My amazing daughter and I marched in the anti-Trump protest in Manhattan. I went to jail – and it gave me hope
On Wednesday – the first day of life with President-elect Donald Trump – I marched. And for that, I was arrested.
I was plucked from a Manhattan street, placed in a police van with 12 others and shuttled downtown to a holding cell in the basement of police headquarters. Among us were a college professor; a man about to retire from an investment firm; a few college students, most in their 20s or 30s; as well as three journalists including myself.
We were corralled, a police officer whispered to me, to fill a quota.
A shudder ran through us, a fear that this was our first exposure to a new order of things – an attempt to intimidate, a denial of our despair.
But this is not where I want to start. Before any of this, I want first to tell you about my daughter, Rosa.
She is a young woman of unusual strength and beauty.
At 15, her face is endowed with kindness, and she is blessed with the grace of all things that hungrily seek out a universe filled with bounty.
After on , with the election results sinking in – and hours before she would see her father grabbed and handcuffed – she asked me, “How could a country that elected Barack Obama do this?” She had gone to Pennsylvania a few days earlier to knock on doors to get people to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
I sat on both knees at the head of her bed and resisted an apology. Over the previous weeks, she had listened to me kid her that should Trump win, I would lock myself in the bathroom and not emerge until 2020.
“This is the truth of things,” I now said. “This is now the cause of your generation, of all generations.” I told her we should not curtain ourselves away but rather live fully in the times we inhabit – through our work, through our art or just plainly through our consciousness.
As I dropped her at school on morning, I said that our outrage and hurt could find its expression in different ways. We can do no more, I said. We can do no less.
After school she called me. She and some of her friends were thinking about going into the city and joining a march heading from Manhattan’s Union Square uptown to Trump Tower and would I be OK with that. I didn’t hesitate. Yes, I said, and I would go with them.
That’s how it started. There was Rosa, shoulder to shoulder with Olive, Franca, Evelyn, Kayla, Hannah, Katie and Ben. At about , we joined a swelling crowd on the plaza, largely millennials, but many graybeards, too. Among thousands, I, the chaperone, kept a careful eye on my young gang. I was in full throat, too.
“Not my president,” we chanted.
“Donald Trump, go away. Sexist, racist, anti-gay.”
“Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”
I didn’t flinch when the cry turned to “Pussies grab back!”
We moved in a fine rain first, it seemed, on streets cleared of traffic – to that point I thought the protest had perhaps been sanctioned by the city – then through a weave of headlights, past Union Square, over to Sixth Avenue. A bus driver raised his fist in alliance. Many others honked their approval. There were not many police officers along the way, it seemed, and they were cordial, as were the marchers. They parted at one point to allow an ambulance swift passage.
This was my daughter’s first protest march. Mine, too.
Her elbows were pumping. Her chin was out, her long hair rushing back. The rain against our faces felt fresh and exhilarating.
I texted friends and family, “This is amazing.”
At 34th Street and Sixth Avenue, the traffic again thinned, and the mood abruptly shifted. We were met by a phalanx of police, and I noticed more helmets. A lieutenant with a bullhorn and a clipped bark exhorted the marchers to get off the street, and as my straggly line of 10th-graders began twisting right, toward the sidewalk, I sidled my way with them.
“I’m trying to,” I told the lieutenant. I winced at the blare of his bullhorn. He glared. As I moved, my right shoulder tapped his bullhorn, I think. He grabbed me.
“Take this one,” he snapped.
In seconds, two officers sandwiched me, one yanking my arms back. I heard the rapid clicking of the handcuffs locking into place.
“I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything.” I heard my own voice coming at me. I saw Rosa’s terror as the tide pushed her away from me.
“My daughter, my daughter, please, my daughter. I’m with my daughter.”
People were taking photographs. I heard a few yelling at the officers to leave me alone. I was sweating hard into the wool hat I was wearing against the rain.
Instructions were passed down a row of officers and I was brought across the avenue where I was guarded by two other officers. One introduced himself to me.
“I’m your arresting officer,” he said. “Officer Cirikovic.” He removed my wallet, phone and keys; unclasped my wrist watch and the Fitbit my kids had given me for my birthday; and patted down my legs. “Are you carrying anything sharp?” he asked.
“Seriously?” I said.
I calmed down. “Please let me call my daughter,” I said.
“It’s not up to me,” he said kindly. He was a big man, easily 6 foot 5, lumpy, with soft expressive eyes. I liked him right away. I grew up in Queens, I told him. He grew up in Brooklyn, and at age 32 has been with the NYPD five years. I asked him if he would remove my hat, and he put it in my back pocket. He said he was sorry.
The officers were all members of the department’s Strategic Response Group, formed to confront terrorism threats and apparently protests like this.
One officer told me they had been gathered earlier in the day and given instructions – to meet a quota of 50 arrests. Herald Square, he said, had been designated as something like a speed trap.
Officer Cirikovic brought me back across the street to a police van and helped me climb the steps. I was greeted by three more officers, including a guard from the Department of Correction. I was patted again, this time more rigorously, my pockets turned inside out, before I was taken by the elbow to the back of the van.
