Jailed and bailed, but never charged

Police said things like, "Do you think it was worth it, now?" to arrested individuals.

John Hoff

She stood next to her fallen bike, hands raised in a gesture of surrender.

This wasn’t the way things were supposed to go. Alice Battey, 22, went to the Critical Mass bike ride on Aug. 31 to have fun before kicking off her post-college “real life.” She had just graduated from the University with a degree in child psychology, finished packing for a move and was planning a job search.

The officer ordered Battey down on the pavement and placed her in handcuffs. She asked what the charge was, and the reply was something like, “You’ll find out soon enough.”

In the paddy wagon, Battey was miserable as sweat ran into her eyes, the perspiration full of pepper spray. Somehow, the slim and athletic young biker managed to use the leather strap of her sandals to wipe her eyes.

Though Battey won’t buy animal products, she found her sandals on a beach. She can wear the sandals because she is “more freegan than vegan.”

Fear was evident in the faces of the other arrestees, yet they tried to keep the mood light by telling tame jokes of the “guy walks into a bar” variety. Believing their words might be taped, they took no chances.

Battey wanted to preserve the video on her cell phone as evidence, and thought about ways to retrieve the phone from her pocket, extract the memory chip, and hide the chip in her dreadlocks. She found these things impossible to accomplish in handcuffs. However, when Battey got her phone back from police, it still had the videos. Battey thinks the police just weren’t smart enough to figure out her cell phone.

Three times, Battey asked her arresting officer about her bike, asking if it would be taken care of. Each time, the officer assured Battey. However, Battey later found out “My bike was just left in the (expletive) street.”

In fact, at least five other bikes were left abandoned. Some good citizen in the neighborhood collected the bikes and posted an ad on Craigslist, which led to Battey recovering her bike.

Battey was never read her rights, but police tried to chat up the arrestees, saying stuff like, “Was it worth it? Do you think it was worth it, now?” Nobody risked answering.

No opportunity was given during booking to clean the pepper spray from their bodies, but police did switch the arrestees “from regular to industrial-sized Zip Tie cuffs.” One woman had her cuffs on so tight her hands lost feeling.

Battey saw a nurse while being booked. According to Battey, the nurse said Minneapolis police put “nerve gas” in their pepper spray. The kind nurse gave Battey a granola bar and water.

Battey was given “orange and ugly” jail clothes. The short sleeves were a problem because the jail got cold, and Battey only had one blanket; gray, thin and inadequate. At night, the lights only dimmed while inmates tried to sleep.

Denied a vegetarian meal choice, Battey finally got so hungry she had to be practical and eat bread with “slimy butter” and “chicken noodle slop.”

Surely, I think, the loose and practical doctrines of the freegans must have some exceptions for incarcerated persons.

The whole time she was in jail, Battey believed her Critical Mass buddies had not abandoned her. Her best friend Katy Howard and the others would be trying to free her, the child psych major told herself.

According to an e-mail from Howard, whose eyewitness recollections differ in some respects, Battey and another friend were ahead of her, “trying to wait for me as the cops physically pushed them along.”

Howard said she felt “a bit forlorn and scattered.” The police were taking up the street so “we couldn’t really bike on like they wanted us to. It was awkward as hell. I felt so uncomfortable alongside these violent, seemingly soulless people.”

Eyes stinging from pepper spray, Howard made a break for her freedom and “somehow the arrogant brutes let me through.” But “a hundred feet later, I look behind me and hear them tell Alice to get off her bike. That made me so angry because I knew she hadn’t done anything wrong.”

At the jail, two of Battey’s comrades, Alia Trindle and Julia Bates, were released on bail. Now the last Critical Mass detainee in that section of the jail, Battey felt so alone she curled up and wept.

An East African lady, who had been mostly silent among the women accused of various crimes (none of which Battey considered worthy of doing jail time) gently massaged Battey’s back. Another woman, “in jail because her probation paperwork got lost by the system,” offered comforting words.

Thirty hours after her arrest, Battey was free on $3,000 bail. Friends, family, and a committee at the Jack Pine Center had been making sustained efforts to free the arrestees, right down to making sandwiches with mock bologna and Vegenaise. Battey’s friend Ben brought her one of the sandwiches.

“I can’t talk yet,” Battey said to Ben. For 20 minutes, Battey sat in a courtyard area of the jail, full of emotions but unsure how to move forward, not just from that spot but with her whole promising post-college life.

The experience of injustice and being targeted for politically-motivated arrest has changed Battey’s outlook. She is less afraid of jail now that she has experienced it. The food and bedding were bad, Battey said, but “I’ve had worse.”

Asked about what kind of summary statement she wished to make, Battey thought it would be easier if she tried to write. Pulling out a journal made of brown recycled paper, decorated with a little piece of bike chain, Battey worked thoughtfully for a while, finally producing the following words:

“I want the police to know that this action changed a lot of minds. It didn’t deter me from activism as they had hoped, but committed me to fighting this kind of injustice for the rest of my life.”

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]