Central Booking

"Frozen zone" near Michael Bloomberg's residence

I can accept that there are budget constraints, and space constraints, such that it’s impossible to outfit the holding cells with, for example, bunk beds, and that therefore a number of us had to sleep on the floor. I don’t know why there are no blankets, but maybe this, too, is a budget issue—buying blankets, and keeping them clean, would be expensive. Finally, our copy of Social Anarchism aside, we were not allowed any newspapers or other reading materials in the cell, and I’m sure there is some logic that explains why this is so, though whatever that logic is, I suspect it is dubious.

But there simply cannot be any rule, or any carceral logic, or any arguments whatsoever, for filthy toilets. And sitting there, with the stench from our filthy toilet filling the room, and with the filth in our filthy sink making me less eager than I ought to have been to drink from it, despite being thirsty, I became angry—really, honestly, for the first time. I thought for the first time, with genuine venom, of the hypocrite mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, who shut down the Occupy Wall Street encampment for reasons of “health and safety” but has not deemed it worthwhile to make sure that the toilets in facilities that he has control of meet even the most minimal standards of health and safety, such that, while I watched, about forty men, eating a total of a hundred meals, over the course of a day and a half, refused to perform a single bowel movement. This was its own form of civil disobedience, I suppose, and if I’d had my wits about me maybe I could have organized a meeting of all the inmates at Bloomberg’s residence, on East Seventy-ninth Street, so that we could all take a giant shit on his front stoop. . . .

What does it all add up to? I went out into the street and got arrested because I was angry that the cops had tackled our drummer; irritated that most of the Wall Street types walking by could be so contemptuous of people who were more committed, more engaged, more interested in the future of this country than they are; and because I was curious—about what the process of arrest was like, what the inside of a jail was like. I learned more than I expected to. To be on the other side of the law-and-order machine in this country is awful. It is dehumanizing, and degrading, and deforming. It fills you with a helpless rage: because, once there, you can only make things worse for yourself by speaking up. From the brown phone in our cell at the Tombs, I’d called Emily a few times, and I called the office of n+1, the magazine where I’m an editor. But it felt like those people, my friends, might as well have been on a different planet. They could do what they pleased when they pleased. We could not. I left the world of jail with plenty of relief but more than anything with a sense of unease that I still can’t quite shake. We will be judged as a society and as a culture by how we treated our meanest and most vulnerable citizens. If we keep going the way we’re going, we will be judged very, very harshly—and sooner, perhaps, than we think.

-- Keith Gessen, "Central Booking," NewYorker.com, November 28, 2011.