Opinion: I was one of the 136 arrested on April 16 in Brooklyn Center. This is my story.

Will I be out on the streets again after this experience? Absolutely. If anything, this experience further solidified my opinion that I should be out protesting in the first place.

Noor Adwan

I was one of the 136 arrested on April 16 in Brooklyn Center. This is my story.

Before the 16th, I had only ever been to a handful of protests, none of which ever resulted in police violence. Heeding the advice of my friends, I came equipped with a respirator and goggles from Menards, naively assuming that I wouldn’t need them if I wasn’t out past curfew. That assumption turned out to be wrong. Brooklyn Center’s curfew was set for 11 p.m. I was zip-tied on the curb before 10:30 p.m.

The previous night, April 15, had been peaceful. I met up with friends, hung air fresheners at Daunte Wright’s memorial and chanted with other protesters. I left before curfew and later read online that the vast majority of protesters dispersed before the curfew was actually in place.

April 16 was anything but. Chanting swiftly became an unfurling of umbrellas, which swiftly became an eruption of flashbangs and mace, ultimately resulting in what felt like a stampede. I was behind the umbrella barricade, respirator and goggles on, unaware of what was taking place mere feet in front of me when police officers stormed through the gate.

Before all hell broke loose, I was relying on cues from the movements and yells of my fellow protesters regarding how to move. Kneel! Umbrellas to the front! Stand tight! I watched as green smoke unfurled into the sky and flash-bangs went off above me. Next to me, a protester’s umbrella and backpack caught flame from the landing of a flashbang, and she moved quickly to douse it with her water bottle. I was nervous but committed to staying put and showing my support.

“Stick together! Stay tight! We do this every night!” someone called out.

“Stick together! Stay tight! We do this every night!” I responded with the others, my respirator lending a muffled, alien quality to my voice.

I watched a young protester fall back, retching, as tears streamed down their face. The result of either tear gas or mace, I figured, but I was fortunate enough to not be able to tell the difference because of my protective equipment.

This went on for several minutes before I felt the atmosphere change. Those in the very front began shuffling backward, slowly at first, and then with increasing speed.

“Fall back!” someone cried out, cutting through a wall of frantic, indistinct sound.

All form was lost as umbrellas were tossed and protesters turned and ran, granting me the first glimpse of the fence I had caught in a while. It was now obscured by a wall of heavily armed officers, their riot shields at the ready.

I turned to run before a mammoth force collided with me from behind; I fell to the ground and curled into a ball, my head in my arms.

“Get on the fucking ground!”

I wasn’t in the mood to tell him that I was already on the ground. Instead, I panicked silently as I felt a large man land on me, pushing me over onto my stomach and placing his hands all over me. Presumably, he was conducting a pat-down, but he did so more aggressively than methodically. The bulk in my pockets from my cell phone and various other items was ignored. Once the weight was lifted, I raised my head to look up. A large man stood over me.

“You’re under fucking arrest. Hands behind your back.” I sat up and put my hands behind my back.
“On your stomach!”

I complied. I winced as the officer tightened the cuffs around my wrists but said nothing. He had me roll over, then pulled me up and sat me on the curb with countless others. My phone buzzed. Once. Twice. Three times. A long buzz — I was being called. More little buzzes. I wanted more than anything to reach for my phone, but my hands were, well, tied.

Scanning my surroundings, I noticed that the vast majority of the arrestees looked like me: teenagers, mostly femmes. I was incredulous, to say the least. How could this have happened? What did we do that was unlawful? We were loud, sure, but did that warrant a mass arrest? I wondered if the reason why so many of us were young women was because we were a representative sample of the body of protesters or because we were easy to catch. I kept my questions to myself.

“Are you okay?”

I turned to face a kind looking girl, also zip-tied and sitting on the curb. It was the first of many times I would be asked that question that night.

“I’m alright,” I responded. “I’ve never been arrested before. Have you?”

She shook her head. I would discover as the night went on that the majority of us were first-time arrestees.

