"Hands up, don't shoot"

How My 72-Year-Old Dad Got Arrested at a Protest Against Police Brutality

On Saturday evening my father, Tenney Mason, was in downtown Baltimore (my home city in the U.S.) attending ArtScape, a local arts festival. A group of #Afromation and #BlackLivesMatter demonstrators walked past, and Dad decided to check it out. He had his camera with him and although he’s mostly retired, Dad spent many decades as a photojournalist and newspaper editor. When he sees a news story, he follows it.

Affirmation rally in Baltimore, in front of Penn StationThis is one of the photos Dad took of the demonstration. It was shot in front of Penn Station, Baltimore’s train station,  which is also right where Artscape was happening. (Photo: Tenney Mason)

Afromation demonstration leaderOne of the leaders of the demonstration. I hope he got some good GoPro footage. (Photo: Tenney Mason)

I don’t know much about this demonstration and neither did Dad at the time. But after a bit of online research, I have learned that the demonstration was a protest against police brutality and “an affirmation of black life”. (Read a statement by the organizers.)

Dad followed the protesters onto an exit ramp to Interstate 83. The ramp was closed to cars due to the arts festival. He saw a larger group of protesters down below, attempting to interrupt northbound traffic on I-83.

Traffic blocked on I-83The protestors block traffic on I-83, also called the Jones Falls Expressway. (Photo: Tenney Mason)

Suddenly Dad noticed that the group of people on the exit ramp – including himself – was surrounded by police officers. He tried to leave, but the police stopped him. Then he got arrested, along with several dozen others.

The police bound Dad’s hands behind his back with semi-flexible plastic “wrist cuffs”, and locked him into the back of a paddy wagon (police van) with five other men – “butt to butt”, Dad explained, “three guys on one side and three on the other.”

Dad and his cell mates quickly got to know each other. It was a diverse group – white guys, black guys, and one guy whose family came from Nepal.

"Hands up, don't shoot"“Hands up, don’t shoot.” (Photo: Tenney Mason)

CuffedA good look at the wrist cuffs, which, in Dad’s words, “wear your skin raw and make your wrists swell”. (Photo: Tenney Mason)

The police told Dad that he was being arrested for failing to heed an official warning to disperse. But he never heard any warning, nor did the other people in the paddy wagon.

The group was driven to a police station, where the police briefly let them out of the paddy wagon, untied their wrists, and made them empty their pockets. The men then had their wrists rebound and returned to their mobile jail, where they were held for seven hours.

Seven Hours in a Paddy Wagon

“It was like torture,” Dad said. “I swear to god, it was like, if I was trying to torture somebody and get them to make a confession or something, this is what I’d do to them, you know?” They didn’t receive any water until five hours into the ordeal and for many hours there was no air conditioning in the van.

Dad was 40 or 50 years older than everyone else in the paddy wagon, and he became a source of entertainment as the minutes and hours ticked by.

“At one point it got real quiet, and this one guy says, ‘Does anybody have any stories?’ Well, I was amazed at how many stories I had, because I’ve lived for 72 years. I started with Navy stories…I decided not to tell ‘em all at once. I ended up being the main storyteller throughout the whole thing. They were flabbergasted by how much of the world I had seen.”

At one point, one of the guys in the wagon – a leader in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, who told Dad he serves as a liaison with police – became ill. He yelled for help but no one came. Eventually he vomited onto the floor and passed out. [UPDATE: The man who got sick is Tre Murphy. Here is a YouTube video of Tre talking about the ordeal.]

“When the guy threw up – that’s when I organized the chant,” Dad said. “I said, ok, on three, everybody yell ‘Medic!’…I would say somebody came within five minutes, but it seemed like an hour.” The man who vomited was let out of the paddy wagon for a brief time, then returned.

“I just can’t even describe to you how horrible it was, sitting in that paddy wagon for seven hours, literally with like one 15-minute break when they emptied our pockets. There were two guys who were really suffering…the handcuffs were really hurting them a lot, so we screamed and hollered and they came in and they redid their handcuffs. Me and another guy, ours were really hurting but we were afraid to let them do it because we had kinda found a good position.”

