By David Edward Clark
I went to pick up Mary Claire Erskine ‘13 and Grey Castro ’10 from the Greyhound Station last night. Most of this interview took place on the car ride home. By this point, Mary Claire had been awake for about 36 hours.
Mary Claire was arrested on Friday night and released on Saturday without charges.
Mary Claire: The excitement is considerably down as of tonight. It was actually crazy– we were at the Center where the G-20 meeting was, and we walked through it, underneath it–
Grey: Nobody around.
MC: If we had been there yesterday, we would have been killed. No joke about it, they would have shot us. They were willing to shoot—beat–really innocent protestors, and they were firing rubber bullets all over the place.
Grey: They were shooting Pitt students who had nothing to do with the protest with rubber bullets–the students who were wandering near where the complex was.
MC: The people who I was arrested with—there was a girl who went running. She had no idea what was going on, that there was anything happening. She was running and got arrested with everyone else. There was a girl that had homework, and she took it out to the park and did this on a regular basis, so she was reading. Protesters started coming through, and then the cops came and grabbed her up too. There were things like a guy who was a reporter was caught between some cops, and they told him like, “Okay, lie down.” So he lay down, and they handcuffed him and then pepper sprayed him. Then he was sitting in the wagon, waiting to go off to jail, and it took an hour at least to get to the jail, and then we were there for forty minutes before they came out and took him off to get decontaminated. It was just ridiculous. There was a girl that cops called an asshole, and this is according to her. She was pretty angry, so it might be slightly one-sided, but nevertheless, they called her an asshole, and she said to them, “Look, I’m not an asshole. I’m like your daughter. I go to this school. I work here, and I’m just biking through this road.” I think they probably escalated the words a little bit, and she basically ended up being pushed off her bike and tackled by more than one male cop, and then bound hand and foot and tossed in jail with everyone else.
Grey: I did want to note real quick that Pitt students were shot with rubber bullets–I’ve only heard that—I didn’t actually see that myself. I heard that students were shot with rubber bullets and folks who tried to help them were subsequently tear gassed, but I didn’t actually see that myself. I definitely saw tear gassing myself.
MC: The guy that I was running medic with, Peter [VanKoughnett ‘11]…he did medic work on Thursday, when I didn’t do it.
G: Thursday was the march without a permit.
MC: In the evening, it went crazy…
F+L: Can you guys take me through chronologically? When you got there, what did you start doing? What it was like the first day, the second day, the third day?
MC: Okay, sure. We got there on Wednesday evening–
G: and Wednesday, there were education events and stuff going on, but we didn’t go to anything on Wednesday.
MC: We just got settled in and figured out what the agenda was, and then on Thursday–
G: Thursday was the unpermitted march, that is, the march that people marching had not requested a permit for–
MC: purposely didn’t ask for a permit, so that it wasn’t allowed legally by the city.
G: We didn’t go to that. We went to some more of the educational stuff–
MC: but there were plenty of Oberlin people who did go to that. We went to discussions about different aspects of how the G-20 impacts the various parts of the world and various social–
G: environmental, economic issues…
MC: And then there was a tribunal, which was sort of like trying the G-20–
G: putting them on trial.
MC: There were a lot of speakers that spoke very intelligently about different problems around the world, and they were passionate, but they didn’t have much factual content about what the G-20 actually does.
G: It’s remarkably hard to come by.
MC: It’s a sign of one of their flaws. There’s no transparency.
G: Yeah. In the lead up to going, as we were getting ready on campus, I kept trying to seek hard, factual, concrete information about specific times when G-20 policies have negatively affected such and such country in such and such way, and everything is really vague. We get a lot of content-lite. It’s like Wikipedia-style articles–if you read the Wikipedia article on the G-20, you don’t get much. You get their stated goal of trying to do stuff like coordinating the International Trade and Finance Policy to basically make the economies around the world stronger. Then if you read stuff against G-20, you get–
MC: You get anarchist stuff, like, rah, rah, rah!