For the next hour or so, I watched the night unfold from the curb. An officer tripped over a pile of confiscated umbrellas, and we laughed. “I did that just for y’all,” he said to us, chuckling.

Later, I heard more laughter from a group of three officers huddled around a phone — watching footage of the protest, presumably. “It totally reminds me of the movie ‘300’ when we charged out there,” I heard one of the officers say, laughing. The others giggled in response. I cringed. Was this some sort of sport for them?

At some point, I asked for my cuffs to be loosened, as I was beginning to lose sensation in my fingers. Two officers felt them and decided they were fine, and they refused. I asked a second time later and was also denied.

After some time, I was picked up by an officer and led to another group of individuals. A brutish-looking man began talking loudly to his partner. “Anyone with goggles or a gas mask is going in for PC felony riot. Everyone else is unlawful assembly. Look for bike helmets without bikes, too.”

He turned to me. “You wearing shin guards?”

I was patted down on my legs again.

“She’s got boots on.”

This was somehow the tipping point for me; it was as if I had finally realized the absurdity of the situation. “They’re Docs,” I snapped. “I’m wearing a respirator because you were gassing us.”

He furrowed his brow at me, and somehow raised his voice even louder. “You were engaged in offensive behavior against the police.”

“Goggles and masks are defensive,” I responded.

He ignored me and took a picture of my face, respirator and goggles still on. The respirator was too complicated to take off for him, it seemed, so it was cut off of my face with scissors. My KN95 fell to the ground, and it was not returned to me.

My bag was then searched and its contents, along with my cell phone, were thrown in a garbage bag. I was made to sit on the ground with another group of people. Shortly after, another young woman was made to sit next to me.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I got beat,” she responded.

I opened my mouth to reply before stopping. I realized how little help anything I could say would be. Failing to come up with an adequately comforting response, I elected to apologize.

This woman and I were then moved to a small van. At this point, we had been cuffed for about two hours. After another long wait, we finally began to move. Neither of us had been strapped in, and our restraints made it impossible to do so ourselves, so we were forced to balance ourselves upright on the cold seats with our planted feet and restrained hands. I watched our movements as we headed downtown.

“Maybe they’ll get us Burger King,” someone in the opposite compartment of the van said, presumably in reference to Dylann Roof’s 2015 arrest.

The 10 minutes of the drive came and went before we were unloaded at the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility. We were shuffled around, asked questions and finally provided with masks. This latter item seemed to be more of a formality than anything, considering that none of the officers we encountered seemed concerned about COVID safety. The majority of them were maskless, and many of the ones who were masked took the nose-out approach. Zero attempts were made at any form of social distancing, and I later heard secondhand that some officers were joking about this lack of safety: “Six feet my ass,” one of them said.

We headed inside one by one. My cuffs were finally snipped off. I was instructed to place my hands on the wall, and, in doing so, I was able to see my hands for the first time in a painful three hours. They were unrecognizable — swollen and red, with thick red marks sliced a millimeter into either wrist. My thumbs felt foreign and devoid of sensation. At the time I am writing this, over 48 hours after being uncuffed, I still have yet to regain sensation in parts of my hand.

About 12 of us were moved to a holding area and called out, one by one, to go get changed. I was last. I spent part of my waiting period doing jumping jacks and high knees in the cell, hoping to regain control over my anxious mind. Some of the girls in the cell across from mine began to do the same. It made me smile for the first time in a while — we were all going through the same thing.

I was then called and made to change into your standard, orange prison wear before being moved to another, equally small holding cell where we waited to be called to begin the long and tedious booking process. Three others, the woman I was in the van with plus the two girls who joined me in my little spurt of exercise, were then moved to a room with me that was impossibly small — maybe 4×8 feet — for what was at least another hour.

