Nina Lazar, who leads the Cedar Grove/Totowa/Woodland Park town team, recently shared a narrative from her granddaughter, Kenna, who participated in demonstrations in Brooklyn, NY at the end of May, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. This is an excerpt from Nina’s email, which introduces her granddaughter’s account of her own treatment and what she observed during this turbulent series of events.
[What follows] is my granddaughter’s account of her experience during the recent protests. These are (some of the) photos she took. Unfortunately, the police confiscated her camera when she was arrested.
I am very proud of her participation in this historic movement and extremely grateful that she is safe and able to witness the positive outcomes that she and her fellow protesters helped to achieve… There’s much more work to do, and thankfully, the youth are clearly ready, willing and able to grab the baton. It’s such a relief for us veterans. We get weary at times, having been at this for so many years, but we cannot quite allow ourselves to rest while there is still so much to be done. It’s a real comfort to know that the youth are prepared to rise to the occasion. Here is Kenna’s story.
A Peaceful Protest Against Police Brutality: Kenna’s Story
I was arrested twice this weekend while protesting against racist police brutality. I was also pepper sprayed directly in the face and shoved numerous times.
At approximately 9pm, I was arrested for standing in place at the corner of Flatbush Ave and Pacific St, Brooklyn. I had just watched three cops push a young Black woman to the ground and stepped in front of her. I did not resist. I was handcuffed and put on an MTA bus with 16 civilians, 14 arresting officers, and 1 bus driver.
We eventually arrived at the NYPD 5th Precinct in downtown Manhattan. We were escorted off of the bus and were instructed to stand in a very long line next to our arresting officers and with one foot or less between those behind and in front of us. We were still cuffed.
While waiting in line, another officer came up to my arresting officer and asked, “So, when we arrest them, do we take down their information?” This officer already had an arrested civilian who was sitting on a different bus. He did not know the basic protocols of an arrest.
While still waiting in line, I heard an officer tell all of the other officers that they needed to put their firearms in a locker before entering the building. Many had already entered with their firearms. There were large signs stating not to enter with firearms.
After another hour, I was brought inside. They took a photo, removed the cuffs, utilized a metal detector, had me take off my shoes, and put me in a small cell. Inside the cell was a toilet that didn't flush, a roll of toilet paper, a sink with no soap or sanitizer, and a cot.
On my way to the cell, I passed a holding room that was completely filled with fellow civilians who had been arrested at the protest. There was no ability to maintain any form of social distancing. I waited in the cell for about a half hour and received no water upon request and no hand sanitizer or soap upon repeated requests.
Eventually, another young woman joined me in this cell (again the police were failing to obey social distancing orders) and we waited together for another half hour before my arresting officer came to retrieve me.
While in the cell, I observed my fellow arrested civilians singing protest songs in harmony. It was both sad and powerful. I love you all.
I also witnessed police officers laughing, hugging, and standing next to each other. Many were not wearing masks.
When my arresting officer took me out of the cell, we walked through a very crowded precinct where I stood in a shorter line. Until we were completely outside of the precinct, I was instructed to keep my hands behind my back, as though I still had cuffs on.
I was greeted by amazing jail support activists who provided me with hand sanitizer, water, and food. They asked that I was okay, both physically and mentally, took my information down to give to legal assistance, and asked if I needed help getting home. Thank you, "Free Them All 2020."
At 12:45am, I walked from the 5th precinct to my apartment in Brooklyn, which is about four miles.
I was nonviolently chanting "No justice! No peace!" I was standing about 2 yards from an officer I had witnessed chase down and beat at least three fellow protestors. He then lunged at me and pepper sprayed me from about 1 foot away.
I fell to the ground and could not see. I felt two fellow protesters try and catch me. They were saying "You're okay. You're okay. We're going to help you." They pulled me to the side and poured water down my face for about 5 minutes. After that time, I could finally open my eyes a little. After about 10 minutes I started being able to see. It burned on every part of my body it touched for much, much longer.
I was arrested a few hours later, at about 9pm. This time, it was for taking a photograph of the wrong cop. He said, “that’s rude,” grabbed my arm, and pulled me back behind the line of cops. Immediately, at least 6 officers surrounded me, while the others stood guard to make sure no other protestors could get close. I did not resist.
I was then brought to the police precinct by three officers, none of whom were my official arresting officer. I repeatedly asked for the name of my arresting officer and my charges. It took 7 hours to receive that information. I never received my call, despite calmly asking each officer who walked past me. There were up to three of us in the cell throughout the night.
We also observed that the cells were segregated. In our row of four, there was one with trans protestors, one with white cis women, one (my cell) with mixed race cis women, and one with non-mixed POC cis women. We could not confirm that the racial segregation was purposeful, but it didn't seem like a mistake.
After ten hours at the precinct, I was released with a desk appearance ticket for misdemeanor charges. My camera was confiscated as “evidence.”
It is vital to note that there are nearly 2.3 million incarcerated people in America, mostly Black and Brown, and always in far worse conditions than those I saw this weekend. Incarceration is a public health crisis, both in and outside of Covid-19. It is a problem.
What is most important about this event is that I am alive. George Floyd is not. So many Black bodies have been murdered, so many Black lives have been stolen. The system has not become broken, it was created this way. They did that on purpose.
I am safe and I will continue to show up until I am no longer able, because these are our streets and until there is justice, they will see no peace.
I also want to make something VERY clear: This is not for praise. I am physically and mentally able to do this right now, so I am out here. As a Jewish-American and a Vietnamese-American, I owe this to my Black siblings who have stepped up for the protection of my people time and time again. We can't all be on the front lines, and that's okay. Do what you can. And, especially to my Black siblings, take care of yourselves first.