Stepping away from the writing life a bit for this post to share with you an experience I had yesterday.
Idahoans are trying to get the Legislature to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human rights act, making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of either. I’ve been participating in various actions for Add The Words Idaho and Add The Four Words Idaho at the statehouse for three or four weeks. I’ve attended a rally, spoken against a bill that would give business people the right to discriminate against gays, and participated in two silent demonstrations, each of which included a couple hundred people. Meanwhile, other supporters were getting arrested. It was time for me to take that plunge.
Yesterday at about 6:30 am about 30 of us met at a location that shall remain secret to group for an arrest and protest. I had been there a couple times before to get training and hear news about the protests. In the early morning darkness the place was lit only by a couple of decorative neon signs and ambient streetlight as we grabbed the Add The Four Words shirts from a box on the floor. It was really too dark to see sizes, so we just took what we first touched.
I donned my shirt, then rolled it up part way so that the message was hidden. We wanted to remain in stealth mode a little longer. As a group, we made our way over to the capitol building, just a few blocks away from where we met in downtown Boise. When we got to the steps we sprinted up and through the doors on the second floor to the west wing of the building, where the governor’s offices are housed. We quickly assured that the doors to to office were all locked, meaning that it was unlikely anyone had gotten to work before we arrived. To assure that no one would be trapped inside in case of emergency, or that we might be accused of kidnapping or false imprisonment, we taped signs facing inward that said, “Knock and we’ll let you out.” Then, we lined up in front of the four entrances to that side of the wing and took our Add The Words Pose. To demonstrate our frustration with the Legislature not even allowing for a hearing on the bill for the past eight years, we stand silently with one hand over our mouths.
I happened to end up in front of the main double doors to the governor’s office with eight or ten other protesters. We locked arms and stood there as a human barrier. Then we waited, staring slightly up and into the distance, as we were trained to do.
After about ten or fifteen minutes an Idaho State Police officer assigned to the governor’s office arrived. “It’s too early for this,” he said. Then he informed us that he needed to get in. We clenched up to form a stronger barrier. He again said he needed to get through. We were silent. He said, “I’ll be back,” and left.
Over the next hour or so at least two cameras from local television stations showed up, along with Spokesman Review reporter Betsy Russell. There was much taking of photos and shooting of video. Everything we do is meticulously captured on video and in still photos to assure we have a record of what happens at the protests. This will supply admissible evidence, if it is ever needed, and give the movement footage for a documentary.
Nicole LaFavour, a leading gay rights activist and former Idaho State Senator, walked between the groups at each door giving us encouragement and keeping us informed. Several others in the movement did the same.
About 8 am, four of us were moved from the main door to the governor’s private entrance door. No one had attempted to enter through the main door after the initial visit by the officer. I did not see any of the governor’s staff attempting to gain entrance or even walking by.
Moving was a relief to me, because it gave me the opportunity to lean back against the door and on the side of the entrance a bit. Standing in one position for over an hour is tiring. Holding your hand to your mouth is tiring, though we do occasionally change hands.
My little group—six of us at this point—were told we would need to move to the back door leading off the rotunda, two at a time with very little notice. A couple of minutes later they called for two of us to go. Two young women moved away and went quickly down the hall.
One of the supporters came back and elaborated on what we were to do. We were to go stand in front of the back door, two of us blocking together. I had been in the room the door led to—had been through all the doors at one time or another. The last time I had been there, it was the larger of the governor’s two conference rooms.
When our time came, Caleb—I learned his name later—and I walked quickly down the hall, keeping our hands over our mouths. When we got around the corner all the focus was on the door. There were TV cameras with bright lights aimed on it, police, and spectators. As we arrived, the police were just arresting the two people in front of the door. As they were taken away, Caleb and I stepped in behind them to block the door.
A state police officer informed us that we were blocking a secured entrance and asked us to leave. He then warned us that we would be arrested if we did not leave. Then, after we stood our ground, he placed us under arrest and asked us to follow him.
We knew what to expect because of our training. The police knew what to expect, because they have been informed that all of these demonstrations are peaceful and it was not our intent to resist arrest.
We followed the officer down the stairs. He cautioned us to watch our steps on the marble stairways. He led us to a room in the basement of the statehouse. It was set up auditorium style with about 40 seats facing a projection screen. In front of the screen were five officers at a table with electronic equipment laid out in front of them with which they would begin to process us.
