Protest Report: Arrested by the Houston Police Department

Holding cell is at max capacity. Want to say 18-24 people in it. Fuck the processing cop who complimented my shirt and conversed with me in Spanish as if that would alleviate the situation.

a month ago

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My Saturday night begins at 9:30 pm. A friend and I link up at his apartment with plans to bike around downtown Houston and see what the state of the protest is. My street knowledge isn't sharp, but a good starting point for all this is Bagby and Westheimer.

We bike downtown towards Discovery Green and find no one. We then head towards City Hall and encounter protesters marching on the street and join. This period is pretty hazy for me, but it includes us running from police at one point, in reaction to them running to “guide and control” the protesters but easily is perceived as them coming to get us or, if anything, is scary as fuck just because of the time of night and we’re marching against police brutality.

We cut a turn into this connecting street with a large building (can't remember the building name or even wtf it was) facing the road. All of us realize that the police are at both ends of the street, with no way out but to go through the building. And so we do, but the National Guard (based on the difference in uniform and equipment that was visible in their shadow profile with those intense lights on top of police vehicles blasting in our direction behind them) were waiting for us at the other end of the shortcut across a grass lawn. With no way out, some protesters go back to the connecting street where police units march to entrap us. My friend and I, along with a few protesters, cut through a construction site adjacent to the walkway between the connecting street and the lawn and make it out to a street without police vehicles (they definitely didn't expect people to take that detour).

From there, I have more hazy memories of the next hours, but I’ll skip to the part where shit got real. As we’re marching and running away from police (parts of the protest are split into smaller groups with plans to link back up; honestly a lack of leadership at this point meant we were all just running away from where the police were).

Recollecting my memories and using Apple Maps, I'm piecing together this moment as us running towards the Toyota Center on Clay Street. We’ll position this moment at Clay St. and Louisiana St. We run towards the street—I’m still on my bike, by the way—tossed that shit over a metal fence to get to the street without police presence. As we approach the stadium, some white kids get hella hype and start breaking windows. A friend I made during the process later tells me that it looked like an art store. Police cars chase after us and we start picking up the speed before a big ass firework goes off behind us. Cops put the pedal to the metal after this and everyone is running for their lives. I take a left at La Branch then take a right at Polk St. and a police SUV goes over the curb, hops out, and catches some people. Swear they were like 3-5 yards away from me when they get out of their car but I make it out and lose them. I see cop cars head to toward 59 so I turn back towards the area in front of Toyota Center (Root Square, will be very important in all this). As I bike, I'm getting anxious of cops pulling up everywhere as they conduct some pretty brutal arrests (one man in front of Toyota facing Root had been tazed and is detained; two women pull up on foot to video and I'm pretty sure were arrested).

I call my friend and decide to meet up at the corner of La Branch and Bell. Other protesters were there with my friend but as I approach, police begin to form a line around us. My friend was the last to get out as a cop encloses the line around us with our backs to the building on the corner. As shit develops and chaos continues, a swarm of police come onto the scene, shit felt like the whole force was out in on this intersection and there were easily hundreds of them including hella members of the National Guard.

This is where my 35-hour experience of the mass arrest took place in Houston on Saturday night.

It's around 12:11 am Sunday, May 31st. We’re surrounded and no cop says anything to us. We plead and beg to be let go, that we were just observing the fallout of this police blitzkrieg on the protesters, and that we clearly followed their instructions to move to the sidewalk. Keep asking cops, “What's going on?”, “Are we being charged with anything?”. This continues for the next two hours as bus after bus comes in to place protesters that were caught around the area, in particular Roots Park where everyone has described as a crazy wave of police beating people with batons just for being in the vicinity. One story that stands out is of a man walking in the area, not even participating in the protest. A police officer strikes with his baton toward his head/upper body and he catches it and wrestles with him. After realizing it's a cop, he lets up and he's beaten and 5 cops come up on him and put their knees on his elbows, knees, and back.

