Lin Patterson: my experience of arrest as a peaceful protester

Lin Patterson writes

The decision to be arrested was made early in my plans to attend the DSEI Arms Trade Fair demonstration on September 3rd. I truly support the cause of peace and abhor the murderous trade in weapons, recognising its connection to my main focus: the looming threat to life on earth. Increasing nonviolent direct action will be needed in that struggle soon. So I went for practice.

The police team took me to Brixton Police Station, and were courteous and punctilious in correct procedure. Due to the cuts to the police service, unlike in the past where prisoners were handed to someone else to process in the station, allowing the officer to return to community duty, the arresting officer is required to attend the detainee throughout all the very lengthy processing, which took from 3:15 to my leaving the station at 1am. On leaving, two supporters were there to greet me, and one offered to put me up for the night, before I took the coach in the morning, travelling straight to a meeting in Bristol.

The incarceration:
Between visits to one of the several sergeants taking information, I was in a solitary cell, all clean and white with bright overhead lights, adorned with only a horizontal blue stripe at shoulder height, graced with a toilet, a bench topped by a mattress pad, blanket and pillow, covered in thick blue plastic. On the high ceiling were stencilled messages, the most interesting of which was “Put your unlawful ways behind you, ask to have previous incidents taken into consideration.” There I meditated for half hour, and read from Quaker Laurie Michaelis’ book, “Gleanings” before sleeping for an hour or two. I was given pilau rice for dinner. An officer opened the slit in the solid door every so often to peer in at me. The female officer who fingerprinted me saw my hands were cold, and gave me a second blanket.

The most profound moments were while sitting in the road, hearing the repeated singing in a round:

Dear friends, dear friends

Let me tell you how I feel

You have given me such treasures

I love you so

during the process of arrest. Obeying the advice not to comment to the police, I decided not to respond at all when they were warning me, which for me was difficult, but truly peaceful, and only made possible by avoiding eye contact completely. It was an eerie silence, a Quaker stillness. The police were disconcerted, not knowing if I was deaf or mentally unaware. Finally they gave up and arrested me.

A couple years ago I ministered in meeting about how it is good to sometimes leave one’s comfort zone. It can be healthy; ultimately it’s what has to happen anyway, and we need practice.

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