It’s worth noting here that one of the worst parts of this experience was the lack of a sense of time. My timeline for this night is rough, substantiated only by glimpses of officers’ computer screens and the occasional person I ran into with a watch. But I do know that at this point it was at least four in the morning. I was zip-tied by 10:30 p.m., in the transport van at 12:30 a.m., in the first cell, waiting to change clothes, at a bit past 1:30 in the morning. By the time I was moved to this impossibly small room, it was roughly 4:00 a.m. We were all exhausted, with no access to food, water or beds. There was a bathroom in the previous two rooms, but not this one. I was kept from dozing off, I imagine, by adrenaline and stress.

We were then called out of the room, one by one, for mugshots and to go through our belongings. I was permitted to go through my phone and take down three numbers. I chose my mother’s two numbers and my boyfriend’s mother’s number. I was also asked to look at the inventory list of my belongings. My emergency $20 bill was missing, but everything else seemed to be in order. My $8.50 in bus quarters had been deposited into a commissary account.

I was then moved to another small cell that I would call my home for nearly the next five hours — from 5:30 a.m. to shortly after 10 a.m. This time there were about 20 of us, all arrestees from the previous night’s protest. We would be called out seemingly at random, at random intervals, to complete other parts of the booking process. Get fingerprinted. Talk to the booking officer. Make a phone call. Talk to the nurse.

The bulk of our booking was completed between when I entered the room and perhaps 7 a.m. Between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., the officers took a prolonged breakfast break. We cracked jokes at one of the officers’ inability to finish a Mountain Dew in under an hour. Who drinks Mountain Dew first thing in the morning, anyway? No one left the room during that period, despite our buzzes on the intercom asking to continue to be processed.

There was a bathroom, but no toilet paper or soap. We buzzed the intercom panel and requested those items. Half an hour later, a single roll of toilet paper arrived. We buzzed again and asked again for soap.

“No soap down here.”

One woman complained of being hungry and thirsty. She buzzed in and asked when we would be fed.

“It’s called the jail diet!” an officer yelled back in response.

At around 9 a.m., I was called out to make my phone calls. I dialed one for English, then one again for collect. I entered my inmate PIN number. I dialed the phone number I wanted to call. It took a few tries, but I was finally able to get through to my mother, who was beyond confused.

“Hey, Mom,” I said. “Uh, Noor?”

I told her what had happened and that I was okay, just a bit shaken up. I learned that my friends had gotten out okay and that my boyfriend would be able to take care of the cats in my absence, something I was particularly concerned about.

I also cried, briefly, for the first time that night. It was like the surreality of the situation had finally subsided. This wasn’t a nightmare or a daydream. I was in jail. I was going to be here, isolated and anxious, until Monday at noon (assuming I wasn’t charged with anything, according to the booking officer). It had only been 11 hours at this point. I had to endure 50+ more?

Following the conversation with my very concerned mother, I called the National Lawyers Guild with a number provided to me by a fellow arrestee prior to our transport. I had been repeating it in my head all night: 612-444-2654. Six one two, then three fours, then twenty-six fifty-four. A man with a pleasant voice was on the other line. He asked for some personal information and then was able to pull up the rest on the county website. He told me I was only being held, I was not being charged with anything, and that I could expect to get out Tuesday at the latest.

“What you feel right now — this isolation you feel,” I remember him saying, “is nothing compared to the love you will receive when you are out. There are people outside supporting you.”

I remember these words almost exactly because they were so comforting. I thanked him for his help and kindness and then hung up before returning to good ol’ cell 4, where I remained for another hour or so before finally moving to a pod.

Before I moved to a cell with a bed, however, I had to go through one final bit of processing. I stopped at a desk and provided my information to a woman behind the desk. She asked me a variety of questions, including whether or not I believed that other people were capable of controlling my mind.

“Uhh … no?” I said. I mentioned that I hadn’t eaten in nearly a day.

“Maybe you should’ve packed a brown bag lunch before you went out and caused trouble,” she said. She did provide me with an apple and a granola bar, however, which I appreciated.