Dad received a bit of a break eventually, after he began to scream. “I started getting really claustrophobic… and since I was 72, the guy did cut me some slack and he let me out of the paddy wagon to sit, like on the edge, in the back. I sat there for maybe half an hour because he couldn’t find a knife to cut [the wrist cuffs] loose. Finally he did find one, and he cut them, took them off, and then let me put my hands around in the front…So it was like a special privilege, I had my hands in front of me for the last half hour or so.”

Having his hands tied in the front rather than the back, Dad explains, was a huge relief. The intense pain and swelling reduced dramatically. “You can’t believe the difference with having your hands in front of you – you know, when your nose itches, you can scratch your nose.”

The group was finally released at around 1:00 a.m. When I spoke to Dad last night, he couldn’t remember exactly what he had been charged with. But he knows there are two charges, one of them criminal, and a fine of $500.

Stop Police Brutality

I’m trying to tell this story objectively, even though I’m obviously not objective and I don’t have all the details. Everything I’ve written here came from one brief skype conversation with Dad, just a few hours after the ordeal.

But…really, Baltimore Police? This is how you’re doing things? Even now, after everything that’s happened? I realize we’re living in scary times, and you’re trying to protect the public and yourselves. But surely it isn’t necessary to round up dozens of people, including innocent bystanders, bind their hands, and imprison them for hours on end without water or proper medical care? We’re trusting you to come up with a better solution, and you’re letting us down. You need to do better.

Protest action
Self-explanatory. (Photo: Tenney Mason)

Incidentally, my dad has never been a big supporter of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We’ve argued about it in the past. But last night’s experience seems to have shifted Dad’s thinking. He says feels that the movement has “commendable goals”, although he still disagrees with some of its tactics..

“As much as I still disagree with many of the things that #BlackLivesMatter does, I was very impressed with the people that were in that van with me, even though I disagreed with some of them…They were trying to do good, they were articulate, and I’ve got some friends in the #BlackLivesMatter movement now. Maybe if I ever see them again we’ll have a beer. Or since I don’t drink beer, we’ll go have a coke.”

Heather and TenneyA very bad selfie of Dad and me during my visit to Maryland last year.

Here is a Baltimore Sun story about the arrests. I’ll update this post as I receive more information.

UPDATES:
Another article about the arrests
, from the Baltimore Action Legal Team.
An article in Baltimore’s City Paper, with quotes from this blog post.
Another article in the Baltimore Sun, which includes an interview with Tenney.

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44 Comments

  • Reply iponsromeu July 18, 2016 at 9:42 am

    Can’t believe it… Thanks for sharing your dad’s story

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 1:56 pm

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  • Reply GoingSomewhereSlowly (@AnjeRautenbach) July 18, 2016 at 9:56 am

    This is crazy!

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 1:55 pm

      I know 🙁

  • Reply eremophila July 18, 2016 at 10:01 am

    Sadly, I can believe it – and think there’s going to be more of these situations in the future….
    Hope your father suffers no ill effects from it, and as we say Downunder – goodonyermate!

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 1:55 pm

      Yep, I agree. I was outraged but not really surprised. Hope you’re doing well!

  • Reply Meg July 18, 2016 at 10:30 am

    This is crazy! I’m going to keep my eye out for more details.

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 1:55 pm

      I know, totally insane.

  • Reply Ellen July 18, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    What an experience! So sorry Tenney, but you certainly learned from it. This could happen to anyone.

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 1:54 pm

      I know, really. I’m glad nothing serious happened. Hope you’re doing well, Ellen 🙂

  • Reply Brenda Reiss July 18, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Thanks for posting this. Wow.
    Our local, small city NY police seem to be people who are not well educated or very sophisticated. Add to that ignorance, poor training, no real plan, a sense of entitlement made worse every week with what has been going on, and you have terrified cops who do this sort of thing. Horrible. One would think a big city like Baltimore could do better. Glad your Dad is OK. He got some great pictures.
    (On the plus side, we can see where you got your curiosity, ease in new situations and terrific photography skills!)

