I just re-read your New Yorker essay from last year about getting arrested at Occupy Wall Street, and was left with a lingering question—did that little adventure cost you anything?
I pleaded guilty to “disorderly conduct” and paid a $120 fine through a small window at the court house, by credit card. I also managed to get an alternate side parking ticket in Brooklyn ($45), and, also back in Brooklyn, someone stole my bike. It was a $40 bike locked to a street sign at the Franklin Avenue C stop with a $50 chain, so I think it was the city that stole it. Anyway, that’s a real dollar total of $255.
In retrospect I think I should not have pled guilty. At the time I figured that since I had deliberately gone out into the street and obstructed traffic, the honest and straightforward thing to do would be to admit it and pay my fine. A lot of my fellow arrestees were anarchists and they intended to plead not guilty so that they could “clog up the system.” I didn’t want to clog up the system, funded by taxpayer dollars, my dollars. Didn’t it already have enough problems just functioning more or less properly, this poor broken system?
But, like I say, that was wrong. The system is a meat grinder for sending young black men to prison; it really ought to be obstructed at every opportunity. I also now see that I had accepted the police’s definition of “disorderly conduct.” In fact we should all be allowed to go out into the street and obstruct traffic whenever we please, if by doing so we are trying to make a point. That should be protected speech. Finally I was wrong to think that I could have an honest, straightforward relationship with the state, as if the state were a person. You can only have political relations with the state, not personal ones.
There have been some very serious, punitive, and outright nasty sentences handed out by the New York courts in relation to OWS–a man named Mark Adams just finished serving 45 days in Rikers for cutting the fence to an empty lot with bolt cutters–but most of the disorderly conduct cases have been thrown out. So if I’d pleaded not guilty, as I should have, I’d have saved $120 and done the right thing.
Keith Gessen is a founder and editor of n+1 and an editor of OCCUPY!: Scenes from Occupied America (pictured), among other things.