G: Not just that, not necessarily anarchist, but just people who are really angry…because the G-20 has caused a lot of problems. But it’s really hard to find anything where it’s like, ‘Here is a specific situation where a specific policy has had this specific effect, and this is why it is bad.’ At least for me, I went to those information sessions expecting to hear a lot more of that—and I heard some of that, but it was–
MC: I got a better idea—I already knew, bigger abstract reasons why the G-20 was bad. I got a more concrete understanding of the broad concepts, but I didn’t have the specifics still.
G: Yeah. There were a few speakers who, at the discussion panels and at what they call the People’s Tribunal—some of the speakers had some more concrete stuff. But by and large, it was the same kind of things we’d been hearing beforehand: G-20 countries make the other countries G-20 much richer at the expense of poorer nations, stuff like that. They didn’t really illustrate that they are extremely not transparent in how they operate. What were you saying?
MC: What did we do after that?
G: On Thursday? Uh, got an ice cream?
MC: So we just sort of hung out after that. Then Friday was the permitted march, when they had a permit and it was legal for us to be there. I was running in the street medic that day. I had gotten medic training a week before–something like that–a twenty-hour medic training, which allowed me basically to identify myself as a street medic and help people who were in any way hurt. It taught me how to identify people who needed to be referred onto higher medical attention.
I woke up at six and took two buses over to the clinic, and I paired up with Peter, another Oberlin [student] that I was talking about. We headed over to a student march that would feed into the permitted march. It was pretty calm and nothing happened–there were a few guys in the back where this march got started who looked like they were trying to start something, maybe. What they were doing was they were holding up the police back behind the rest of the march. It had been backed up way back. There was one guy that—it was a really powerful image—he was really long, light-colored hair, and he had half of his face painted black and half red. He had a sign that said something about jobs for all. I don’t remember the exact words. He would just sit on the ground with his back next to the police. Stop them from passing forward. Then he would get up before they actually arrested him. So the permitted march was huge. It spread for blocks.
G: I heard the estimates are between eight and ten thousand people.
MC: And it was very peaceful. I hear that there was one person arrested?
G: Oh, you know about that?
MC: The news said there was one person arrested on the entire march. As opposed to, I think it got up to, 80 people arrested on Thursday? I’m not, that’s not like a–
F+L: Yeah, I’ll check it with a news source.
G: And actually, I would note that news sources might be really off the mark. There was a news story this morning that said like 40 people were arrested last night
MC: and I was with a group of 56 that were all arrested.
G: And that was one group. There may have been others.
MC: There were definitely other people that were not in my group.
G: So checking with other news sources may not get you very accurate information.
F+L: Okay, I’ll make note of that too.
MC: So the march finished. Do you want to say anything about that?
G: Yeah, sure. I guess, to back up to where I came into the permitted march. I was with a group of other folks. None of us were medics, but some of us had slight medical training first for protests. We showed up and joined the march, I guess, not long after it started. We walked for a while. They came to a stop, and there were speakers and some musicians and stuff. We went on. That happened again at a place more downtown. And there, there was actually the possibility for greater tension. I guess there was greater tension.
MC: There was heavy police presence.
G: Yeah, all the way down the route, there were cops and a lot of riot cops on both sides.
MC: Yeah and horse cops, and cops with dogs.
G: Oh, I didn’t see any of those. Yeah, there were definitely canine units, but I didn’t see the mounted police.
MC: There was definitely some mounted police.
GC: I guess I saw them after the march. We stopped downtown. There were more speakers and again, musicians and stuff. There was an anarchist black block. That’s a bunch of people who are presumably anarchists dressed in black, often covering their faces. I think there’s kind of a snap assumption that they’re out to wreck shit, which is not always the case at all, but they move together often and stuff like that. I wasn’t close enough to hear if anything was being said, but they were at least staring down the cops there, but nothing wound up coming of it. Some of the other people in the group I was with said they were a little bit closer, and they said it felt really intense. I didn’t get close enough to notice that. That was at the stop downtown, but then eventually we left again, peacefully. We walked on to the place where the march ended at this park.