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 2:09 pm

      Thanks so much, Brenda. I think everyone is just scared right now and fear seems to make police behavior worse. And yes, I think I was lucky to inherit my dad’s creative genes 🙂

  • Reply Gail Scott Wilson July 18, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    How awful. Funnily enough we also came across a group of people yesterday who had #Black Lives Matter placards and Tees marching from Braamfontein to Maboneng.

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 4:18 pm

      Yeah, the movement is really taking off in SA.

  • Reply Jaina July 18, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    This is kind of incredible. Firstly, thank you for sharing your dad’s story. It must have been quite an ordeal to hear it, especially being so far away from him. I still can’t quite fathom just the depths of the police brutality that can occur in the States and stuff gets so distorted in the mainstream media, it’s hard to know the truth, you know?

    7 hours?! I can’t even ….

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 4:17 pm

      I know, it’s really hard to conceive of how long those hours must have felt. Fortunately I only heard about it after the fact and already knew that Dad was ok. But still, crazy.

  • Reply UnderAnAfricanSun July 18, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    It is terrible what is happening and these stories need to be heard. Glad your dad is ok.

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 4:17 pm

      Thanks, Kelly. xx

  • Reply Dubois Manning July 18, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    So sorry….I was there among those arrested in a separate van but saw your dad a couple of times towards the end. I hope he is doing ok. Make sure he attends the upcoming legal representation workshop. Hopefully the charges will be reduced but just in case there are legal representatives working on our cases (his included of course). Everything in his story was true, right down to the hours spent in the vans. Thank you for sharing this story!

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 4:14 pm

      Thanks so much, Dubois. I hope you’re okay too. I’ll make sure he sees your comment.

  • Reply mvschulze July 18, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    Heather:
    We’re suddenly, and surprisingly, facing some tough times here in America. As your dad would certainly remember, it’s sadly reminiscent of the 60’s, when several social situations came together to cause un-rest. Much of it also proved masterfully worthy, as awareness led to changes which led to better times. But, with new factors spiced in, we’re seeing a re-emergence of unrest and frustration – and the political climate is probably even more complicit than the post R. Kennedy assassination leading to the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968.
    You’re dad’s experience comes in a time when multiple uniformed police members have been killed (murdered) as an after-effect of a few terribly wrong and deadly incidents between police and blacks. There is no excuse for the poor judgment of offenders (including those who decide murdering innocents is somehow justified OR the questionable policing of gatherings such as you describe.) Police officials (those accountable for the actions of their members) must act with discretion and intelligence when dealing (particularity) with situations… like protests. Baltimore, of all places, already has a black mark on their side with their recent history of terribly mis-treating “paddy-wagon” arrestee’s.
    The use of deadly violence by individuals against law enforcement is absolutely wrong, no debate there. But your father’s story should be seen as an example of critical areas that beg for introspection and improvement in police policy as a step towards easing and improving relations.

    Thanks for sharing your dad’s story.
    Oh, and say hello to the Melville cat for myself and Sandy Paws!
    Marty

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 7:34 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Marty. I agree with much of what you said. Although one thing I do disagree with is the statement that the recent racial problems in America are surprising. I think what’s happening is a surprise to many/most white people, who have the luxury of living as part of the dominant, privileged majority and hence don’t have to think about the color of their skin all the time and how it impacts their everyday lives. For those who aren’t white, I think what’s happening now is no surprise whatsoever, and has been a long time coming.

      As you said, the traumas and violence of the late 1960s, painful as they were, eventually brought positive change and increased awareness of issues that had been buried prematurely. The Civil War did the same (obviously), as did Brown v. Board of Education and so many other painful, pivotal moments in America’s history. But that process of change isn’t over yet. It’s taking a long, long time to heal from centuries of slavery and injustice and I actually don’t find it surprising at all. I just hope we can survive this current process somewhat intact.

      Ok, I’m off my soap box now. I will pass on Sandy’s greeting to the Melville Cat!

      • Reply mvschulze July 18, 2016 at 10:44 pm

        I admire your viewpoint, and can’t disagree. You show a vulnerability in my comment that likely represents an isolationist comfort zone that some of us (many of us) hide behind. The recent events seem to certainly raise awareness to issues still festering. Let’s hope the increased awareness leads towards positive momentum despite the uncertainty and concern in our evolving presidential landscape. M 🙂

        • Reply 2summers July 19, 2016 at 8:15 am

          Yes, defnitely. It’s such an uncertain time in the world…so terrifying, really.