During the waiting period, we’re completely in the dark about what they're going to do. We tell them they’re entrapping us without pressing a charge and they don't even look in our eyes or say anything. Some officers are smirking, talking amongst themselves as we freak out over this bullshit. One of the members of this group comes to the conclusion that they're just conducting an investigation and leaving the enclosed circle of cops will result in getting obstruction of justice. One guy has had enough and approaches the line in an attempt to force his way out. They immediately arrest him. Moments throughout this include hella cops holding batons and/or riot shields while other members including the National Guard are armed standing behind them. At 2:30 am some fat white cop comes out with a speaker phone, stating: “This is the Houston Police Department. You are all going to be under arrest for obstructing a highway/passageway. If you do not resist, this will be your only charge. We’ll be coming to get you one by one.“

We’re all in shock, some in such disbelief that this has to be some sort of joke and we all work to write down numbers on sticky notes. They start sending in 5-man groups in to grab each person. Each time it's the same setup, the arresting officer comes up and puts us in zip ties (many have told me were tight as fuck, some having their hands turn purple due to the tightness of the grip) while being live coached by some white cop. After zip tying, three cops post up in front in a line with their batons in front. Shit looked like a fascist claw machine game, but the toys are actual fucking human beings.

I would say I was the 4th or 5th person to being picked up. Officer Ramos searched my pockets, did the whole “Got anything that'll poke me?” line. Unreal. We’re then put on a bus to be taken to the HPD central station. We’re walked to the Herbert Gee Municipal Courthouse, each of us escorted by our arresting officer to a gymnasium inside. The setup is as such. At one end of the basketball court (where the entrance to come in is), there are four tables, one to the right of the entrance with 3 computers, one behind the hoop which has cops giving instructions as to what to do with our belongings and what to write on our baggy. A table a couple feet in front of that table with an inclination toward the left side. There's a woman with her laptop and a big ass line of cops each with their own personal belongings bag. On the left side of the court, outside the lines of play, is a huge table with multiple laptop setups. On the opposite side of the court from this table is a makeshift pen (barricades creating a circle and having us just stand there) and another pen underneath the other basketball hoop. The men were placed in the barricade circle under the hoop and the women at the other circle. Note: a transgender women was placed in our space, no cop took her seriously, and she endured some emotional abuse from the men in the space. Felt awful for her.

Further note: There's no way we had more than two feet of space for us to separate. Social distancing was thrown out the window and never returned for the rest of the night. From here until 8 o'clock, we’re held until a bus comes to picks us up to take us to Harris County Jail.

Notable events: A man pukes on the outskirts of the barricade. Takes hours for them to get a janitor to come clean it up. Responses to our questions of what and when things are going to happen are either met with silence, lack of knowledge on their part, or just given arbitrary times for when the bus is coming that are quickly shown to be bullshit. As a sign of mercy, they give us the leftover Whataburger meals and Subway sandwiches that were meant to feed the force and that were about to be thrown away. That shit was beyond fucking cold and stale. Only ate the fries and even that shit was tough as fuck to swallow, but shit, didn't eat before I left my friends apt :(.  This takes place around 6 am. I'd managed to get my left hand loose from the zip tie and I'd slept for 2 hours at around 4 am. Furthermore, captives and cops constantly engage in these violent exchanges with veiled threats of further and worse punishment. We get our first bathroom break around 6:30 or 7 am. Zip ties would make this impossible but I was lucky enough to have mine loosened. Others weren’t afforded this luxury.

At around 8, we’re loaded up into a bus to be taken to County. We arrive at County and proceed to wait an hour to an hour and a half for all of us to empty out the bus into the jail. Three groups, first the women, then the first wave of men, then the final wave (I was in this wave). Driver won’t speak to us about what's going on. The few times he speaks, he tells us to shut up. We go into the jail, strip down to our boxers, and our temperature is taken and we’re given a face mask. Then we’re taken to the holding cell in the basement.

Holding cell is at max capacity. Want to say 18-24 people in it. Fuck the processing cop who complimented my shirt and conversed with me in Spanish as if that would alleviate the situation. Windows are one way mirrors, so psychologically, the surveillance aspect of all this is fucked up. Ngl though, kinda funny when the door opens and you see others looking through their glasses trying to see what's going on. We’re here for an hour, maybe more. From there we go to processing.

