Civil Disobedience of Kavanaugh’s Confirmation in Austin, TX
Chapter 3: When Sassing Becomes a Felony
NOTE: The text below is a retelling of the the arrest of 14 Austinites on Oct 6th, 2018, the day Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States. What comes below is solely the author’s interpretation of the said events and is in no way a reflection of what other linefolk experienced, thought or felt. The names of some of the linefolk and certain details inside the Travis County Jail have been kept from the published story for the sake of maintaining the privacy and/or safety of those concerned.
Chapter 3: When sassing becomes a felony
On March 20, 2003, the day the second US war against Iraq began, all 30+ protesters who took over Congress Bridge were loaded up into a school bus after the arrest. We were then transported to and held in the parking lot of the 7th street Travis County Jail. We stayed in that bus for what I remember to be 2–3 hours, given tickets and then unceremoniously, let go. We never entered the jail itself. Things were a bit different this time.
While still in the street line, and facing the Texas Capitol, the reporters, the support team, the other protesters and, at first, the police were in front of us. After three hours and two attempts at coaxing us to leave the bridge peacefully and telling us that they understood our right to political protest, the police began to appear behind us. They brought in roughly one car per lineperson and stacked them behind us. The police presence behind us is making me nervous and having the three linewomen: Lisa Lawson, Valerie Fletcher Bissett and Marina Roberts close was a source of calm. Once the decision to arrest was made, we were approached from behind with a sudden shift in mood. It’s almost as if the police were told, or perhaps just understood that they had to shift from understanding and coaxing uncles, to intimidating and threatening trolls. Not all complied because patriarchy takes over hearts and mind to differing degrees. These same officers who had up to that moment been trying to convince us that they understood the point we were trying to make, had now done a 180 turn and were treating us like dangerous criminals.
Handcuffed, rather tightly, I pushed my chest out as they walked me to the car, but once in, I started to feel scared and small. Rationally, I knew the possibility of something irreversibly bad happening to me was small but my body chemicals were not cooperating. Thankfully, Candace was put in the same police car. Being alone in situations like this is scary and the carceral state is well-aware of the effects of isolation. Seeing Candace’s face and having her close made me calm down a bit. The police were showing off their might by separating us; performing a sudden emotional detachment from our cause; not looking us in the eyes or engaging with us on a personal level; physically roughing us up by putting the handcuffs on a little too tight and using rough voices. I felt extra unsafe because men were aggressively handling me and invading my personal space. The smackdown seemed to come out of nowhere. We had decided to bend the law towards justice that day, to make a particular patriarchal moment pop out of the system, but the police’s sudden behavior change had the momentary effect of pushing me to question that logic. Body and psyche management methods can be an effective method in silencing protest. In our case, we were women who dared to lash out against an attempted rapist being appointed to the highest court in the country by a president who has been accused of rape on multiple occasions. But being treated like a criminal kept making me question what I knew to be reality.
We are interrogated while still in the police car in the parking lot of the county jail by officer “Sweetie McSweets.” Like most other women, I spend too much of my life Sherlock Holmsing the men I meet. As a result, I’ve become good at sizing male toxicity levels. Officer McSweets was one of those gentle souls who seemed out of place in the prison system. He politely asks us preliminary questions about our names and addresses.
Once the interrogation is over, we exit the police car. I’m still nervous and scared. We step into the jail and I see that some of the other linewomen are already inside. We’re told to join them on a long bench close to the jail entrance. I notice the low number of policewomen and one white police woman who stood out in particular. She was right in front of the bench, busy behind her computer. She’s good-looking and has her hair tied tightly in a bun behind her head. She’s also holding her shoulders tight and high and is trying to occupy as little space as she can. At one point a male officer passes behind her and she tightens and shrinks even more. I don’t think I saw her head lift from her computer screen or hear her say a single word the whole 30 minutes to an hour we were sitting there. My heart hurts. I’ve felt like that in work situations. It’s a terrible way to spend most of our waking hours. Several of us had to use the bathroom. One linewoman was having an emergency; she was allowed to use the bathroom. But for the rest of us, the police seemed unmoved, telling us we would get a chance to go to restroom later. Withholding access to bathrooms was one of the many ways in which our bodies were managed and controlled that night. Each time a body-management or silencing moment occurred, the same bubble of doubt would start wanting to make it’s way up to the front of my psyche and each time I made a point of performing audacity to silence it. They denied us the right to use the bathroom, even though they knew we hadn’t used one in hours and our response was to sit up straighter and stare them down even harder.