  • Reply violetonlineisonline July 18, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    I like your Dad.

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 6:56 pm

      Me too. Hopefully he’ll come back someday and I can introduce you.

  • Reply Diane KC Hughes July 18, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    Unbelievable. Everything going on is just so unbelievable. Thanks for telling your dad’s story as yet another perspective in this tangled web. It is so important to recognize as many perspectives as possible. Hopefully one day we can see how they all fit together – PEACEFULLY. Your dad’s photos are incredible! You should be proud.

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 7:47 pm

      Thanks Diane. I am very proud. I hope you’re doing well!

  • Reply Louise Whitworth (@CosThisIsAfrica) July 18, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    Wow, this is horrific. It’s really scary, not only can you feel like they might actually shoot you (because of course we have seen the American police will straight out shoot unarmed people because they are black) but then when you are detained they are so very very rough about it. Those handcuffs – and behind your back – why? How is that justified in any way?

    I remember back in 2012 when we had lots of protests in Moscow everyone had stories about the Paddy Wagons, people were just randomly manhandled and chucked in and driven to far off police stations to be detained. That still happens btw. They were not handcuffed and even I remember lots of people had their phones with them and took selfies with their placards and posted them on twitter (e.g this is from anti-Ukraine war protests, lady has a card reading; No peace, spontaneous anti-war exhibition – http://bit.ly/29HeqCK ) So basically even Russian protesters are not detained in such a violent way as their US counterparts are (although the charges you might receive can obviously be much graver in Russia and that in itself is a very scary part of the experience)

    I am also curious to know were there already many Paddy Wagons around during the march? At Russian protests there were always too many Paddy Wagons lurking at any demonstrations, like they were a bit Chekhov’s gun, just all needing to get used, intimidating…

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      Thanks for the comment Louise, this is all fascinating. When everyone was finally set free, Dad said that there were lots of people, especially women, who had had their hands switched from back to front. But in he was the only one granted that luxury in his van. I really don’t get it either…I guess they’re worried about the people inside the van attacking each other? Or being able to pull things out of their pockets if their hands were held in front? It makes no sense, really. If you look through that #afromation hashtag though, you will see one pic of the inside of one of the paddy wagons during the imprisonment. So there was at least one woman who managed to hold on to her phone somehow and also had her hands in front of her.

      As far as the paddy wagons onsite beforehand, I’m not sure. However, it’s been documented that the cops broke up the traffic blockage on I-83 by telling the protestors that an ambulance had to get through. When the protesters subsequently broke their blockade, there was in fact no ambulance, but rather two paddy wagons that were immediately used to detain the arrestees.

  • Reply Louise Whitworth (@CosThisIsAfrica) July 18, 2016 at 8:10 pm

    Sorry this is the Paddy Wagon lady with nice placard selfie – https://twitter.com/moskal196239/status/709026985117421568

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      Beautiful!

  • Reply Kate July 18, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    This is unreal. And what’s even more frightening is that the cops can get away with this with no reprimand. I can’t say anything more because I am completely unable to remain objective on this subject, and it would just get ugly. I never thought I would say this, but it seems like the relationships between white and black people here in South Africa is better than that in the US. Do you feel the same way? Just want to add that I can now see where you got your incredible talent!

    • Reply 2summers July 19, 2016 at 8:20 am

      Thanks Kate. Yes, I was lucky to inherit Dad’s genes! I don’t know if it’s really possible (or fair) to compare race relations in the U.S. versus South Africa. (Although so many people do, including me.) There are soooooo many parallels, but the two countries are at very different points in their histories, especially when it comes to race. The issues that are coming up in the US have been bubbling to the surface for decades, while apartheid only ended 20 years ago in SA. So, I don’t know. We’ve certainly got our share of problems here in SA though too…Sometimes I feel like the whole world is coming to an end 🙁

  • Reply Kate July 19, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    You’re right about not making comparisons…..also it’s a topic that I just realized you might want to shy away from on here. I will say, though I am certainly not sure – the police force here does not seem to be nearly as aggressive as in the US (meaning, abusive of their power). Also, I see lots of polarization in the US (either sympathetic to black people or sympathetic to cops, but not much in between) I dunno – maybe it’s because I haven’t been here very long, or because well, you know, I’m white – but I don’t see that polarization as much.

