[For those who’ve read the previous post, please know that about half of this material is repeated.]
On Friday, January 6, I took a bus from my home in Boston to Manchester, NH. I was planning to attend a few Republican primary events, write a few posts for this blog, maybe cross-post them on HuffPo, and head home the next day.
But the famous retail politics atmosphere of New Hampshire was exhilarating. I was watching the candidates up close, trading notes with citizens and reporters about the campaigns, and then slurping up diner food while I processed my thoughts. I decided to stick around for a few more days, so I rented a car and found a family friend in Nashua who offered a spare bed.
On Monday, January 9, I drove a couple of towns over to see Mitt Romney speak at the Gilchrist Metal Fabricating Company in Hudson, NH. I walked into the big machine shop, put my backpack and jacket down on a seat near the stage, asked a neighbor to watch them, and went off to find a restroom. Afterward, I was chatting up a campaign staffer when a police officer approached. Sir, we have to ask you to leave the premises.
“Sir, is this about my backpack? I’d be happy to show you – there’s nothing dangerous in there.”
“No, sir – we’ll explain it to you outside.”
I gathered my things and walked past a group of citizens and press, humiliated and confused.
Outside, the officer said, “Sir, the campaign has identified you as someone who was at a protest at Romney’s office in Manchester.”
Now I was really confused. Protest? I didn’t even know there had been protests at Romney’s headquarters, and if there had been, I certainly hadn’t been at them. (Later, after I got out of jail, I looked on the web; I still haven’t found any news stories about protests at Romney’s offices here, though Occupy protesters have attended several of his events.)
I explained to the officer – his name was Lamarche, and his partner’s was Ducie – that there must have been some misunderstanding. Could I speak to someone from the campaign to clear this up? No. I’d have to leave immediately.
I asked about his authority to remove me. “We’re working for the Romney campaign,” he said. I asked if he was on-duty; he said he was. My confusion deepened. So was he working for the town of Hudson today, or for the campaign? “Both.” (Later, I think I got it straight: the campaign hired the police for the day, sort of like a private security detail.)
I thought about Romney’s campaign staff inside. They had mistaken me for someone else, and that was enough – I was out. They had imagined trouble and whisked it away, out of sight. And the police – my police – were being paid to do their bidding.
I asked again to speak to someone from the campaign or the company who owned the plant. The officer refused; the company had delegated authority to the campaign, and the campaign had authorized the police to remove anyone the campaign didn’t want present. But wouldn’t it be simple for me to just talk to someone and explain the mistake? Too many people around, the cop said. Apparently it would be too big a bother. I either had to leave the company’s property or face charges for criminal trespass.
My reason-seeking brain couldn’t take in what was happening. I had come here to be a part of the primary process, to see it first-hand and to write about it. I had already attended events with Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, and Newt Gingrich (and I would later see Ron Paul and Buddy Roemer). In each of these instances, I had come to understand the candidates and their views better and had developed greater respect for each of them. And I fully expected that the same would happen with Romney.
In other words, I came because I was curious, and on my own nickel. I wasn’t part of any protest group or in anyone’s employ. Couldn’t we just have a reasonable conversation and figure this out?
I asked another question or two, and the cop had had enough: “You’re under arrest.” He took my things, handcuffed me behind my back, searched me, and tucked me into a nearby cruiser. I could overhear him talking about going through my things, and he answered a question from the media. I was “the subject.”
A few minutes later, an officer removed me from the cruiser and had me lean up against another police car and spread my legs for a second search. Two or three TV crews had their cameras trained on us; I felt ashamed in a wholly unfamiliar way. I wanted to look directly at the cameras and explain what had happened, but I feared the police officers’ reaction.
I was tucked into the second cruiser and driven away. The camera crews continued filming. A protester – oh, did I mention that there was an actual protest there? – yelled, “Free the prisoner.”
At the police station, an officer put me in a cage and asked to remove my shoes, belt, and sweatshirt and place them on the floor between us. He asked me to lift my feet so he could inspect them. He did so tentatively, from a distance.
An officer named Manni and another officer processed my paperwork. As they did so, they told me not to go back to “that area” when I was released. I indicated that I understood I wasn’t permitted to be on the company’s land or in their facilities, but surely I could go back to the street if I so chose – it’s public property, after all. Don’t go back to that area, they said. If you go back, you might cause a disturbance or a riot, and you could be arrested for disorderly conduct.