Nicole and about eight others were already in the room, already in handcuffs or zip ties. Most were cuffed behind their backs, but the officers were quick to change that if someone had a medical issue that caused them discomfort in that position.
The zip tie cuffs are unlike what you have in your garage. The straps are about half an inch wide and about an eighth of an inch thick. Maybe thicker. They are cumbersome, very effective restraints.
Caleb and I were not cuffed immediately, nor was anyone else until all 23 arrested protesters were in the room. They seemed not in a hurry to cuff the rest of us. After a few minutes, it became obvious why. They were waiting for waist chain cuffs to arrive from the county. When those came, the officers gave each of us a bag in which we were told to place our possessions.
It was about this time that Caleb, sitting next to me, got a text from his mother in Texas. She asked if that was him she’d seen on the news. This couldn’t have been more than about 10 minutes after our arrest.
The officers began searching and securing the women first. They were searched by female officers and sent back to their chairs. The rest of us were eventually taken two at a time to a little L-shaped part of the room at the front to undergo our search. The officer who searched me was a woman. Once she was satisfied that I didn’t have any dangerous objects on me she asked if I had any drugs and warned me that taking drugs into the jail was a felony. Then she put the waist chain on me. She asked if I preferred to have the cuffs put over my sleeves or under. I chose over, though it wouldn’t have made much difference. She put the manacles around my wrists, making sure not to secure them tightly. She also told me she was “double-locking” them so that they would stay in that position and not tighten up. I was told to go back to my chair.
While they were cuffing up the other demonstrators, the rest of us were asked to come forward five at a time to begin our processing. We handed the officers at the table our drivers licenses. Idaho licenses have something like a QR code on the back so that they can capture all the data with a wand and transfer it quickly into a specialized Panasonic tablet. The wand didn’t work on mine, so the officer had to enter the data by hand. He groused a little about that, as anyone would, and set about filling in the blanks. Meanwhile, I noticed that he and one other officer were kneeling behind the table, not sitting on chairs. That was uncomfortable for them, which caused a little muttering, but not a word was directed negatively toward us. They were always respectful and professional. All the officers were. Several were even friendly.
We learned that the charges would be somewhat different than for the previous arrests. Unbeknownst to any of us, the “back door” that had once led to the Governor’s conference room, now led to a communication room of some kind used by security. This would lead to an enhanced charge for several, though it wasn’t clear that there was a significant difference. I was charged with “Assembly to disturb peace-refusal to disperse.”
Initial processing in the basement room took about an hour, the result being that everyone’s information was entered into the system, charging papers were filled out, and we were cuffed in various ways, mostly with waist chains and cuffs. We had our belongings in a plastic bag, a copy of our charges and personal information printed out and placed in the bag with our charging papers, with another copy stapled to the outside of the bag. Most of the bags weren’t sealed, but they cautioned us not to get into the bags while we carried them.
A few at a time, they marched us out past the cameras and crime scene tape up the ramp to the circular drive in the front of the capitol where a white, 44-passenger bus awaited us. We were helped into the bus by two officers, making sure we did not stumble or slip as we entered. The door for prisoners is halfway down the side of the bus, allowing entrance to either of two cages inside the bus, one forward and one aft. Each area had sliding expanded metal doors. We were directed to rudimentary plastic seats that had wide bands of non-slip tape mounted on the backs and benches.
We all noted the blue sky through the narrow windows mounted at the top of the walls of the bus. It was a nice day.
When everyone was inside and seated, Ada County deputies closed and latched the cage doors, then locked them with a padlock. The bus backed out of the driveway. It probably wouldn’t have fit beneath the portico of the capital, which in any case has been closed to traffic since 9-11.
We got glimpses of familiar buildings and signs as we traveled through the streets of Boise on our way to the Ada County Jail. Someone thought we should sing. I’m not a singer, but lipped along with “We Shall Overcome,” “Blowin’ In The Wind,” and a couple of other songs I didn’t recognize.