Interrogation number 2 happened at what seemed like a makeshift counter near the entrance bench. A rough policeman, very unlike officer McSweets, asked the same preliminary questions and then abruptly launched into a shocker with a jarringly uninterested voice: “are you thinking of committing suicide?” Smiling sarcastically, I told him that I had been thinking about suicide, upon hearing about Kavanaugh’s appointment but that I was feeling much better after having taken The Bridge. He never raises his head to look at me while entering the information but I’m studying his facial expressions. His eyebrows raise in surprise, a hint of amusement crosses his lips and he tenses up in a defensive posture. He tries to recover his “normal” indifference, refocuses on the task at hand and rushes through to the next question, but I can see that he remains a bit thrown off. An uppity, Brown, foreign-named, woman! I could see the take-down, put-in-place instinct welling up inside him. I register my lessened fear level. It feels good.
Adorned, now, in our two shades of grey, we’re escorted to the waiting pen, a large holding space, quartered off into separate sections, each section decked with seats. Some of us who were deemed to need medical attention or asked for it are taken to a corner of the pen to see a nurse. The rest of the women are put in the general waiting area in the middle. I had an open wound from a bike spill I had had a few days earlier, one other linewoman had to take her antibiotics, another, a 17 year-old high school student in a wheelchair was taken away to be seen by a doctor. We are finally allowed to use the bathroom.
Interrogation number 3: Officer McSweets, shows me the way into the nurse’s office and remains in there for the duration of the interrogation and treatment. Right before entering the nurse’s station, I hear a women officer, jokingly suggest that I “belong to” officer McSweets. She chuckles, but officer McSweets seems uneasy and keeps a straight face. The nurse is a Black woman and that makes me happy. Seeing faces of color in white spaces gives POC life. She doesn’t have the biting edge most of the police officers do and carries a gentle vibe. I explain to her why we are there. I was proud although she never directly supported us with her words; she makes me feel safe and appreciated.
This particular interrogation was interesting in that I was asked very detailed and private questions about my body and in particular, my sexual organs — mind you all in the presence of an officer who “owned me.” I was asked if I was menopausal, whether my uterus was still in tact, when my last period had been, all because I wanted a band aid and some neosporin on a scrape. I think back to the APD sexual harassment pamphlet and chuckle some more inside. I want to repeat that I asked to see a nurse — and I appreciated the help — but I ended up being interrogated about information that in the outside world is considered private and legally protected and had no connection whatsoever to my minor wound. I don’t talk back to the Black sister. I was thankful for her kindness. But I am clear that the goal that night, in full carceral fashion, is to make us feel naked, vulnerable, doubtful, repentant, trapped and scared enough to never try that uppity women’s rights protest shit again and alongside the body management techniques, so much of that was done through the invasive interrogations and the particularly incriminating line of questioning. But we learned the wrong lesson y’all. We came in uppity, with excessive amounts of dignity and left with an even more expanded sense of self.
After being seen by the nurse and getting a boost of warmth from her general sweet disposition, I was taken by Officer McSweets to the waiting area. I sit down and before long, all of us, except for the linewoman who had been sent to see the doctor, are reunited in the pen. I see some phones and without asking for permission get up to use one. I want to contact my husband to tell him I’m okay. I can’t connect to the outside world; I sit back down. We are not told what to expect, what’s coming next, we’re just herded around.