There are a few other things I’d like to note before we talk about what happened after that. One of them is what areas cops were protecting and what areas cops were not protecting. When we were walking through the downtown, which has lots of businesses and basically it’s a commercial area, there were riot cops all over. We crossed the bridge, went under an overpass, and came out into a mostly black residential neighborhood, looked to be fairly poor, and there was barely a cop to be seen, (MC: That’s true) and what they care about protecting was really, really obvious. That was one thing that I was struck and revolted by.
There was another thing that was interesting. I was carrying a sign. On one side, it just said, “Transparency in Government,” because of what we were talking earlier about what the G-20 actually does being pretty hard to ascertain, and then the other side, it says, “Women work 2/3s of the world’s work hours for 10% of the world’s pay. What the fuck?” I got a lot of comments on that sign. People were just like, “Yeah, that’s great.” When we first got out of the car to join the march, we got out in front of a hospital, and there were some women in front who worked there on their break. One woman was like, “Yeah! What the fuck!” One thing that I was particularly surprised by, was that there were a few women—or, I guess I shouldn’t assume. At the very least, female-bodied cops–who saw that and acknowledged that.
The first time, we were walking through an intersection, where the street that crossed the street the march was on had been blocked off on either side, and there were cops standing at the crossing. A little bit farther back, there was a squad car, and there was a woman sitting in the driver’s side. I could see her look, read my sign, and then she nodded at me. That happened later too, when we were further downtown. A few cops in riot gear–and again, I say they were female-bodied, because I don’t know how they identify–cops, who read the sign and nodded. I thought that was really cool.
The bothersome part was that they seemed to do it fairly surreptitiously. They weren’t like, “Yeah, right on!” or anything like that. They just gave a very slight nod of acknowledgement. One of them even–maybe she was blinking, I don’t know–but it kind of looked like she might have just been winking to acknowledge and agree with it, as opposed to even being seen nodding. I don’t know what their reasons for not wanting to be seen acknowledging it are, but still, the fact that they didn’t want to be seen—I don’t know. It makes me wonder.
There are other things that I remember that seem particularly notable about what happened during the march. I will mention them later. But we can get to the end of the march.
MC: Yeah, it was finished at a park. There were speakers, people were handing out free food, what else, people were playing music, and it was just a calm ending to the peaceful march. What we were discussing was what we wanted to do that night, because I think I said before, they were handing out fliers to people that said like, “Fuck the police, come to the rally.” (G: That was in 10 o’clock in Schenley Plaza.) Schenley Plaza. And that was in response to all of the rioting that had happened late at night, the night before (G: Thursday), which had heavily involved the UPitt students that had no intention of being involved in the rally, but were just bystanders that got swept up into it. So this was a reaction to the police abuse of those students, I guess.
So we were discussing what we wanted to do there, and I ended up deciding that I did want to run as a medic at that rally. I was a little conflicted about it, because it seemed like it could get really violent, and I don’t personally believe that smashing windows and stuff like that is a good form of direct action.
So our group split up. I stayed with Peter, who was my medic buddy, and we headed out and got food and re-supplied and stuff like that. We got pretty lost in Pittsburgh, which is a really, really crazy directional–It’s like a maze. Anyway, we eventually came back to the Plaza, and it was mostly UPitt students…a crowd of UPitt students that were intermingled with the more radical people. Then there was a circle of people playing what was Duck, Duck, Goose, but they were calling it Anarchist, Anarchist, Cop. So it was that type of spirit that people were just meeting there.
