Well, it’s done. It’s been two years since my arrest at the RNC in St. Paul, and since that time, there hasn’t been a day that it hasn’t come up in some way, whether its seeing a police car pulled over on the side of the road or listening to a story about another protest or dreaming of what I might do with my settlement money (although I tried to avoid doing that too much).
Energetically, it’s been there for two years, the pending court case serving like a little thread tying me to that one day. Now, I’m noticing how in the timeline of my life it continues to appear as a major shift, a turning point for me – but that string feels gone, even with Jason’s court case still on the horizon. That will be a part of my life, too.
The settlement hearing itself was powerful and painful and poignant, and possibly some other “P” words that escape me at the moment.
Jason and I went down to the courthouse in the morning with Ted and Peter, our lawyers. In the café downstairs, we went over our strategy in about five minutes – basically, it seemed like all we were doing was walking in, talking about money, and leaving. They were very cursory in their explanation: the Judge Magistrate would walk in between our room and the room that the defense would be in as they attempted to whittle down our settlement demand of $135,000 and we played up our case. Two of the police officers named in the suit, the lawyer that had deposed us and the partner of the firm representing the city, and the guy from AIG would be there, although the lawyers said we weren’t likely to see them. I felt strangely disappointed in that, when they told me – how was I supposed to know who we were dealing with and how to deal with them, if I couldn’t see them and feel who they were? Both of my lawyers and Jason told me it didn’t matter who they were – the whole decision was up to the money guy from AIG, who was basically a soulless number cruncher. I tried to settle into that reality, as all three of these men have more experience with me in these matters, but I couldn’t. There was some sort of connection that I needed in order for me to do this, I thought, even if it was simply a face.
As we went upstairs, however, we ran into the two police officers, and suddenly my desire to see anyone on the defense team vanished. I noticed the first because as he went through the security gate he beeped and flashed a badge to get waived through, and it was clear to me that this was a person who, although wearing a suit, was armed. He was dark haired and somewhat handsome and roundish, not at all like what I had remembered anyone from my arrest looking like. Peter pointed out the second officer to me – a slight, sandy-haired man in a checkered shirt that looked too big for him, as if at some point he’d shrunk in the wash. That, he told me, was a man that we'll call Alan Slate, the officer that grabbed Jason’s backpack and ran me down on horseback. Looking at the small, nervous looking man, it seemed unbelievable – there was no way that was the same man. In my head, he was a Viking on a war charger in full battle armor: blonde, massive, ruthless. The first man I’d seen was a man we'll call Commander Shawn Grazings, who was the squad leader overseeing all of the other officers at Mear’s Park. I hadn’t met him on that day, though I’d asked repeatedly to see the officer in charge, which was why I didn’t recognize him.
Seeing the officers sent a shiver of fear through me and a thread of nausea down into my belly. Of course, as luck or otherwise would have it, Grazings ended up in the same elevator with us. Jason watched him, seemingly curious and bemused, as he courteously ducked his head and tucked his large frame into the corner of the elevator furthest from us. My lawyers jovially chatted him up. I moved behind Jason, the fact that my stomach was threatening to bring forth the quiche I’d so enjoyed at the Mayday café outside of Powderhorn Park that morning outweighing the feminist shame I felt at hiding behind my big strong man. I couldn’t look at Frazer, although I did note with some appreciation that as we walked through the hall to our separate little rooms, he again courteously ducked his head as he squeezed past us. There was nothing of the smugness and arrogance I so often associate with cops in his demeanor.
The Judge was a thin, petite woman with pale reddish hair in her 50s. She immediately took on something of a grandmotherly tone with me as she laid out the flow of the day and her role – which was not, as I’d imagined, as a messenger between the two sides but actually something of a devil’s advocate for both. She’d come into our room and tell us that the other side was holding firm, that they had a very good case, that there was all of this talk of terrorism and how much people fear that and what will the jury think when they hear the cops talk about finding bags of excrement on other protesters and such? Then she’d go into their room and say what a sweet, honest young woman I am, how the jury will love me, how my eyes well up and my voice shakes when I talk about the day of the incident. Then back again. Over and over she went, walking from one room to the next. Her intention was clear – to bring about a settlement, without any particular concern as to what that settlement would be or what message it would send.
After hours of this, we remained entrenched and stuck. At first, the defense wouldn’t even offer a counter-offer of any kind, which is basically the same as saying that their counter offer was zero dollars and zero cents. That my case, that my experience, wasn’t worth shit. Ted, who’s a bit of a firecracker, was incensed.
“This is insulting,” he said. His face was noticeably red. “It’s an insult. They’re wasting our time.”
The Judge, firm yet kind, shook her head. “They’re not trying to minimize your experience,” she said, speaking to me instead of him. “Their just looking at the numbers of how these things have settled out before. That’s all. It’s just a numbers game.”
I wanted to point out to her that the very act of number-crunching my experience and sticking the terms “false arrest, unlawful imprisonment” into some database and coming out with a four digit figure was minimizing my experience and insulting. Instead, I asked to speak alone with my little team and fumed and cursed and cried with them.
As the day wore on, it became apparent that the four-digits vs. five digits of the figure in my suit was a big deal to AIG, much bigger than the actual money itself. After all, although some of the numbers being thrown around seem big to people like me and most of the people who read this blog, the total sum of the suit was still miniscule compared to a CEO holiday bonus and the portion of it that would go to me was probably less than they were spending having two lawyers and a corporate mucky-muck sit in a settlement conference all day. No, the issue was precedent and notoriety. They simply couldn’t let it be known that some protestor in St. Paul was getting five-figures suing the police who’d defended the republicans and that AIG was paying for it. They didn’t want it all over the web. They didn’t want it being used in other cases, just as they were using the small figures from a couple other RNC civil cases in order to haggle me down to nearly nothing.