I scanned the sidewalk, through the metal grating on the van’s windows, trying to detect my daughter and her friends before my eyes fell upon two young men who sat serenely in the back row and offered me hellos. Soon then, one by one, we were joined by others – including a former colleague from my former newsroom – until there were 13 of us. The two women among us were placed in a smaller area nearer the front of the bus.
We exchanged fast notes.
One man said he had just emerged from the subway to meet his son and hadn’t left the sidewalk when he was snatched. Another, the college professor, said he was recording the march on his phone, also from the sidewalk. The two journalists were recording as well.
One man said he had been trying to get to the sidewalk when his right shoulder glancingly connected with a lieutenant’s bullhorn.
“Wait,” I said. “That’s my story.”
And with that, we all laughed heartily. None of us stopped to think at that point that maybe it had been the other way around – that he had extended the bullhorn to make contact with us.
The drive to 1 Police Plaza took about 20 minutes, and once there, we were received and checked in at folding tables, strangely set up outside. It reminded me of reporting I had done for a book in West Africa, where soldiers with machine guns, trying to extort money, stopped my driver and me at a random checkpoint. I was brought to a setup like this, a flimsy lean-to where the chief of police collected the payments.
On Wednesday night, in my city – in my country – I was brought in handcuffs into police headquarters. (Once upon a time, I had worked a few floors up as a reporter for The New York Times.) They took inventory of my belongings, counting out $107 in my wallet and having me sign a voucher. I had withdrawn $100 from an ATM before heading into the city. Five fresh $20 bills.
They gave me back my wallet but not the cash, stuffing it into a manila envelope with my other belongings.
I joined the group inside a large, enforced Plexiglas containment cell, with my new compatriots, our cuffs finally removed. My anxiety eased when Officer Cirikovic quietly called Rosa from his cellphone, placing her on speaker and allowing us to speak through a small hole in the glass.
Over the next five hours, the other men and and I shared jokes, exchanged life stories and tried to explain the perplexities of how we as a nation had arrived at this point. We commiserated with three young black men in our group who had experienced many times over the threat of being picked up for having done nothing wrong.
We named ourselves the Herald Square 13.
“Can you believe this?” said the college professor. “They arrested me, and I’m as square as they come.”
Others pulled in from the march joined us – the women escorted past us to a separate area – and we cheered them in raucously to our Gulag.
In our cell, we surrounded Nick, a man in his 30s who just been brought in.
“What’s going on out there?” we asked.
“Yes,” one of us said. “How’s the iPhone 8 doing? And is it true what we hear, that there are flying cars now?”
But the mood quickly turned somber. We learned that police in Oakland, California, had used tear gas to disperse crowds. At Trump Tower, many had been arrested for sitting on the street. And we were told that we would not be released until the demonstrations in New York had ended. (By the end of the night, 65 people would be arrested in the city.)
“I don’t think they want to address what people are feeling, why we were out there, really all the problems of crime and race,” I offered. “They just want to contain it.” Everyone grimly nodded.
I paced. I peed several times in a metallic toilet, barely concealed from the others. Each of us had been assigned an arresting officer, and we would drift to the front glass wall, searching out our man or woman from about 35 milling officers, hoping for a signal of when our ordeal would end, before receding to the back of the cell.
“We’re like goldfish surfacing for a sip of air,” I announced, and we had ourselves a final laugh. Finally, starting at about , one by one we were taken out. Fist bumps and small hugs were exchanged.
My belongings were returned, including the cash, and I was given a desk appearance ticket to appear in court . Officer Cirikovic then escorted me onto the surrounding streets of Chinatown and said he looked forward to seeing me again in January.
I became aware of the cold again. There were volunteers waiting for us from the National Lawyers Guild, offering legal help. They seemed to know about me particularly. A guild representative had witnessed my arrest and had helped Rosa. You’re the father who was separated from his daughter, they said.
I decided to take a taxi home to New Jersey. The driver asked for $80 up front, and when I reached into my pocket, I discovered that two of the $20 bills were strangely crumpled into small balls. I smoothed them the best I could and passed them to the driver as part of the fare.
“These two bills are fake,” he said.
“They’re smaller. Feel; they’re papery.” He was right. They were more like Monopoly money, pressed into the fold of the other bills.
Here then was the final touch of the night – the NYPD had stolen $40 from me, replacing them with counterfeit bills.
* * *
But that’s not where I want to end.
I want to tell you again about Rosa, and about her brother, Jonah, no less a beautiful and generous spirit. He, too, had volunteered for the Clinton campaign, and that night, while I was still in jail, he called Rosa from college to reassure her.
“Sometimes people lose elections, no matter how hard they work and try they lose,” he said wisely. “I hope you don’t regret knocking on doors.”
A few days later, my pride in them sits next to a fresh anger.
Our president-elect, in a tweet, called the people fanning out in anger across the country “professional protesters incited by the media.”
I’d like him to meet my children.
Reunited with Rosa the next day, we embraced tightly. She told me she and her friends had been frightened. She had cried after I was taken away.
She told me she would do it again. I said the same.
While marching with her, at one point I purposely fell back to watch her fully. The rain fell through the shine of the streetlamps and against the backdrop of the brightly lit buildings.
Just then, uncertainty and anxiety fell away, and watching my daughter stride into the heart of the city, I had the unmistakable, rich feeling that she was moving toward something good.