The park closed at 11, so we assumed that as soon as it’s not a hundred percent legal for people to be here, the cops were going to close it. As people were gathering, the cops were forming basically a ring around the square. They had it closed in on three sides, and there was a big fountain that they had protected with a cop line, and they had a gazebo that was protected. They had this big dinosaur statue that may have been a brontosaurus. (G: One of those sorts, at least—long neck, long tail.) At any rate, they had that protected. Then, just shortly before 11, they started marching in and forcing people out of the square, and the people there complied. They were forced out into one corner of the square, and I had decided I really don’t want to get arrested, so Peter and I left and were looking at the ways—escape routes, basically.
The cops had the streets blocked off for a while. A perpendicular street was still open, but that one got blocked off too. The only option was to go into this park, and so we were helping people to get in there. People were throwing their bikes over this big hedge, and then hurdling the hedge. There wasn’t much police violence. We ran into one guy who’d been pepper-sprayed, and that was about it. The cops marched into the park, and they’ve got us on two sides or something, and I think I saw one canister of tear gas—that was it. And then cops come around the front and the other side, and they just close in on us.
As they’re closing in, there are protesters and UPitt students with bullhorns, saying, “Look, we want to just peacefully disperse. We don’t want to cause any trouble. We’re just looking to get out of here. Can you please give us a way to get out of here?” The cops are totally unresponsive. They filled in the circle, and they’re like, “Look, you guys. Everyone, lie down on your stomachs, put your hands behind your back. Anyone who doesn’t follow through with that, they’re going to get sprayed.” And I saw them–I don’t know if it was tear gas or pepper spray, I think it was tear gas because people weren’t screaming—they sprayed a couple people. There was one girl who had been talking on the phone with her father at the time, and they picked her up with an arm around her neck and threw her back down onto the ground, and just sort of rough-housed and intimidated the people into getting cuffed. I was in that group, and so was Peter. I think it was a total of eight medics in the group. I heard later that it was 56 people in that group.
At one of the medic trainings I went to, I was taught a trick where you bend your hands up rather than laying them flat, and that gets you cuffed around the beginnings of your hands and not your wrists and makes the plastic handcuffs looser, so I actually had enough space that I could move my hands out of my cuffs. There were a few moments where I was like, “I have my hands free—should I make a break for it?” Then I was like, ‘No, no, no. Stupid.” The cops would have—bike cop or whatever–they would have shot me with rubber bullets or tasered me or something. I would not have been able to get away.
They lined us up and started processing us, and they took photos of us, asked us for stuff like eye color, hair color, weight, questions like that, and then they loaded us onto vans. I was first loaded into a van with nine other girls, and it was just this white, sterile inside with these two benches, which we sat on. Since I had my hands free and they hadn’t frisked me, I still had my cell phone.
I called Grey—or Grey called me–and I told him that I was arrested, and then I called the Jail Support number, and I gave the ACLU, which is the legal people, the names of all the people in our van. I was starting to give them more information about what was going on, when the cops opened up the doors again and they told us that we had two too many people in the van, and so they were going to randomly pull two of us out.
I was one of the people that had to leave the van. I was midway through the call to the legal people, and so I just stuck the phone in my pants, put my hands back into handcuffs before they saw it, and was taken to another van that was a male/female van and it was partitioned. I tried to continue the call. They saw my phone, and they actually took the battery out of my phone, took the battery and gave me back my phone. So now I have a phone without a battery, which kind of sucks.
They had us back in there, and there were maybe ten guys. Peter was one of them, which was convenient, and only three girls on our side. There was one guy who had been pepper sprayed, and he didn’t end up getting treated for an hour, at least, after being caught up by the cops and taken away. There was one guy who was a really sorry case. It was really hard to watch him. He had been on probation before and was pretty sure he was going to prison now for serious because he had been rounded up by the cops. I’m not sure if that happened or not—it looked like he’d been let out again.
