Here’s a report from Elizabeth Cook on the arrests at the St. Bernard Housing Development Tuesday.
Date: March 20, 2008 11:54:41 AM CDT
As the Times Picayune’s report was incomplete, I want to inform folks that 5 people were arrested at St. Bernard, not the three reported by the Times Picayune. The event occurred on Tuesday, March 18th, 2008.
The Times Picayune also failed to inform folks that two activists had climbed on top of a crane that was in use, and shut down demolition for several hours. Jaime “Bork” Loughner and Joy Kohler climbed on top of a crane that was being used for demolition, and stayed perched on top for several hours, while a group of about 30 to 40 activists gathered on Milton St. and chanted and spoke on the issues. Several of the protesters, including two St. Bernard Development residents, Sharon and Kawana Jasper, braved the possibility of arrest by standing inside of the development, through an open gate. The rest of us stood on the sidewalk and street and gave our support with chants and shouts of encouragement.
This “standoff” went on for at least two to three hours. The protesters inside of the gate were “accompained” during the protest by several NOPD officers, several members of the Louisiana National Guard, several members of the HANO security, including the head of HANO security, Officer Dusset, and several undercover NOPD officers whose faces we have become very familiar with.
NOPD officers quickly tied police tape across the opening of the gate, and informed the rest of us that anyone who crosses through the tape, runs the risk of arrest. Several local TV stations were there to film part of the event, but I am uncertain whether any stations were there when the arrests actually occurred. It was documented by independent film makers.
Several people addressed their remarks, with the bullhorn, to the members of the NOPD and Louisiana National Guard, calling on them, basically, to stop the persecution of people who are members of their class, the working class, and calling on them to recognize the interconnectedness of our interests and issues.
Jay Arena also addressed that we as workers, including Latino workers, are interconnected, in that our issues are the issues of the working class, and the exploitation of people everywhere by the power elite is our common enemy. It was pointed out that the destruction of affordable housing affects everyone, including the Latino workers who have come to our city to assist in reconstruction, and are having great difficulty in finding affordable housing.
Sharon and Kawana Jasper spoke on who the real criminals are: those that are demolishing affordable housing, and Alphonso Jackson, who is under criminal investigation for contracts related to the redevelopment of public housing here.
This is how the arrests went down: Several police cars arrived after a couple of hours, with at least two police paddywagons. A man emerged in plain clothes from one of the cars. I recognized him as an officer who was present when Joy and I were arrested at the B.W. Cooper Housing Development reoccupation in December. He was the officer who had shouted threats to us to come down from the building in a very aggressive manner. He was so aggressive about it that I remember shouting back down to him, “Are you going to hurt us?”
This man began giving explicit instructions to other officers. He had them stretch police tape accross the streets, effectively isolating all of the protesters, not just the ones inside of the gate. At that point, he got on his radio, and broadcasted that everyone inside of the police tapes would be arrested, if they didn’t leave the area immediately.
He said this several times, as many of the protesters were lingering and dragging their feet. Someone shouted, “We’re not breaking the law, Uncle Tom”.
Kawana Jasper then crossed the street to stand on the sidewalk, saying out loud, “This is city property”, referring to the sidewalk. At that point, an officer grabbed her arm and moved it behind her back to handcuff her. Several protesters, including her mother, Sharon Jasper, and Jay Arena, moved near her and began shouting “Release her. Hands off Kawana”. Several of us took up the chant, “Hands off Kawana”.
At that point, an officer took Jay Arena’s arms and moved them behind his back, and handcuffed him. The officers moved Kawana and Jay into the back of an open paddywagon. Sharon ran over to protest their arrest, and she was arrested also.
Simultaneously, Bork and Joy had climbed down off of the crane. We moved to St. Bernard Ave., and witnessed their arrest. We later learned that they had been placed in different paddywagons, Bork in one and Joy in another.
Bork was brought to an area hospital briefly as she complained of physical ailments. I learned that the police kept her in a paddywagon, until after everyone else was released from OPP. Jay was the last of the four to be released from OPP, at about 4:30 pm. Sharon, Kawana and Joy were relased about one hour before Jay. Bork was released sometime around midnight.
Bork informed Jay Arena that she had been told by officers that she was kept in the paddywagon, out of OPP, because they (the officers) told her they didn’t want her to have any supporters in jail while she was there.
It should also be noted that right after Sharon’s arrest, from the paddywagon she called out that the handcuffs were on too tight and were cutting off her circulation. Jay Arena also called out that Sharon was having trouble breathing and needed immediate medical attention.
Several of us, including myself, began to shout that Sharon has medical problems and needs immediate medical attention. We were ignored, as no one from the police department made an effort to talk to us about our concerns. At one point, I had an opportunity to ask a sergeant with the NOPD if Sharon was going to receive medical attention. He told me that they were “on their way to the hospital now”.
This turned out to be either a complete fabrication, or, the officer himself was misinformed. Sharon Jasper informed me that at no time did she receive any sort of medical attention, either on her way to OPP or while there, other than the intake worker asking her how she was feeling.