out in full riot gear, including all black clothes, armor, elbow- and knee-pads, helmets with shields, and batons. They stood elbow to elbow in front of the jail for well over an hour in stifling heat. This year, in contrast, there were fewer officers and they were wearing their regular uniforms, not riot gear. Thinking about this, I came up with a number of factors that may have contributed to this difference:
- Last year’s action was non-violent, and the way the officers were equipped was an overreaction. They may have learned from the past adjusted their approach to yesterday’s action to fix that. Given the stifling heat yesterday, they had a strong incentive not to wear full riot gear.
- They may have reconsidered the optics of a squad of riot-gear-clad officers standing menacingly behind and then arresting a group of non-violent protesters.
- Yesterday’s action was organized over a much shorter time-frame than last year’s. Furthermore, if I recall correctly, the march on the ICE facility was announced by the organizers in advance of last year’s action, whereas yesterday it was not. In short, the jail might not have realized we were coming until the march was underway.
- There is reason to believe that Cosecha is actively surveilled by law enforcement, whereas it is less clear that the Jewish organizations which planned yesterday’s action are monitored as aggressively, another reason why the staff of the jail may have been unaware in advance of the organizers’ plans.
- Finally, it should not go unmentioned that last year’s action was planned by people of color and yesterday’s action was planned by Jews. American Jews who are white do not always benefit from the same privilege as non-Jews, but arguably they do in this context.
I believe the time between when we began our civil disobedience by sitting down on the steps and locking arms, and the time when we were arrested, was much shorter yesterday than last year. There’s a “do not cross” line on the concrete slab of the jail indicating the boundary for trespassing charges, and we were told by the organizers when it was time to stand up and cross over that line to trigger the arrests, so the length of our action was actually determined by us, not by the police. I don’t know why the organizers decided to make it much shorter this year, but I thought it worth mentioning.
Treatment by police
The van which transported me and two other protesters to the police station was one of those old-style boxy BPD transport wagons you’ve no doubt seen around the city. It was horrifically hot in the box. There were two vent holes at the front of the box with fans, but the fans were not turned on. I was drenched in sweat and dehydrated by the time the doors opened at the station. If we’d been in the van a few minutes longer I might have passed out.
There were three male-presenting protesters in the CD crew and 15 female-presenting protesters. BPD’s practice is to split up protesters by their perceived gender and send them different precincts for “processing”. That means that the split yesterday was very uneven — three protesters (“G3”) sent to one precinct and 15 (“G15”) sent to the other. Given that each precinct can only process one arrestee at a time, this led to the G15 remaining in jail for much, much longer than the G3. The last of the G3 was out of jail by around 11pm, compared to nearly 4am the next morning for the G15.
There were other inequities in treatment:
- The G3 were offered sandwiches and milk (though, unsurprisingly, the jail had no accommodations for kosher food, so I got only a packet of crackers), while the G15 were not.
- The zip-ties were removed from the G3’s hands very early, even before we were processed. The G15 were left in zip-ties until after they were processed, which means that some of them were in zip-ties until 1am, around seven hours after their arrest.
- From speaking to several of the G15, my impression is that the G3 were treated far better — with much more dignity and respect — than the G15. You can judge for yourself; LilyFish Gomberg has published a first-hand account how the G15 were treated.
We can speculate about why the G3 were treated so much better than the G15. Potentially relevant factors include:
- It takes a lot more work and time to process 15 arrestees than three. The officers at the other precinct may have resented all that work being dropped in their lap on an otherwise slow Tuesday night and may have taken out that resentment on the arrestees.
- Each precinct has its own culture, and it’s entirely possible that the precinct we were at simply has a better culture than the one where the G15 were processed (no, I’m not going to name names here; I don’t have nearly enough data to think that would be appropriate or productive).
- All of the G3 were white. There were people of color among the G15 (though most of them were white).
- Male privilege exists. White male privilege exists. These cannot be ignored.
I know very well that even the worst of what any of us experienced yesterday at the hands of the police pales in comparison to how people of color are treated by police all over the country on a daily basis. Having said that, our experience gave us visibility we wouldn’t otherwise have had, and it allows me to speak from a position of white privilege to say this:
Every single person who interacts with the police, regardless of sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or race, deserves to be treated consistently and with dignity and respect. No transporting arrestees in vans that are over a hundred degrees. No leaving people in zip-ties that are injuring them for hours. No refusing to accommodate people’s documented medical needs. No ignoring arrestees who need immediate medical treatment. We didn’t see that last night. It’s not OK.
Justice, justice, shall you pursue
All 18 of us were at the courthouse at 8:30 this morning for our arraignment, or so we thought.
The protesters who were arrested in last year’s action were arraigned, but their cases were “continued without a finding” under the condition that if they stayed out of trouble for the next six months (i.e., didn’t get arrested again) the charges would be dismissed. However, things played out differently for us.
After several hours of waiting for paperwork issues to be resolved, we were informed by our attorney, the inimitable Jeffrey Feuer of Goldstein and Feuer and the National Lawyers Guild, that the DA’s office had agreed to “nolle pros” the charges against us. That term, which is short for “nolle prosequi,” means that the DA was declining to prosecute the case for all 18 of us. The prosecution in a criminal case can nolle pros at any time until the jury reaches a verdict, but in this case they did so even before we were arraigned, which is significant because all of us can now legitimately say that we’ve never been charged with a crime (well, at least, not this crime; I can’t speak to whether any of my fellow protesters might have been charged with a crime in the past 😉 ).
So, why the difference? Well, the new DA, Rachael Rollins, campaigned on a promise of not prosecuting non-violent misdemeanors. Furthermore, Rollins also happens to be pretty publicly anti-ICE.
Also, although I obviously can’t say for certain, I got the distinct impression that quite a few people in the room other than us and our lawyer were “on our side” when it comes to ICE.
In any case, after the nolle pros was entered into the court record, the judge asked Feuer if he wanted to make a statement, and he made a brief statement explaining the purpose of our action and declaring that we all intended to continue standing up for what’s right, a sentiment with which I heartily agree.
We will continue to speak out, and we will continue to act. The inhumane treatment of immigrants by the U.S. government must stop, and we will not rest until it does.
Please visit https://neveragainaction.com/ for more information about the series of actions of which yesterday’s in Boston was a part, or https://bit.ly/NeverAgainFund to help defray the legal expenses for arrested protesters and support Cosecha.