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Report from the Bolozone
by Kelley Meister, Bolozone
[This article is based on the author’s presentation at the forum on “Police Repression in a Police State,” held by the Green Party of St. Louis on June 4, 2003.]
My name is Kelley Meister, and I would first like to share these words, spoken by Assata Shakur, revolutionary and freedom fighter, with you:
I hate war in all its forms: physical, psychological, spiritual, emotional, environmental. I hate war, and I hate having to struggle because I wish I had been born into a world where it was unnecessary. This context of struggle, and being a warrior, and being a struggler has been forced on me by oppression. Otherwise I would be a sculptor, or a gardener, a carpenter. You know, I would be free to be so much more.
I have been thinking about what she said a lot lately. What she did, what she fought for. And I’ve been putting her words into the context of my life, as a white, privileged, college-educated woman in 2003’s amerika. I believe that our current society oppresses all of us—to varying degrees and for various reasons, but I do believe we are all oppressed. I have chosen to live my life according to this belief, according to how I want to help us break free from the State’s repression, police repression, the class oppression, the racial oppression, the oppression of our sexual activities and enforcement of our gender boundaries, the oppression that is inflicted because of what age we may or may not be. These are the things I struggle against.
I initially became involved with the Bolozone because of my struggle. The Bolozone was established four and a half years ago as a collective urban living experiment. Over those years, many people have been a part of shaping what the space is today and will become in the future through their artistic endeavors, musical studios/projects, urban gardening, rehabilitation of the house, creative experiments, and love for the Bolozone. I have been familiar with the Bolozone since Winter of 2000, and I moved into the house in November of 2002 because I wanted to be a part of this amazing project.
…I again asked for a warrant. The officers told me that a warrant was not necessary because this was a condemned building.
On Friday, May 16, I woke up and let out a sigh of relief. The night before, police had been circling our house relentlessly, following my friends home, and harassing them on the street, and I had feared waking up to the police knocking down my door. I ate some breakfast and went downstairs to find “Jane,” a member of the fabulous Flying Rutabaga Cycle Circus. We were going to be painting the butterfly bicycle flags that morning, and we decided to set up in the alley behind our house. While Jane was inside the back room talking with “Joe” (another Cycle Circus member), a police car pulled up.
Two police officers got out of the car, as I stood up and moved toward the door. I said “Hi…Can I help you? I am a resident here…can I help you with anything?” As the words left my mouth, four more police cars pulled into the alley, and two cops got out of each vehicle. Suddenly I was surrounded by police officers as they came from around the side of the building as well. They were peering around me into the back room, and when I attempted to close the door, they instructed me not to. Two police officers pushed past me to enter the house, and I asked if they had a warrant. When they said, “No,” I stated that I did not give them permission to enter my house, and I again asked for a warrant. The officers told me that a warrant was not necessary because this was a condemned building.
Joe, Jane and I were instructed to stand with our hands on the hood of the police car, and that we were under arrest. Joe and I were continually asking for proof of condemnation and a warrant for entry into the house. Finally, a man in a red plaid shirt who identified himself as a building inspector, came from around the house and waved a piece of paper in my face. He proceeded to tell me that it was documentation of our condemnation since April 1999, and that we were negligent on our two work permits. As the three of us were handcuffed then led around to the front of the house, I saw the 12 other people who were in or near the property when the police arrived sitting, waiting to be arrested. From the police van, I watched many cops enter and exit our house, most notably, an officer carrying a piece of art ripped down off the wall from my room. The cops also stole many other people’s personal items such as journals, posters, props for the circus and puppet shows, welding tools, roofing nails, and all of our bicycles that were in the building. The bicycles were eventually returned with slashed tires, but most of the other stuff that was stolen is either “missing” or being held as evidence.
The 15 of us were arrested and charged with the city ordinance infraction of occupying a condemned building. My house was boarded up, with all of my and my housemate’s personal belongings inside it as well as most of the Cycle Circus’ gear and circus/puppeteering props. On Tuesday, May 20, the building was temporarily reopened for three hours for the retrieval of necessary belongings. The house was trashed. In my bedroom, shelves had been disassembled or knocked over, boxes of oil paints and other art supplies dumped out, my large reading chair was on its side and in the middle of the room, personal items were smashed, and a pile of my clothes that had been dumped from a small cabinet were most certainly urinated on by a police officer.
My clothes were urinated on by one of St. Louis’ finest.
As a resident of the Bolozone, I can confidently say that there were no “pee jars” or “jugs of urine” anywhere in the house as John MacEnulty erroneously claims in Sunday, June 1 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article. My clothes were urinated on by one of St. Louis’ finest. In addition to the damage in my room, the rest of the house was also trashed and others’ things were tampered with. A photograph was drawn on, sleeping bags were slashed, 35mm cameras and video cameras were smashed, personal toiletry items were thrown into the toilet that contained a police officer’s feces, and books and posters were ripped up.
My choice to be politically active, to express my dissent through activism and art, has put me in a place that invites this kind of police repression. Yeah, the police highly overreacted to the situation. It was wrong that they took our house away from us and trashed it. It was wrong that they arrested 12 other activists that same day and raided and shutdown or harassed three other buildings in South City aside from the Bolozone and the Community Arts and Media Project building. But in our current society—a society that barely blinked when the PATRIOT Act was passed, a society that allowed George W. Bush to be appointed as president, a society that seemingly supported the killing of millions of Iraqi, Afghani, Palestinian and other oppressed people in the last year—in our current society, I expect to have my voice muted. I expect to have my rights trampled on because I am expressing opinions that are contrary to the status quo. But I want everyone here tonight to realize also that there are hundreds, thousands of people living in St. Louis who experience this kind of injustice, this kind of police repression every day just because of the way they look, the way they dress or act, just because of the color of their skin or how much money they don’t have.
Millions of people experience this injustice in our own country and all over the world. But we don’t have to sit back and take it silently. A civilian oversight board with subpeona power is an excellent attempt to counteract the police state that exists in our city and has existed long before I saw the insidious underbelly from the inside of a jail cell on May 16th.
[13 sep 03]