In early July, the Trump administration sent federal forces to Portland, Oregon, to “bring order” to protests that began after the death of George Floyd. And now, the deployments are happening in other cities across the country. The unidentified officers, often clad in military-style camouflage, have used violent tactics against protestors and, in some cases, have pulled people off the street and placed them into unmarked minivans. It’s an experience that’s eerily similar to that of Juniper Simonis, a 35-year-old protestor who was detained a few weeks ago. This is their story.
My story of being arrested begins the way no arrest story ever should: On July 10, I was violently apprehended for drawing with chalk on a sidewalk.
After George Floyd was murdered, there were a number of protests that sprang up around Portland. I knew I wanted to show support. At the first few protests I went to, I saw cops releasing tear gas on people. I understood pretty quickly that law enforcement officers were rioting against protestors and I knew I needed a game plan to keep myself safe. I’m 6'2". I’m loud and sassy and visibly trans. I have a service dog named Wallace who looks like a Muppet. Like, I don’t blend in. I decided to use surveyor’s chalk to mark off property where protestors, like me, were allowed to stand and express their First Amendment rights without being accused of trespassing.
“I got a massive black eye from the pressure of them shooting the gas at me that closely.”
That Friday, I’m drawing the line, looking around to see what other spots I should mark off, and that’s when the storm troopers snuck up on me and literally snatched me off the street. They said nothing. They didn’t say “Stop” or “What are you doing?” or “You’re under arrest.” They just grabbed me.
As someone with severe, clinical PTSD, I panicked. My body went into fight-or-flight mode, and I tried to run. But there were about 15 of the storm troopers and 3 or 4 of them jumped on me immediately. They tried to put handcuffs on me, my dog was barking, and, at some point, they blasted me with industrial-grade pepper spray from point-blank range. I got a massive black eye from the pressure of them shooting the gas at me that closely. It got in my eyes and hair, my nose, mouth, and ear. I couldn’t see. I had difficulty hearing. I was forced to stand up, but when I had trouble balancing, I was picked up by my arms and legs and carried into a building where I was thrown on the floor.
I did not know who was doing this to me or what would happen next.
I asked for an attorney, a medic, anyone who could help. I had open wounds on my knees, hands, and my head. Snot was running down my face. There were still chemicals from the gas in my lungs that made it hard for me to breathe. All I could think about was getting it out of me, so I spit into my lap. But every time I did that, the men told me, “Don’t spit at us.”
After about 30 minutes, I was taken to an elevator and I ended up in a basement garage. It’s there that I was told I was being charged with spray-painting federal property. I never had any spray paint. I had chalk, washable chalk.
Then I’m moved again. This time to a cell block in the U.S. Federal Courthouse a few blocks away. Inside, there was a metal bench and a small sink in the corner next to a metal toilet but no soap or hand sanitizer.
That’s when two officers came and told me I was being charged with something else: assaulting an officer. Because of the spitting. They showed me a business card, not even a badge, and this is the first time anyone tells me who they are: the Department of Homeland Security.
At this point, I am in full mental health crisis, talking to myself and gesturing to people who weren’t there. I was never given any food or water or allowed access to my medication. I was treated like a man, even though I am a woman. That’s how law enforcement disregards transgender people.
“Thankfully, a lot of physical damage done to my body is not permanent. Mentally, I still have a lot of trauma to process.”
They left me like that for six hours.
Later that night, I was eventually released when they “cut me a break.” I would only be charged with two small crimes, the equivalent of a moving violation after a car accident. This despite never being provided an attorney, even though I asked for one many times. Despite never being allowed to make a single phone call.
Since that incident, I have spent more than a week consulting with doctors. Thankfully, a lot of physical damage done to my body is not permanent. Mentally, I still have a lot of trauma to process.
It was all incredibly terrorizing, and still is. Right now, I’m trying to track down people who have gone silent. I worry they are dealing with the same situation I was; they are being disappeared. These actions by the authorities are meant to hurt people. They’re shooting gas canisters under cars that could cause them to explode. They’re shooting impact munitions at people. They’re pulling guns with live ammunition on protestors.
What they’re not doing, though, is distracting from the message: Black Lives Matter. And protestors will continue to focus on the systemic and personal violence that has been imposed on Black and indigenous people, and every person of color, across the country.
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