The feeling they want to instill in us that night is, that as criminals, we deserve to feel scared, unprotected and disoriented. This, of course, contradicts the message in the sexual assault and harassment pamphlets. Once we come together again in the pen and become a bit more used to the environment, we start laughing and in fact get so loud and joyous, that a policewoman yells out in a surprisingly harsh voice: “keep it down over there.” We’re surprised at her coarse, manly tone at first and then we start laughing all over again, nervous laughs for sure, but this time I’m laughing first because I can see through her bravado and irritation and then because it makes me happy to be defiant in jail. I feel even less scared. The smackdown is not working, the women remain unruly and grow bolder as we progress.
It’s also at this point that I notice the linemen in the same big pen are separated from the women by waist-high walls. We can see each other. I nod my head to say hi to one of them. It’s good to see our comrades.
An officer comes around and I think tries to say my name while pointing to me, but stops midway. He hovers for a second or so, loops back around in a circle with a pink paper in his hand and goes in the back, whence he came from. Other women are getting called to the meet with the Travis County officers who are sitting behind a counter in the big pen. I think most get called and then finally I hear my first name which had been repeatedly butchered or left unattempted (the laziest form of erasure) up to that point, get pronounced correctly. I approach the Travis County officer (we’d been dealing with Austin Police up to that point). I immediately identify him as another out-of-place soul.
Then follows the 4th interrogation, beginning with a question about my name, address and then the following question: “have you ever committed sexual assault?” The next questions follow in the same vein until I’ve had it. “Jeesh,” I say, “these questions are nuts! I was just protesting the fact that an attempted rapist is now a Supreme Court judge! Is this line of interrogation really necessary?” He smiles apologetically and says “I have to ask these questions.” He continues, but emboldened, now that I can see he is not taking part in the criminalization game like some of the others, I refuse to answer his questions about my work, my husband, my husband’s work. He tells me that it’s okay, that I don’t have to answer them. He has to ask, I don’t have to answer.
The interrogation ends. And then all of a sudden the officer’s face changes, it gets serious. He asks me why I got arrested. “Protesting Kavanaugh” I answer, taken aback because he’d been talking to me as if he knew why we were there. “Yeah… that’s what I thought,” he replies. He turns to his right and shows a co-worker his computer screen and then the slip of paper in his hand, making some sort of comparison between the two. I’m starting to get worried at this point. Both of their brows become furrowed and this is making my heart beat rise.
“What’s happening? Is everything okay” I ask.
“Oh, nothing serious, someone ‘mistakenly’ entered a felony charge into the computer instead of a class B misdemeanor.” I must have looked horrified ‘cause he quickly says: “don’t worry about it, I fixed the mistake.” I wonder what the earlier twirling officer who couldn’t/wouldn’t say my name, went in the back to do. Or maybe it was the officer who did the second interrogation? Perhaps it was to the fact that I identified myself as one of the organizers while on the line and volunteered to speak with the police. Maybe it was an innocent mistake? I ask if this is really a mistake. The officer keeps his head down and doesn’t reply. “I gave one of the officers in the first space we entered some sass, maybe that did it?” I ask. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you” he answers in a serious tone. I look at my fourth interrogator with an ungodly amount of gratitude for making the correction.
I go to call Roy. His voice is tense, he says my mom has walked out of the door to look at the street 15 times so far and that the kids are worried but he ends the conversation with: “everything is okay.” I felt a lot of guilt after hanging up. My kids were not supposed to find out but they did so because my mom was understandably acting strange. My mom is a warrior, y’all. She’s the one who taught me to stand up for what I think is right and is the first feminist I ever knew. When I told her of my plans to get arrested on Friday, I saw fear in her eyes but she held it together. You see she’s an Iran-Iraq war nurse and more than likely suffers from PTSD. Having more recently moved to the US from Iran, she’s also used to folks going to jail and not coming back, or coming back years later deeply scarred.
I set the phone down and head out to be fingerprinted and take my mugshot.