A Long Night With the Jail-Support Crew Outside One Police Plaza After Protests in New York | The New Yorker

A cordoned-off part of the sidewalk at the back of New York City police headquarters, at One Police Plaza, smelled like a long-ago college party: cigarette smoke and cheap cologne. After a while, I realized that the second odor was hand sanitizer. There were several large bottles of it, along with snacks and drinks and cigarette packs, laid out in a pile in the middle of the sidewalk for the people who were getting released from jail and for those who were waiting for them: jail support. At three in the morning, when I got there, there were about thirty supporters, most of them in their late teens or early twenties. Half were wearing vintage nineties-style high-rise jeans, and half were swaddled in timeless, shapeless black. This could have been thirty years ago—indeed, thirty years ago, I spent some hours in a cell inside. Now my eighteen-year-old daughter, Yolka, and more than fifty other young people who were arrested at a protest on Thursday were inside.

The protest was quickly coördinated on an anarchist thread on the secure messaging app Signal, in response to the murder of George Floyd and protests in Minneapolis. People gathered in Union Square and marched down to Foley Square, one of the activists, Elsa Eli Waithe, told me. They were thinking of crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, but it was blocked off by the police, so the protest disbursed and many people came here, to One Police Plaza.

Arrests had begun right away, Waithe told me. “They weren’t waiting for anything,” she said, referring to the police. “They were aggressive from the very beginning.” Waithe has been protesting in New York since moving here from Virginia, eight years ago, she said. She was arrested in 2014 in an action protesting the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner; in 2016, for protesting the murder of Philando Castile, and again the day after Donald Trump was elected President; and twice this year, during marches against the increased police presence on the subway to fight fare-beating. In all of these arrests, she said, she had not seen police act as aggressively as they did on Thursday night.

As the night wore on, the crowd kept a formal and informal tally of injuries: a teen-ager who had been clubbed on one arm, which was now limp and swollen (I did not see this person, but he was described to me by several people separately); several young people with lacerations on their heads; a young man, who emerged wearing a tank top and shorts, with bruises and bleeding all over his body; people whose clothes were ripped during the arrest. By the time people came out of One Police Plaza, though, one or two at a time, carrying manila envelopes with their summonses—most of them for disorderly conduct—shuffling in their laceless Converse high-tops and attempting to put on a belt as they walked, they talked more about the crowded conditions inside and the excruciating slowness of the process than about the way they were treated when they were arrested.

A few minutes after three in the morning, birds started singing. “It’s the witching hour,” someone said. Seven wispy young people with curly hair in various shades sat in a circle on the sidewalk, playing a game of exquisite corpse. There were still at least two dozen people inside. Arrests had begun around five in the afternoon and ended before eight.

At four, Waithe screamed while looking at her phone and choked as she tried to get the words out. One of the other people finally read out a tweet by Donald Trump that said, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

“He has just declared war,” Waithe said.

At half past four, a young man of color was driven out of the precinct in a police vehicle, probably for arraignment. This was the second time that night. “Say your name!” the jail-support crowd shouted. The young man tried to scream from the car, but it was impossible to make out his name.

At four-forty-five, a woman wearing black scrubs came out. Several of the people who were released earlier had mentioned that one of the detained women was a nurse and that she was questioning the police about their failure to maintain social distancing or wear masks. The woman, Tennille Newbold, was actually a nursing assistant studying to be a nurse. She told me that, while the women were housed two to a cell, all the men who were detained at the protest—between thirty and forty people—were held in one large room, which became crowded. “Every time you said something to a cop about not wearing a mask, they laughed,” she said. “The officer doing fingerprinting was not wearing gloves, and I had to ask for hand sanitizer for myself. The officer didn’t care.” She excused herself: she had to be at work in two hours.

I asked Waithe how the protesters had handled social distancing. “We didn’t,” she said. “I have it in my head that this is the risk you take. We definitely believe in science. Everyone here has a mask on them or nearby.” This was an accurate description: everyone in the jail-support crowd was wearing a mask, but many of these masks were lowered—for smoking, drinking, talking, and comfort. “But these things require being close,” Waithe said, of the march. “And we realize there is that risk.” Waithe, who is thirty-two, works as a standup comedian and an instructor of everything from chess and coding for kids to comedy for teen-agers. She lost all her gigs when the pandemic hit, and now works delivering meal boxes to the elderly. “I might feel differently if I’d been in my house this whole time,” she said. Still, the choice she and some of the other protesters made was to be in close proximity to others while wearing masks outside—not to be in a crowded indoor space with dozens of police officers who were flouting the city’s social-distancing orders and laughing about it.

At five, when the subway opened, Waithe left. Most of the others followed. It was light. There were still at least a dozen people inside.

A few minutes before six, a young woman emerged, wheeling a blue bike. “Are you guys jail support?” she shouted as she approached what remained of the group. “This was the first time I got arrested. It sucked balls. It sucked major balls.”

I was getting worried. For the last hour or so, every woman who emerged from the building said that only a couple of people remained on the female side. Yolka still hadn’t come out. Still, I wasn’t as worried as I’d been earlier in the evening, during the five hours between the time she last read a text message from me and the time she called to tell me where she was. Around one in the morning, I had called 311, and the operator told me that she was not in the system as having been arrested. He told me to try calling two of the precincts near Union Square. I couldn’t get through. Finally, an activist friend told me that the detainees were probably at One Police Plaza—and then my daughter called.