Reporting: Summary

Exercise 18

In a paragraph of around 120 words, sum up the writer's experience.

Nightmare in a California jail

When I moved my family to San Francisco last year to teach in the English department at San Francisco State College, I did so with misgivings. I knew that the educational atmosphere in California was far from tranquil - Governor Reagan was waging virtual war against student protesters, and the political polarization between the left and the right could only be described in terms of paranoia. Through the year, my fears were confirmed as I witnessed student and faculty strikes, bombings, brawls, police assaults, mass arrests. But none of those events - brutal as they were - prepared me for the nightmare that followed my recent chance arrest this spring in Berkeley. Overnight that experience, which can be verified by many reliable witnesses, turned a father of five, veteran of the Korean war, and law-abiding citizen into a bitter man.
On Thursday morning, 22 May, I left San Francisco State College with four other teachers to drive to Berkeley.
We arrived in Berkeley about noon. After a pleasant lunch and a trip to buy supplies we walked toward Shattuck on Addison Street. There we were to meet my friend’s wife, Nora.
The city of Berkeley was then in something like a state of siege because of the People’s Park issue. On the streets, under the command of Alameda County Sheriff Frank Madigan, was a vast force of National Guard troops, county sheriffs, San Francisco Tactical Squad units. Madigan had authorized use of shotguns against demonstrators. One man had already been killed, and many others wounded. Demonstrators, workers, and onlookers trapped in a plaza on the University of California campus had been sprayed from a helicopter with a virulent form of tear gas currently being used in Vietnam. To protest, approximately 2,000 students had now begun a spontaneous march from the University campus through downtown Berkeley.
We could see a concentration of National Guard troops, policemen and citizens several blocks east of us. I described what Nora looked like to the others and we stopped at the southwest corner of Shattuck and Addison to scan the crowd for her. We decided not to go any farther because we saw soldiers, police, and people both to the east and south of us.
Berkeley policemen and Alameda County deputies began moving our way. An officer leading four or five others approached our group of twelve to fifteen people and said, ‘Let’s move out; clear the area!’ Everyone on our corner obediently started walking away. Suddenly, a Berkeley policeman ran in front onus, spread his arms and shouted, ‘Stay where you are!’ Behind us, two other policeman kept repeating, ‘Keep moving, clear out of here!’ We said we were leaving, and at this point a Berkeley police sergeant approached and began pointing to various people in our group, saying, ‘Get that one, that one, that one.’
An officer snapped handcuffs on me and joined me with the cuffs to a protesting youngster. I asked if we were under arrest and the officer said yes - we were charged with blocking traffic. We were not allowed to talk to the policemen after that. The sergeant who had us arrested taunted us, using obscenities and accusing us of being revolutionaries, rock-throwers, and hippies. Those not fingered by the sergeant continued down the street and were not apprehended. While we were being herded into the paddy wagon, however, officers continued to arrest people at random - mostly young people and particularly those with long hair, moustaches, sideburns. Three of the teachers with me were arrested; our fifth companion was not, and he immediately began calling friends and relatives to arrange our release.
Nineteen of us - seventeen men and two women - were packed into a paddy wagon. I was never able to identify myself or state my business; indeed, the policemen threatened anyone who talked at all. We sat in the wagon for about 20 minutes, then it backed up the street a block, where we were transferred to a large bus. We were all being taken to ‘Santa Rita’, a place I had never heard of.
During the 45-minute ride our feelings were reinforced that it had been an indiscriminate bust. Aboard were students with books and notepads who had been on their way to and from classes at the University. There was a US mailman (with long hair), still carrying his bag of mail, and a resident psychiatrist who had stepped outside his hospital for a short walk during a 30-minute break. Others included several young divinity students and five medical observers - young men in white smocks with red crosses - who had accompanied the student march down Shattuck Avenue. The police blew it, I thought. They went too far this time. Most of us will be released when we get to wherever we’re going.
The bus stopped inside the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center and Prison Farm, an institution run by Alameda County. We were marched into the compound and ordered to lie prone in rows. Those who looked around or stumbled or didn’t move fast enough were prodded and hit with clubs. Frequently, men were dragged out of the marching lines and forced to kneel while being struck. The guards shouted and screamed, often giving conflicting commands and clubbing those unable to obey them. Our chief source of terror was not so much the beatings as the wild hysteria that had seized many of the guards. They walked up and down our rows of flattened men, striking upraised hands with clubs, striking us on the soles odour feet with clubs to make us lie in even rows. We were told we would be shot if we tried to escape. We were cursed continuously; we were called dope users, revolutionaries, filthy long-hairs. We would, they shouted, be taught such a lesson that we would never again cause trouble. All of us were identified as political troublemakers. No attempt was made to distinguish us by age, nature of charges, or physical condition. Periodically we were ordered to turn our heads to the left or right. I experienced severe leg cramps and sharp twinges of pain from an arthritic elbow. From time to time we were forced to close up ranks by crawling across the asphalt, which was covered with sharp gravel. Those accused of speaking or looking around or moving slightly were dragged out and forced to kneel with their hands behind them in a separate group. Some remained kneeling for hours. There were some 300 men on the ground.
The first thing I learned facedown on the Santa Rita asphalt was that I could make it without begging or breaking. This felt good; it was enough strength to counter the fears engendered by the heavy blue-black guards’ shoes slowly crunching by my eyes six inches away. But to be put to these tests in America!

(Abridged from Getting Busted by Jesse P. Ritter, Jr)

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