We basically waited in this van for quite a while. Eventually, they drove us to the Corrections Center, and everyone is handcuffed. I’m semi-handcuffed, and then we wait at the Corrections Center. We wait for like 40 minutes. Eventually, they take away the guy that’s been pepper sprayed to be decontaminated. Finally, they open the door, let the girls out, and they take us onto a bus. It’s just a regular city bus, except it has this grill set up in between it, so it’s partitioned in half. They have all the girls in the back half of the bus. In the front half, they have these cages, and they’d have a couple of the guys in each cage, so they had maybe ten guys in the front of the bus.
So we’re in the bus, and we’re singing and telling jokes across the grill and stuff like that, keeping spirits up. Eventually, they take the guys out, and they just leave us in there. We ended up in that bus until around six in the morning, and yeah, they left us all handcuffed…
G: At which point, you’d been awake for 24 hours.
MC: Yeah, and everyone was handcuffed. They’d keep taking people out one by one to start processing them and taking them into the Center. People were in a really bad state by the time they started doing that. There was one girl, who had been–I told you about her before–but she had been running. She hadn’t known that anything was going on, she was just going for a run, she was a UPitt student, and she was jogging through the area where the police happened to round people up, and she was just caught up in that. So she was sweaty, and the sweat cooled, and she started freezing. She was shaking and crying, and it took a really long time before the cop did anything about it…
And so there were things like that. Girls really had to pee, and the cops were just like, “Piss yourself.” I don’t remember if I said that we had asked for our rights to be read to them, and they told us that we had given up our rights when we allowed ourselves to be arrested and that had no rights now, and they also called us terrorists. There was a lot of antagonizing on both sides and shouting and stuff like that when the cops came.
Eventually, it’s down to only a few people in the back of the bus. I’d thought all the guys had been crated out of the front, and then I realize that there’s one guy in the front, who they’ve left by himself in one of these cages. It turns out that he’s an Iraqi War veteran, and he’d been running as a street medic. They basically left him locked up because he was a veteran who had been on the protesters side and not on their side.
I got out, and they’re sort of verbally harassing me about my environmental shirt, and at the same time, being like, “Oh, she’s not one of the happy ones. The happy ones are so much fun,” meaning the ones who are trying to cause trouble and stuff like that.
Editor’ss note: We got back to my apartment, and Mary Claire started up her story again.
MC: What they were doing while they were processing me, which was basically like stripping me of my jewelry, and frisking me, and taking my cell phone, and putting it all in a paper bag…this is outside the station. As they were doing this, they were calling shots on who would get to frisk the Iraqi War veteran and stuff like that. They were planning on harassing him, basically. That was all I saw of that. They took me inside and went through an official processing. They scanned my fingerprints on this high-tech, green, glowing scanning pad. They did at first just like the regular fingerprints, and then they would roll each finger. This was like the FBI register of my fingerprints, when I’ve been rounded up for trying to help people peacefully disperse from the rally they no longer wanted to be at, which was ridiculous.
So they processed me, and then they took me over to a chair, and they were like, “Sit there.” So I sat there handcuffed. At that point, they had changed the zip tie handcuffs to metal handcuffs. I had the regular handcuffs, so that meant that I couldn’t get out of them. I was just sitting there, and they had cops on guard watching the whole entire time. If you wanted to go to the bathroom, you had an escort of two cops, and they took you to the port-a-potties outside of the station and then they let you in there. They wouldn’t let you lock the door–you had to keep it a couple inches open. You weren’t unhandcuffed either, so you had to work with your hands a few inches apart and that’s it. Then after I came out, I was frisked again. It was just crazy.
One of the highlights from my entire arrest, though, was that when they were frisking me the first time, a cop reached up behind my ear and was like, “What the hell is this?” and threw something on the ground. I was like, “What was that?” and then she asks me, “Do you have any more flowers in your hair?” I was like, “Oh, haha. I have no idea.” So she was pissed off at me for, I dunno, having flowers in my hair. I was like, “Yes.”
