Jailed for asking too many questions, part two

Twelve men shared one golf pencil, sharpened by rubbing against the frame of a bed.

by John Hoff

Last week, I told the first part of Mike Kirk’s story of arrest and incarceration at an Aug. 31 Critical Mass bike rally, right up to the point Mike was arrested.

Mike is a third-year computer science student here at the University.

But it’s funny how messy, evolving current events can shape our perception of not only the present, but the past. You see, it’s hard for me to tell the rest of Mike’s story without constantly thinking of the recent incident involving a University of Florida student Tasered during a forum featuring U.S. Senator John Kerry.

That student wouldn’t shut up and stop asking questions, so he was arrested and shot with a Taser.

It would appear some people – like naïve third-year computer science students – actually think it’s OK to deal with police officers like normal, rational human beings. Oh, yes, these insane students who have spent far too long wandering the cozy halls of academia think average citizens can just willy-nilly ask questions disruptive to the social order like “Do we all have to leave?”

Here was the answer Mike received to his dangerous dissident inquiry:

“All right, you’re going to jail. We’re going to arrest you for obstruction.”

The police officer threw Mike’s bike to the sidewalk. Mike was cuffed. At some point, after checking Mike’s identification, the officer made fun of Mike for being from South Dakota.

Mike was put in a paddy wagon stuffed so full he had to sit on the floor. All the people in the paddy wagon had Mace or a similar substance on their clothing, so it was hard to breathe in the confined space.

Just because they had all been arrested didn’t mean these folks knew each other. Of course, they now had plenty of time to get acquainted. One of the arrestees hadn’t been with the original group or even riding a bike. Mike described that individual as a dancer from Gay 90s who was arrested for taking pictures.

The dancer had been shopping and was carrying what Mike called “a $50 pair of underwear.” Police threw the man’s new underwear in a gutter, and wouldn’t pick it up. Police also confiscated the dancer’s camera.

Police stopped the fully loaded paddy wagon at a parking lot to take pictures of the arrestees. One police officer, who seemed kinder and more decent than the others, apologized for how uncomfortable it had been, stuffed in the back of the paddy wagon like cattle being transported to a slaughterhouse, like sardines in a can, really, just pick your favorite brutal and dehumanizing metaphor or simile.

Mike wondered if the kindly tone was real, or just some kind of “good cop, bad cop” act/mind game. He still wonders.

At the jail, 12 men shared one golf pencil, sharpened by rubbing against the frame of a bed. Mike recalled the jail was very particular about counting spoons, which were made from some kind of plastic material.

Except for the feeling of being unable to leave, Mike can’t call jail a horrible experience. He never felt in danger from other inmates. It was, Mike said, “a pretty social atmosphere.”

There was, however, a big difference between some of the arrestees and inmates who had been at the jail for a while. Some of the bikers were saying stuff like, “Oh, my god. I’ve been here 12 hours. TWELVE HOURS. I’ve got to get out of here.” This was quite a contrast to inmates who were happy they had only about a week left before release.

When I interviewed Mike at Burrito Loco in Dinkytown, many days after his arrest, Mike still lacked his bike and backpack. The Hennepin County jail sent Mike to the Minneapolis Police Department. Then Mike had to go to the police warehouse. After going three places, Mike was told he couldn’t get his stuff because “it’s evidence.”

“Like, take a picture,” Mike said to me, rolling his eyes.

Mike has been forced to borrow a friend’s bike, which he describes as “ill-fitting, but it works.” On the bright side, it appears Mike won’t be charged with rioting for asking too many questions.

But I think I’d like to ask a question of the police authorities in the Twin Cities, and I think my question is particularly relevant before this metro area hosts the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Is there such a thing as freedom of assembly in the Twin Cities? Or has freedom of assembly in Minneapolis/St. Paul become like the Interstate 35W bridge, which seems so nice and solid, but unexpectedly collapses right when you need it the most?

John Hoff welcomes comments [email protected]