The inside perspective: Professor recounts experience in jail following Occupy arrests
December 2, 2011, 12:38 am · Updated December 5, 2011, 1:25 am·
Ben Brodie | DP
School of Social Policy and Practice assistant professor Toorjo Ghose said he never expected to get arrested as part of the Occupy Philadelphia movement Wednesday morning and will fight the charges.
Tuesday night, Ghose was about to go to bed when his wife pointed out that there were helicopters visible from his home, not far from Dilworth Plaza in Center City.
Ghose, who has been a leader in the Occupy Philadelphia movement, said when he realized police had descended on the area, “I just grabbed whatever I could … and I started running.”
As he ran toward Dilworth Plaza, he saw SEPTA buses full of police officers.
Although the plaza was barricaded, Ghose was able to sneak in through a subway entrance and found what he estimated to be 800 to 1,000 officers “just in absolute force; it was like something out of a bad police state movie.”
He said there were about 50 occupiers who had broken into the plaza, and “it was a face-off at that point” between them and the police.
As the protesters moved out, a few set up a tent in the middle of Market Street. “It was almost like the last straw” for the police, Ghose said.
One officer “yanked the guys out of the tent, crushed the tent, threw it away and then the mood seriously changed,” he added.
According to Ghose, the police told the protesters they had three minutes to vacate the space, but did not answer questions when asked why protesters were being arrested.
“I just didn’t feel good about leaving people there,” said Ghose, who linked arms with six others on Market Street.
As those seven were being arrested, they heard screams and saw mounted cops “charging into a totally benign crowd” of more protesters.
Ghose felt the arrests made were important. “We needed to get arrested,” he said, in order to express “the fact that we were legal, we were nonviolent, we were occupying.”
After loading them into a paddywagon and driving them to their final destination, the police left the arrested occupiers in the vehicle for about 40 minutes, Ghose said.
They were then taken into the Philadelphia Police Headquarters located at 8th and Race streets. As the seven were being booked, an MSNBC news report was playing on a television in the background, reporting that no arrests were made when officers cleared Dilworth Plaza. Ghose realized, “No one knows we’re here.”
Ghose was led to a cell containing one steel bed that he shared with two others.
Two hours later, he was taken to be fingerprinted. The 45 other occupiers who were arrested later that morning were just coming into the jail.
“This was a huge relief for us,” Ghose said. “We didn’t want to be the only seven [arrested] with no one knowing outside.”
“Then it grew very solemn,” he added. “These were beaten down folks.” Ghose explained that one had wounds on his face due to injures from an officer’s bicycle, but was never treated.
Although no one held at the location had been convicted of a crime, the conditions were deplorable, according to Ghose. He woke up from a nap at one point with a cockroach in his hair. Those arrested were fed cheese sandwiches about every seven hours, and although Ghose is allergic to cheese, he said he was not accommodated and became ill after he ate the food.
At one point, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer took Ghose into a room. During an approximately hour-long conversation, Ghose argued that, although he was born in India, he was a U.S. citizen, which the officer eventually conceded.
Hours after the seven were arrested, at about 4 or 5 p.m., they were taken to a room to await a hearing.
The hearing took place in front of a camera through which a judge, who was not present, could communicate with them through a digital screen. The occupiers were represented by a lawyer associated with the protest and were not assigned bail.
Ghose saw the system was “preying on people’s vulnerabilities to scare them to death,” and he explained that the process would have been terrifying had he anything to be nervous about.
The experience “made me realize I was not going to take a plea,” Ghose said. “I did not do anything wrong.”
“I’m really hoping to take this up as a constitutional issue,” he added.
Ghose was released at about 6:40 p.m. and immediately got in a taxi and made it to the class he was scheduled to teach “with seconds to spare.”