Nicole was sitting behind me. This was her fourth arrest for this series of demonstrations. She knew that she could use her smartphone through the slightly opaque plastic of the bag. Even with the cumbersome zip tie around her wrists she was able to send text updates to supporters and check on media coverage. I tried the same thing and found a photo on a news app of several of us blocking the governor’s doorway. We had arrived at the jail by this time, but were parked there waiting for whatever would happen next. I tried to show the photo to other demonstrators, but was warned “Cell phones off!” by a Boise police officer who had stepped onto the bus.
I’m guessing we were on the bus for about an hour, most of that time waiting for processing to begin. Most of the discussion while we waited was about previous arrests and what those of us who were first-timers could expect. One of the women who was in a zip tie restraint complained that it was biting into her wrists. An Ada County deputy examined the tie and did his best to reposition it. Those have to be cut off, so there wasn’t much more he could do. He suggested a way she could sit that would help and promised to take her in with the first group.
I was in the second-to-the-last group to finally get off the bus. We were led into a large garage, similar to what you might see in a service area at a car dealer. There were a couple of patrol cars parked in there, and later I would see the bus we rode on in that same space. We were taken to a room about 15 feet by 20 feet for initial screening. There they removed our restraints and patted us down, again, this time with our foreheads leaned against a big pad on the wall. I didn’t wear a belt, but if we had them, they asked that we take them off. They went in the bag with our other belongings. Then, we were asked individually to remove our shoes and socks, and turn our socks inside out. The deputy would inspect the shoes, and ask each of us to show her the bottoms of our feet.
Once that was done, we were re-shackled and directed to wait on one of the benches in the room. There were usually three deputies in the room with four to six of us during this process. One of them inventoried our belongings, asked occasional questions about them, and wrote down what we were wearing.
The deputies in this room were particularly gregarious. No mention was made of why we were in the room. They talked about restaurants with each other and with us, making a point to include us in the conversation. At the same time, they took no shortcuts that I could tell. We were thoroughly inspected, to the point of asking us to open our mouths and lift our tongues.
Once everyone had gone through all the stages, we were taken out one at a time, walked back through the garage, and through another doorway. I should mention that the doorways were secure and remotely operated.
I entered a room was and told to sit in one of four chairs against one wall. A couple of other protesters were already in chairs. Across from us were two long counters pointing our direction. There were two chairs against the opposite wall, each occupied by one of our demonstrators. On stools on the other side of the counters, two deputies sat at computers doing intake.
While we waited for our turn in the chairs across from the computers, each of us had to go through another search. This was identical to the last one we went through, heads against a pad while they removed our chains, pat-down, then removal of shoes and showing of tongue. Bonus: That was the last we saw of the chains.
When it was my turn to sit in the special chair down and across from the computer and deputy, I learned that this was where they checked for any previous arrest history and it was where we would sign a sheet stating exactly what possessions were in our plastic bags. Those possessions were then sealed in plastic with a system similar those used for sealing freezer storage bags. I had a twenty dollar bill in my wallet. That went in the bottom of the pouch, and was then sealed off to form its own compartment. My cell phone went into another compartment made on the spot, which was then sealed from my wallet, ID and debit card. Finally, the end of the bag was sealed.
The officer asked a few questions; Where were you born? Blackfoot, Idaho. Who should we contact? Rinda Just. Were you in the military? Yes. What branch? Marine Corps. What kind of discharge? Honorable. How old were you when you were first arrested? Sixty-four.
The officer gave me a little smile about that one.
I was then taken into a fairly large processing area where there was a counter, a fingerprint and photo area, and several rows of fixed chairs. After the deputy escorting me checked with a couple of folks in the room, they put me in a holding cell with another demonstrator.
The room was about the size of a large bathroom and it contained a stainless steel sink/toilet combo neither of us was interested in going near. For one thing, the door to the room had a large glass window that looked out into the processing room where female prisoners and female deputies were walking back and forth. The only other feature of the concrete room was a concrete platform about a foot high and three by six in the other dimensions. It was a combination bench/bed, I suppose. Again, neither of us was interested in napping there. I noticed someone had soaked up several wads of toilet paper and tossed them up to stick on the acoustic tile ceiling. That ceiling did little for the acoustics in the room. It echoed so badly it was difficult to talk, though we persevered in doing so. We could see a clock through the window, and at 12:04 we put one hand over our mouths and stood in silence for a minute. It was the first day of that particular observation. Wherever you were, supporters of Add The Words were supposed to face the capital at 12:04 (4 for the 4 words) and stand that way.