I basically spent another six hours sitting in this one chair, waiting for them to file the paperwork to let me go. There were a couple of girls who started to have emotional breakdowns and being sick of being handcuffed and just started to breakdown and shit and hyperventilating. The medical clinic of the Corrections Center came up. A woman came up to her and was offering her medical support, except she was backed up by this gigantic cop, dressed not exactly in riot armor, but it was still armor with a helmet. He looked basically like a soldier, except in all black. The girl was like, “No, no, I don’t need medical help.” I asked the guy after that, “She looks really bad. Can I go over there to talk to her?” And he was like, “No. You can’t.”
I waited for his shift to be over, and I asked the next one. He was a nicer cop and was like, “No, I’m sorry, you can’t do that. She refused medical help. I can’t let you do that.” It was ridiculous, the following of the bureaucracy. It’s such an insignificant thing, letting me move my chair over to help someone. My street medic training taught me how to deal with people that were suffering trauma from going through stuff. They wouldn’t let me go over to talk to her. Eventually, she started talking with another–I believe it was another street medic that was also arrested–but it was a long time.
I was in the last round of people to be let out. They stood us in this line, and we all had prison identification numbers. We had like a hospital band, except it was a jail band. They stood us in a line, and there were cops on either side of the line. We were standing out there in the drizzling rain, and they’re talking to us about how we’re going to do stuff and how we’re going to our stuff back, and then they finally let us out, gave some of us our stuff back. They told us that if they didn’t give us our stuff back, it was because the Pittsburgh Police had it, and you’ll have to go call the Pittsburgh Police and see if you can get it back. I fortunately got all of my stuff back so I didn’t have to deal with it.
G: Except for your phone battery.
MC: Except for my phone battery. Then, just outside of the Corrections Center, there was a group of street medics, legal support and people handing out free food and clothing for people who were cold. They were helping checking out all of the people, and they helped me to get in contact with Oberlin students because I didn’t have my phone and I had no way to contact people. My plan had been to basically beg $2.50 off of somebody to take a bus back to Jess’s house, hoping that I could remember how to get back there. So they got me in contact with Oberlin people, and they treated a little bit of–mostly it was from taking my hands in and out of the zip tie cuffs. I got swelling on the tops of my hands and a little bit on my thumbs, so they gave me a little bit of stuff for that. Then a crowd of Oberlin people rolled up. They had been looking for me and trying to figure out which of the two stations I was at. Apparently, both stations were lying to them and saying that they didn’t have any protest prisoners.
G: When I called both stations, first I called SCI, which was where you actually were. I said I was looking for my friend. She was arrested last night. They said that anybody who was arrested that recently would be at the Allegheny County Jail. So I called them, and I gave them your name, and they said that they had nobody on file with that name and that I should check SCI. I was like, “They just told me that anybody would be here.” So I called SCI again and explained all that, gave them your name. I don’t remember what reason he gave, but was basically like, “No, I can’t help you.” And I’m like, “Look, we’re just trying to make sure she’s all right and everything.” Then my phone made the little ringing beep that said the call was over. I hadn’t hung up. It’s possible the call was dropped, but I think he just hung up on me.
Mary Clare: I was just about done. I met up with Oberlin people, and they took me back to Jess’s house. That was the end of my arresting adventure.
DC: How long were you detained?
MC: I was detained for 12.5 hours.
DC: Were you given any food during that time?
MC: I was given one paper bag of food, which included an orange, a small box of orange juice, two little single packs of saltine crackers, a small, little katsup-sized packet of peanut butter, and one of those condiment jelly things you get at a continental breakfast or something. That was a food package for a meal. I was offered that one other time and declined it because it was just really unappetizing. My maximum food allotment would have been two oranges, two orange juices and four packets of saltine crackers.
This is the University of Pittsburgh’s coverage of the event at the Plaza.
This is a link to an indie Pittsburgh press that has been covering the event in depth.