    • Reply 2summers July 19, 2016 at 6:34 pm

      Oh, the cops are definitely very abusive of their power here. Excessive force and unethical behavior (especially bribery) are rampant. Check out this article: http://www.groundup.org.za/article/saps-twice-lethal-us-police_3016/. I think we just don’t hear about it as often in SA because everyone is so used to it — aggressive policing in SA is a norm that goes back to apartheid times.

  • Reply autumnashbough July 19, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Your poor Dad! Thanks for sharing, and I hope he’s okay now. I suppose it shouldn’t amaze us, from a psychological standpoint, how drunk cops get with power and how quickly they slip into an “us versus them” mentality. The LAPD cops say things like, “I’m saving you from the monsters!” The minute people slip into that mindset, they can shrug off every bit of inhumanity as justified. 🙁

    I’m glad you got the story out. The more empathy, the better.

    • Reply 2summers July 19, 2016 at 6:35 pm

      Yeah, it’s all very depressing. Ugh.

  • Reply rilriia July 21, 2016 at 2:00 am

    One thing I am startled by is that this actually really demonstrates white privilege until that privilege is taken away. No offense Miss, but I am also ‘white’, and I have been watching this develop since police became violent first with Occupy protesters. How you can not be aware of what’s going on is staggering to me. This beautifully and tragically demonstrates the commentary by Pastor Martin Niemöller about life in Nazi Germany as well the statement by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

    …I sincerely hope that both you and your father will re-evaluate the rose colored lenses you view America through. We are in dire and desperate trouble–and I say this having amazing friends and teachers who are law enforcement –and– as an activist for civil rights.

    We cannot, none of us, turn a blind eye to what is going on. The price is just too high.

    • Reply 2summers July 21, 2016 at 7:36 am

      Hi Rilriia, thanks for the comment. I’m not sure what you mean though. I am extremely aware of my white privilege — I don’t deny it and I never have. And although this is my first time writing about police brutality, it certainly isn’t the first time I’ve become aware of it. This was just the first time it directly affected a member of my family which, as you say, is a perfect illustration of white privilege. I just didn’t get into that issue in this post because I wanted to tell the story of what happened as simply as possible.

      I totally agree that we are facing very troubling, uncertain times in America and the rest of the world, and the injustices that are occurring need to be discussed. That’s why I wrote this post.

  • Reply Sine July 21, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Great post, Heather, and great pictures taken by your dad (before his hands were cuffed, I assume). What I love about this story is how it basically made it possible for some bonds to be forged, for people who came together that normally wouldn’t have. It’s amazing how your perspective alters when you’ve been in a situation you know of just by following the news, and how having a shared experience brings you together with people. I’m not envying your dad’s experience (and it’s revealing to hear how much it actually hurts to have your hands cuffed behind your back, I never once thought about that) but it’s heartening that this police action meant to stop something may indeed have started a force for good. I’m sure your dad (and even your whole family) will now be much more interested in this topic, more passionate, than he ever was before.

    • Reply 2summers July 21, 2016 at 5:30 pm

      Yes, I agree that this is the one positive outcome from this event. Dad was invited to a legal meeting for all of the arrestees on Tuesday night, and he was so excited to go and see all of his friends from the paddy wagon 🙂

  • Reply Crystal September 8, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    I just found your blog to do some research on my upcoming trip to South Africa, and came across this post, which interested me because I too am from Baltimore and have participated in a lot of the #blacklivesmatter protests here. I’m sorry that your dad witnessed and was a victim of the horrible tactics used by the BCPD, but I love how he has come to develop more of an understanding of the movement. His photos are great as well!

    • Reply 2summers September 12, 2016 at 5:16 pm

      Hi Crystal, thanks so much for your comment and I hope the blog is helping with your plans. And yes, it’s funny how experiences like this can change one’s perspective. I wish you well with your future efforts in Baltimore and I hope you have a great trip to SA.

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