They gave us our first meal in holding, which were pieces of white bread, pieces of processed sandwich meat (literally have no idea what that shit was), and some of the worst American cheese I've ever tasted in my entire life. Shit tasted like artificial death. I eat the pieces of bread and the cookies. Food count: 4 pieces of white bread, 3 cookies, and the Whataburger fries from earlier.

We’re seated in a waiting area and they call out our names, one to two at a time, depending on which cops are available to look at what we’re getting checked for. Someone reviews the items we’re coming in with. Find out they lost one of my rings. No idea how to engage this issue, so I just give up and tell them there are only 4 rings. From there, we go to a waiting room next to the area where they are reviewing the stuff we were arrested with. They call us by name. We come forward and they ask the standard COVID-19 travel and mental health questions (if you've ever been to jail, you probably recognize this process). From there, they send us upstairs at maybe 3-4 people at a time.

This is the scene where we wait the absolute most in. Its a 200-person capacity waiting area with 10 kiosks with bonds people ready to receive us and give us our bond or information about extra charges some may have gotten. We get our fingerprints and mugshots taken. Note: some bathrooms wouldn't flush, especially disgusting when the set up has the sink right behind the toilet. Could barely stomach the stench or breathe while trying to wash my hands.

After a while, lots of us are placed into “tanks,” which are basically communal living spaces for inmates. Its a huge room with 8-10 seated tables, toilets and water dispensers, and bunk beds. If y'all played matball as a kid, now those mats are what we can lay on. From 1 pm to 9 pm, we’re here. Can’t make a phone call and we’re never given information about whats going on (fucking bullshit, since we asked if we could make phone calls there and were told yes, we could). I slept for a majority of this time. Second bag of the same food minus the cheese slices are handed out. Food count : 8 pieces of bread and 5 cookies.

They come get us in groups to be sent back to the pre-trial area. Cop who guides our group again threatens us with more time if we disobey or disrespect her. Honestly, fucking hate that bitch. I’m glad an inmate punched you in the face (her words). Other groups of protesters had been put into other tanks, some with inmates already present. One friend tells me he lay on his bunk mat and underneath, found two shanks made out of ballpoint pens.

We’re back in the pre-trial area and wait for someone to call our names so we can get our general order bond. I don’t get mine until 4:20 am the next day. Even with that, I needed to go up to the teller and ask if our paperwork is ready. Some workers went with it and some didn't, which turned into a trend of people moving close to the kiosks and just hopping in with hopes they'd process you before they read out a name. Throughout this waiting period, we can't sleep because we’re threatened with losing our spots if we don't respond when our names are called. Threats of being booked and spending an extra 48 hours here are always weaponized and thrown out to maintain compliance.

We get another  bag of the same make-your-own sandwich bullshit at 3 am (fucked up because they said chow time was at 11 pm). Mind you, during EVERY part of this process, we interact with inmates in jail doing what is slave labor and the way some of the cops engage them is so degrading. “Hurry up bitch” says a cop when they’re not performing to standards. From there, those with their paperwork are taken to a pre-release waiting area. We spend hours here doing nothing. One man says he's been there since Sunday 7 pm and deservedly calls out the cop for this unreasonable shit. Notable parts of this moment: literal good-cop bad-cop type moment between two cops. Black man playing as a bad cop, old white woman as a good cop. We asked good cop when things were going to happen or how long. She proceeds to blame us for not asking the night shift about what was going on. Highlight of this whole fucking thing:

My friend asks: "Will you be feeding us like the other times while we wait here?”

Cop replies like a lunatic: “Back in the day, my momma used to tell me don’t mess with that guy. I'M THAT GUY. You should be grateful to be in this part of all this.”

Note that my friend literally asked if we were going to be fed again and we’re told to be grateful. Literally, he and I couldn't stop laughing at how utterly ridiculous and cruel this moment was. Especially after being at Harris County Jail for a day and two nights. We’re moved group by group into release. More threats come out from cops to extend our waiting time and to put us in these holding cells next to the rows of seats in the waiting area. Super fucked up seeing this, especially when on our side, we can see everything going on in these holding cells and how people act when they can't see shit outside the glass. I'm given my stuff and I’m released at 11 am on Monday, June 1st. I’m not allowed to protest and if I’m arrested again, I will be fully charged with obstruction.


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Rafael Acosta

Published a month ago