I started to hate being there. All this talk of money, as if we were horse-trading, seemed so far away from the justice and transformation that I dreamed of, in spite of my jadedness. I hated the guy from AIG, the lawyers, the police, and after awhile even the judge’s kindness began to rankle and feel manipulative. Even though I’d walked in feeling quite clear that going to trial twice – once for me and once for Jason – was something that I wanted to avoid at all costs, suddenly it seemed like the only thing that made any sense. At the same time, that thought made me feel even more despondent.
Eventually, the judge suggested that I talk to the police officers, at first in passing and then more overtly. She really thought that talking about our experiences that day would shift the stuck place we were in – no lawyers, no talking about money, no Jason. Just them, her, and me.
My stomach went into uproar again, this time threatening to evacuate the sad little cesar salad that I’d eaten out of a styrofoam box from the courthouse café downstairs.
“This is an amazing opportunity,” she urged. “Most people don’t get this chance. I think you should really hear what they have to say. And I think it would be powerful for them to hear your side of the story. It could really bring about some healing and closure.”
I was fraught with indecision, paralyzed. On the one hand, I absolutely did not want to see, or speak, or help create healing for those men. On the other hand, for years I’ve wanted to hear their side of the story, wanted to know what was in their minds as they tasered Jason, wondered why they’d done this to us and thought that I’d never know because they would of course lie about it on the stand. But this wouldn’t be on the stand; none of it would be admitable. It was simply a conversation.
“I think you have this idea that the cops decided to do this to you because they were out to get you,” the Judge said, which is absolutely untrue. Alright, it’s at least mostly untrue. Most of the time, I’ve believed that they did it because they were trained by the higher ups to fear us, given false intelligence that lied about us, and used the arsenal of weaponry at their disposal as they were bound to do, given that they had it at their disposal. There have been other times – such as when I found out that Jason and I were referred to as “public enemy number one and public enemy number two” on Fox News – that I’ve wondered if it was more specific than that.
“This would give you a chance to see that’s not true,” she said. “I wouldn’t do this with just any cops. But you’ll be safe. I’ll be there. No one’s going to yell at you or say anything bad to you.”
I still wasn’t sure. She left me alone to talk to Jason about it, and I absolutely fell apart in his arms. “I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to…” I kept saying over and over again, all the while knowing that I would do it, because it was the right thing to do. But I had to speak my fear and move it through me first; I had to let out the tears and the trauma that were coming up in sharp relief. He held me and echoed that it was such an amazing opportunity, and this was such powerful work.
“But these are people that hurt you,” I said, again and again.
“You have an amazing opportunity here,” he said, again and again. I wonder if he knew, too, that it was inevitable that I would do it, that I wouldn’t let a chance go by to have them hear me and see me and perhaps make some difference – even if it brought up all of my old trauma and anger and sadness and fear in one moment, every different iota of emotion rioting and clamoring for attention. Still, somehow I managed eventually to get up and follow the Judge into her chambers, where she kindly gave me a cup of tea in yet another styrofome container. Sigh.
What happened in that room, when I finally went, was amazing. I’m not really sure how specific I can be about what happened, so I will err on the side of caution and say that I felt heard by them, seen by them, and apologized to by them – maybe not in the typical “I’m sorry” kind of liability-admitting way, but in a way that I felt they expressed real sincerity nonetheless. Perhaps what is most amazing is that we didn’t really have much disagreement about the incident at all, in all of its terror, chaos, regretability, and the knowledge that real mistakes were made.
I listened to them and saw their humanness, both in their attempts to do the right thing now and also in their admissions of fear and confusion. I felt compassion for them, but not in a way that excused their behavior – simply an understanding and acceptance of that humanness. And then, when it was all said, I was able to look them in the eyes and tell them that while I understood where they were coming from, I also felt that they had a responsibility for being calm and trained to wield their power in ways that do not harm innocent people – that it is simply unacceptable. They said nothing. They nodded. Their was nothing else to be said about it.
After that, it began to flow. It didn’t necessarily get too much better for me, as the reality of the situation was that although their was a certain softening and connection made between me and the police, the AIG guy really was as soulless and disinterested as Jason, Ted, and Peter had said he would be. Perhaps most irritating of all, part of my settlement agreement was me being strong-armed into not publicizing the amount of my settlement far and wide, for fear of creating a flurry of internet gossip. I hated doing it, but I didn’t feel like I had a choice. Very reluctantly, I agreed.
What I can say is this: the agreement originally called for a certain amount to be paid to my attorneys and a certain amount to be paid to me, and privately my attorneys and I have agreed to share that money differently, so that’s more in my favor than the official amounts of the settlement (where my attorneys received literally twice as much as I did). Since leaving Minneapolis, I’ve started to think about how I want to spend the money when it does eventually clear the trust fund and make its way to me. I know that I will probably be responsible and pay off some debts and perhaps buy a bicycle. One that has caught my eye is this one. In fact, if I wanted to, I could probably buy 4 or 5 of them – but do I really need 5 bikes? I’ve also been thinking about investing in solar energy for the day in my future that I finally own my own house… the Solar Living Center has full get-ups here that might work out well, and since its such a good thing to do, I've been dreaming of buying one for me and one for Scarecrow's house back in Indiana. I’ve even thought of indulging my lifelong fantasy of owning a pony, and I noticed this one for sale. Perhaps he’ll be in my future. Who could say? Not I. ;-)
Could this pony be in my future? He's a bit small, but he's totally cute.
These weird denizens live just outside the Minneapolis Federal Courthouse, where the settlement conference happened. Even in my darkest hour, I could not but help be cheered by the entire village of these creatures doing all manners of things on the grassy knolls surrounding the building. I loved them.