This story of Police over-reaction to peaceful people non-violently expressing their free speech on a day supposedly dedicated to observing freedom comes to Nevada Cop Block by way of a personal friend of mine from Reno. Paul Lenart, a longtime labor activist, founding member of the Reno IWW GMB, and member of Occupy Reno, provided this personal account of the aftermath of what was a peaceful march in support of a local homeless person, who had his arm broken while being arrested by Officer David Schimmel of the Reno Police Department. It has been reported that this injury occurred as the result of him being slammed on the ground while handcuffed.
The pictures included (as well as some additional background info) were originally posted on Occupy Reno‘s Flickr photostream. Paul’s narrative of the incident is included in its entirety with only minor style and grammar edits. The original can be viewed here. (All links within the text were inserted by NVCB for informational purposes. In essence, they represent editorial commentary and not necessarily opinion or facts attributable to Paul or anyone else involved in the action being described.)
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The Action Committee of Occupy Reno was meeting on the evening of Memorial Day when we were visited by the self-styled Oakland Nomads. We had agreed earlier that we approved of an anti-police brutality action in the wake of a homeless man’s arm being broken by a cop. About 12 of us, a mixed group of locals and visitors, began a spontaneous march past the bus station from Wingfield Park.
Some chants included language not generally heard in church but common enough on HBO and in the culture generally. As we turned a corner onto 2nd street leading toward downtown, we were stopped by a “peace officer” pointing a shotgun at us (ammunition type undetermined as yet). When I say “pointing,” I mean held in a firing position, pointed from shoulder, as at the range, not vaguely in our direction.
No order to disperse was ever given, no escape route was afforded. Immediately 30 cops started cuffing and pushing us against a fence. When we were all cuffed and safe the police sat everyone on the curb with legs extended and feet crossed, hands behind backs. My flexibility isn’t what it used to be, so I asked whether lotus position or zazen kneeling was an acceptable alternative posture.
After fifteen minutes, they let me stand in deference to my gray hair, I suppose. An extended conversation about wife, kids, and vacations with “my” arresting officer did not include any mention of the right to remain silent or to have an attorney present. Nice enough fellow, though.
We were loaded into a transport vehicle; at least it did not have “Welcome to Reno” on its front. Two young black people were in my transport (I think we only filled two vehicles total). The woman was very upset at having been put in a sort of standing only cage, rather than sitting on the benches with her friend and the rest of us.
At the end of the drive, we were turned over to County custody for booking at the Washoe Sheriff’s facility near Stead. While going through initial processing, they asked me whether I would answer all their questions. I said, “Well, that depends on what you ask, I guess,” which seemed reasonable enough, given that the presumption of privacy on details not relevant to the arrest still (I thought) exists. Wrong answer, apparently. Washoe maintains a zero-tolerance approach to anything other than absolute docility.
So I spent the next six hours in the drunk tank with one other demonstrator and four snoring rummies. This was my first experience in a drunk tank while sober, but the layout was pretty standard: drain in the middle, no view of the hall outside, four platforms that stole your body heat somewhat slower than the concrete floor, and six inmates wearing only trousers and t-shirts. Eventually they took me out to continue processing. I regret to say that I enabled their authoritarian addiction by being completely docile, proving that their methods “work.”
As a reward, between questions (which were, in the event, appropriate, that’s all they had to tell me earlier), I sat in a plastic chair watching NASCAR on tv with other prisoners. There was an interview with a nurse which determined that, yes, I was overdue for my heart pills, no, they probably didn’t have my anti-arhythmics, but don’t fret, no atrial fibrillation yet.
Next, I spoke to a social worker type in an interview that determined I was, in fact, eligible for release on O.R. Ironically, if you have the means to bail yourself out, you don’t have to pay, but if you don’t, you do have to pay, although you can’t; a conundrum. About six a.m. I was putting the contents of my wallet (drivers’ license, credit card, VA card, red card) back together and got my shoes and their insoles back.
A half hour later, my wife picked me up, so I could take her to work. The other locals were already out, but the visitors were held until late afternoon, then had their charges reduced from “parading without a permit” to “failure to stay on sidewalks (jaywalking?),” then released after nolo pleas with time served. When I spoke to them, they were still waiting for the bus tickets home they had been promised. It’s been 41 years since my last “political” arrest, so I was a little rusty, but I tried to maintain the proper attitude that we all sang about in the holding room: “Always look on the bright side of life” (Life of Brian by Monty Python).
In addition, via personal conversation between Paul and I, I was told that this march
was never disruptive beyond straying off the sidewalk briefly just prior to the arrests being made and the aforementioned chanting of PG level slogans. This begs the obvious question of whether it was necessary for them to be arrested in the first place. It further brings into question why no command to disburse or opportunity to abandon the march was ever given for those who may not have wanted to continue to the point of an arrest. In essence, they were ambushed by the gang unit (whose use begs even more questions) without any forewarning, using unnecessarily overwhelming numbers, and a questionable threat of force (the aiming of a shotgun at unarmed and easily visible people).
Was this really a good use of the Reno Police Department’s resources and personnel, all of which are actually funded by tax payers, including those individuals whose freedom of speech was quashed that day?