I was then moved to a proper cell. The floor was filthy, and there was garbage in the sink, but there was a bed! I ignored the mysterious substance on the mattress and began to make my bed. “It’s just like summer camp,” I remember thinking, forcing a smile. The blanket was paper-thin and dotted with holes, and there wasn’t a pillow. Despite that, I fell asleep nearly immediately, after going more than 24 hours without sleep. Sometime later, I was woken up by a brown bag shoved through a slot in my door.

“Grab your lunch, ladies.”

My entree was a hamburger bun with a single slice of a mysterious, meat-like substance inside. I wasn’t particularly hungry anymore, but I forced myself to eat anyway. I consolidated my trash into a pile on the desk and then went back to sleep.

An indeterminate amount of time later, I was woken up again by another loud voice. I had a visitor.

Confused, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes before following the officer to another group of arrestees. We were taken down to the visitation room to discover that the Lawyers Guild had sent representatives for us to talk to. I had a conversation with a kind man named Garrett who, with a mask on, bore a startling resemblance to comedian John Mulaney. He repeated much of what I had already heard on the phone, but his presence was welcome anyway, as it was nice to have someone to talk to.

Once we were returned to our cells, I fell asleep and was awakened a third and final time. “Adwan, you’re being released. Grab your things.”

What? It was only Saturday afternoon. I certainly wasn’t going to argue, however, so I made my way out. I met with another group of arrested protesters. The air was celebratory. I was thrilled, but I still had questions: Was everyone being released, or just us? Why so soon?

Thankfully, the process of moving out was much more expeditious than the process of moving in. I changed back into my street clothes and had my belongings returned to me, with the exception of my phone — taken for investigation by a Deputy Glanzer. Within half an hour, I was standing outside, sun on my face.

I was incredibly lucky. All in all, I was in custody for under 24 hours. It was uncomfortable and traumatic, but I was aware of just how lucky I was. At the time of my writing this, there are still protesters being held, and there will be more. I type this from the comfort of my home while others are still in jail for doing, quite frankly, the same things I was — standing in support of the community and state that I love.

One silver lining to be mentioned in all of this is the sense of camaraderie that I experienced. The other individuals I was arrested with kept their heads up and tried to make the best of an awful situation. We cracked jokes on the bus. We played charades in that miserable cell 4 where we were held for five hours. We advocated for one another when we needed something. We listened to each others’ stories and provided emotional support. We hugged one another. We made sure we all knew the numbers to call for legal aid. All of this, and so many other little anecdotes. We were, for the most part, all strangers to one another, but we came together in our collective time of need.

Will I be out on the streets again after this experience? Absolutely. If anything, this experience further solidified my opinion that I should be out protesting in the first place. The forces occupying Brooklyn Center right now don’t want peace. They want obedience, and they will scare the hell out of you to get it. They’ll mace you, gas you or hold you in jail for days with no intention of actually charging you. They are not out here for the people. They’re here to enforce the status quo.

The community is different. We assist in mutual aid efforts: food drives, supply drives, donations. We put together memorials. We support one another in our grieving, personal and collective. We rally on the streets when life is taken.

Was every cop I encountered that night evil or soulless? Of course not. To ascribe a monolithic identity to all police officers — be it good or evil, is to detract from the gravity of the situation. There were moments of humanity: The officer who didn’t zip-tie us on our way out. The woman at the processing desk who fed me. But these positive anecdotes do little to detract from the reality that is we live in a world where law enforcement can, without repercussions, round up 136 people, mostly teenagers, and hold them for hours or days without any intention of charging them. Where officers can indiscriminately put an end to countless Black and Brown lives. Where an officer can kill a Black man at a traffic stop and only spend five hours in jail. The reality is that these are not a monolithic group of people. They’re complex human beings who, at the end of the day, all choose to take part in this system. And that reality is perhaps harder to contend with than the idea that every single cop is evil and nothing else.

This OpEd was submitted by Noor Adwan, a Palestinian American artist and sophomore at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Minnesota born and raised, she has a strong love for the Twin Cities community. Her interests include painting, reading and participating in local activism. 

This OpEd essay has been lightly edited for style and clarity.