The party was in an apartment on the corner of Second and Main streets, not in a particularly residential neighborhood. But the music had been loud and it was after midnight. I didn’t hear the cops ask anyone to leave, but their presence made it pretty clear that the party would either disband or quiet down soon. Fine with me. I’d spent a long day at work and was ready to head home.
But my copy of Joan Didion’s “The White Album” was still in the building where the party was, so I followed the line of cops inside to retrieve my book.
The apartment was on the second floor, and the people who had been living there were moving out. No furniture was left, and the apartment was empty except for the kids and the band. It was a loft-style space, about 40 by 15 feet.
I followed the police into the room intending to make inquiries about my book. It was hot and sticky in the room, but there were about 100 kids dancing to Minor Treat. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. Most people in the crowd seemed to be there to cheer the singer in his farewell performance and wish him luck on his bike trip.
The officers never announced their presence, but people began to take notice. The crowd quieted and parted to make an aisle for the cops. They walked straight up to the band, without saying anything, and threw the singer’s microphone on the ground.
Then the police turned around and filed out.
Party attendants began to boo. I was confused about why the cops had come and gone so quickly.
I became even more confused when my eyes suddenly began to sting and I had trouble breathing. It turned out the officers had set off a pepper spray “fogger.” There had been no warning.
The crowd quickly went from quiet to distressed. Kids lowered their heads and pulled their T-shirts up to cover their faces as they shuffled across the room. The only exit was a door opposite the band. It led to a staircase about 3 feet wide. I was surprised by how calmly people exited the building.
Meanwhile, the friend who invited me to the party saw her roommate, the drummer for Minor Treat, slumped over his drum set. She knew he had asthma and tried to open the windows, but they were still sealed shut from the winter. Another party guest helped to break out the glass and push the drummer’s head outside for fresh air. People began breaking out other windows to get ventilation.
Out on the street, officers began using handheld pepper sprayers directly in people’s faces. Some angry party attendants began throwing beer bottles in response.
The situation had transformed from calm to chaotic. In addition to waiting tables I am a free-lance journalist, so I got out my notebook.
I began collecting names and badge numbers from the officers. There were many more cops by now — at this point I counted 14 police vehicles, at least one of them unmarked, and two ambulances. Some officers told me their names and moved on; others asked me to wait until afterward when they could talk or simply ignored me.
I saw one cop shove a party attendant and I asked for his badge number. He told me to “leave his fu—ing street.” I told him I was a journalist and asked again.
Suddenly, he and three other officers knocked me onto the ground. Although I was offering no resistance, two restrained me while a third cuffed me. I was led toward the paddy wagon, while the officer I had been questioning tried, unsuccessfully, to pry my notes out of my hand.
According to friends who saw the rest of the evening, the situation escalated. There were more violent collisions, moreÿthrown bottles, more pepper spray and many more detainments.
While I was in the back of the wagon, one officer came to speak with me. She had been dealing with friends of mine who wanted to know where I would be taken so they could meet me there. She told me she was surprised by the “fogger,” too. She was coughing while we spoke, and her eyes were visibly irritated from the spray.
As things calmed down, I was able to chat with another officer sitting outside the wagon. He apologized for knocking me over, saying he had been tripped. He also told me there had been a homicide that night in the Mechanicsville Fairfield area.
For a while, the officers could not tell me who the arresting officer was or what I was being charged with. After about an hour and a half, I was released with a summons for disorderly conduct. My trial date is July 27.
I spoke with an attorney who said that the maximum fine for a class one misdemeanor is $2,500 or a year in prison, but he’s pretty sure I’ll get off.
The next day I learned there had been not one but three fatal shootings in Richmond that night; one of them was by a police officer. S
Letters to the editor may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org