In about a minute, a deputy opened the door and motioned Caleb in to join us. He told us he was being escorted our way when he noticed the clock and asked the deputy if he could observe the moment. The deputy said it was okay, and waited for him to do so.
We were probably in the holding cell for about an hour. Eventually they came to get us for fingerprinting and photos one at a time. I was first.
Standing for a photo is little different than standing for one at the DMV. They take a couple, then ask you to turn sideways. You are not holding a black letter board with your name in white letters along with your inmate number. Any ID associated with the photo, no doubt, is electronically included.
Fingerprinting is also electronic. They had taken the prints from the middle and index fingers from each of my hands in the room where they inventoried my possessions. Here, they took prints of the four fingers of your right hand all at once, then the right thumb, then the left thumb and left four fingers at once. But wait, there’s more! They rolled each finger and thumb, then took prints of my palm, the side of my hand, and the whole hand. Each step along the way took two or three times until the machine was happy with the result.
When fingerprinting was complete, they attached a larger version of the hospital wristband many of us are familiar with to my wrist. It displayed my brand new booking picture, my name and birthdate.
At that point I was taken through another remotely operated door and into another room with a counter. One deputy there confirmed some information and told me I’d have to wait a while for processing to make its way through the system and spit out on the other side of the wall where the Add The Words folks had a bail bondsman ready to get us out.
Another deputy took me to another, much larger, holding cell. Before he locked the door behind me he gave me a card that had a handwritten number that I could use to make a call. There was a phone on one wall of the room, which was about 15 by 20 feet with solid concrete platforms serving as benches on two sides, and a low concrete wall that partially screened another sink/toilet combo. There was no-one else in the room, so I was relieved to have a semi private opportunity to use the toilet.
A few minutes later my companions from the first holding cell joined me. If anything, the acoustics in this room were worse. Still, we chatted. There wasn’t any way to browse Facebook or play Words With Friends.
We exchanged information about what we did for a living, where we’d traveled, and what our politics were like. We were simpatico, for the most part on the latter, not surprisingly. Both of the men were in their late 20s or early 30s. We spent about another hour in there before moving on to the next station.
A deputy came to get us and escort us through a warren of hallways and electronic doors where the three of us were joined by one of the women protesters. As it turned out, we were the last four to be released.
We were taken to another room that had about 30 fixed chairs in front of TV. One orange-clad inmate was watching. Meanwhile, two women at a counter prepared our release papers, then asked us to sign for our possessions. Note that the pens they offered were barely useable and barely pens. Soft, skinny things that would only be a weapon against, perhaps, Jell-O. Oh, and they took electronic fingerprints of the middle and index fingers of both hands, again.
After we got our papers and possessions we were led through another door, where they pointed to the main lobby of the facility. There we found Nicole and a handful of others waiting with a variety of snacks, bottles of water and such. Rides were available to take us back to our cars. Most important, two women were on hand to take our debit card info for our bonds.
It was about 3:30. Outside the sky was blue. It was the end of a long day that had started in the dark before 6:30 am.
It was a stressful, uncomfortable day. I never felt in any danger. But, yes, uncomfortable at just about every turn. The most uncomfortable part, for me at least, was the demonstration itself. Standing for almost two hours on marble floors in one position makes your legs hurt and your feet fall asleep. You shift your weight, of course, to make it better, but it isn’t any fun. That makes me pause when I think about doing this again, then I remember a story one of my gay cellmates told.
He told of the four friends he had lost to suicide. He found his best friend hanging from a tree in his parents’ backyard, his neck broken. The parents listed his death as a skiing accident. My cellmate told of the friend he had lost to suicide by gun, and another who had slit her wrists. Then he told of walking across a bridge with several friends when one of them, a girl, said, “I’m done,” and just jumped over the edge.
Those four people were uncomfortable, too. So uncomfortable, so bullied, so despairing, that they took their own lives.
You hear debates about how much or how little Idaho’s business community might suffer if the Legislature doesn’t amend the Idaho Human Rights Act to include the four words. That seems to be one of the few things the Legislature and the governor have any concern about. Could this hurt business?
This is about hurting people, and bringing a measure of that hurt to an end. It is about recognizing that we all have the same rights to life and the pursuit of happiness. Uncomfortable as that may be, for some.