I tried to keep calm and ask even-keeled questions. Were they telling me I wasn’t even permitted in the street near the facility? And if so, on what grounds? (I wondered, Is the Romney campaign just permitted to cordon off a whole neighborhood?)
And then the following exchange took place. I began to ask, “If I express my First Amendment freedoms –
And Officer Manni interjected, “You’ll probably be arrested.”
I couldn’t locate words. (I’m not entirely sure he said ‘probably,’ but I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.)
It was clear to me that the two officers had no interest in discussing what the law actually said, or what my rights actually entailed. I was paperwork, and they wanted to get it over with. I kept asking questions, and at one point, one of them opened up the New Hampshire legal code and read me the definition of disorderly conduct. He read the words dully, as if they were just syllables, with no interest at all in what they meant.
I asked the officer if he could help me connect what he’d just read with my situation and understand why it would be a problem to return to the street outside the event. He told me that I might return and say things that “aren’t what others think.” [It might have been “aren’t what others believe” or “aren’t what most others believe.” I’m not 100% sure.] It was incredible – he actually paused before he said those words, as if searching for something politically correct to say. I don’t think he realized that the words he found had so little to do with the letter and spirit of our laws and Constitution.
I opted for bail, and I was brought back out to the holding cell for mug shots. (Officer Manni made sure that I knew not to smile. “The court doesn’t like that. They take it as an insult.”) He then took a second set of mug shots in a different room. (The first, if I remember correctly, were for the local police department’s records. The second would be sent to other state and local law enforcement agencies and the FBI.)
Last came fingerprints. The prints involved no ink; instead, a digital machine captured my “finger slaps.” Each time the laser-reader scanned my fingerprints and recorded the image, it read “Scan Complete!”
Officer Manni put me back in the holding cell to wait for the bail bondsman, and I sat there for the next couple of hours. At some point, he offered to let me make a call, and he allowed me to use my own phone to do so. “Can I make more than one?” I asked. He didn’t care: “You’re not a murderer.”
So I called a journalist friend, hoping she was nearby. (I only had $16 in my wallet, and I wasn’t sure if I’d need help making bail.) I called my dad, too, and a couple of other friends. Then, remembering I had internet access, I searched for news of the arrest. It had been reported by a local CBS affiliate. Unfortunately, the reporters (or the police with whom they interacted) had gotten the facts wrong. (Contrary to what the story had indicated, I had never spoken with the owner of the company where the event had been held. In fact, I had asked Officer Lamarche for that very privilege and been denied.)
I was humiliated again. There was a picture of me looking like a thousand other pictures I’d seen, being cuffed and taken away. I saw myself like I imagined others did: Just some jerk who refused to play by the rules and got himself arrested by good, upstanding policemen. And I was in a cage with no way to respond.
I sat and talked with Officer Manni. After what had felt like a tense conversation earlier, he was friendly with me – I was freezing in the holding cell, and he let me have my sweatshirt and jacket. We chatted about his time as a cop in Boston, and we joked about Hahvahd. He answered my questions about what might happen at the arraignment as best he could.
Eventually, nearly four hours after Officer Lamarche had first taken me aside, the bail bondsman appeared. He was friendly enough, though he – like some of the other policemen at the station – seemed to think I had been protesting down at the event. I explained otherwise, and he brushed it aside. What had happened or hadn’t happened wasn’t his concern; he was interested in getting through the procedure and making sure I didn’t get in any more trouble.
He issued me an order to appear at an arraignment in Nashua on January 26th; I would face a charge of criminal trespass. I told him I didn’t have enough money to pay my bail, but that I’d be happy to go to a nearby ATM and get it. He offered me a ride, and we chatted along the way.
I liked him. He didn’t seem to think I was a bad guy, and he treated the whole thing matter-of-factly. I asked if there was any way this wouldn’t appear on my record, and he said no. Make sure you appear at that court date, he said. He explained how things might shake out at the arraignment – what my plea options were, that kind of thing. He seemed to genuinely want things to go well for me. And when he dropped me off at my car, he had some last words of advice, “Don’t hang around this area.” Apparently, even hours after the event had ended, the Romney campaign and the local police were still present, nibbling away at my freedoms.