I'm going to resist recounting my arrest experience as a relieving stream of consciousness journal entry, a resentful and naive diatribe, or even an innocuous newspaper article. My memories of the experience intersect all three.

ⓒ OhmyNews Noh-Suntaek

June 14 I accompanied Green Korea United (GKU) staff as I had the two previous nights to the main gate of the U.S. military base in Yongsan. There was to be a concert that night, and so I was especially excited to go. Just after 8 pm, activities began with a few speeches from activists and soon drifted into song. About 20 demonstrators were sitting, holding candles, and swaying to the music as they were surrounded by walls of police and of the base. Moments later my name was said and I was asked if I wished to speak. I responded by standing and gathered thoughts as I walked to the microphone. A GKU staff member translated my words describing the awkwardness of my position as a U.S. citizen standing in solidarity with Koreans protesting U.S. bases; my gratitude for people's willingness to listen; and my opinion on the issue. The U.S. is in S. Korea and any other country for its own interests, and that is to perpetuate U.S. hegemony throughout the world. Such interests run contrary to S. Korea's social and environmental well-being.

ⓒ OhmyNews Noh-Suntaek

Minutes after I finished speaking, groups of officers began arresting demonstrators one-by-one. They came for me and interrupted my quiet state of reasoning: the arrests did not reflect the peaceful gathering that I saw. In a now familiar way, I had to swallow all of my questions and confusion and respond quickly. The officers were cordial and cautious and I obeyed. I found myself next to another demonstrator who spoke some English as we waited to be taken to the police station. She said not to worry, that being arrested is "glorious," and not to say anything before the lawyer arrived. U.S. culture had already schooled me on her last suggestion.

Once at the station, a police investigator informed me that I had violated the demonstration law and of my rights to remain silent and to representation. Three investigators asked several times for my full name and to see my passport. I gave my first name and politely refused to give any more information without a lawyer present. They told me to call a lawyer, to which I would ask if they would appoint me one because I know no lawyers. We would go around in circles while I explained that providing a lawyer at trial, but not during investigation is a class- discriminatory practice. Paying for representation, which is what I was told I would have to do, amounts more to a privilege than a right.

I was also disturbed to hear that public demonstrations are illegal before sunrise and after sunset: why does free speech and assembly have a clock? All of these criticisms flooded my mind- a mind that was nourished by MLK's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" and Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States"-- and some were left unspoken in deference to the language barrier. They did not understand and/or were not persuaded and so I made two calls: one to the U.S. Embassy for recommendations of lawyers and the other to the family I am living with who assured me that giving a statement without a lawyer would be fine as long I verified it. The tedious process of giving a statement lasted about three hours with the help of a police-provided translator, a GKU staff member who offered support and translation skills, and a group of police investigators who were both gentle and procedural. They treated me well, perhaps weary of my U.S. citizenship.

By around 3 am we were taken down to the jail and began the equally tedious process of preparing for sleep. I was searched, both my body and belongings were catalogued, and then the bars opened. While I mustered all of my patience waiting for this moment I felt the gravity of my dispossessed freedom- the bars, submitting to the police's schedule, and not being able to do something as simple as lie down. I would eventually share a jail cell with three other phenomenal women. As my nose dripped because of allergies, they told the officers that I was sick so that I could get more blankets and toilet paper to use as tissue.

After a few hours of sleep a room full of GKU members visited me with a collective worried stare and asked if I was ok. I replied with a smile and said that I was fine and that they should ask when all of the demonstrators would be released.

Later that day everyone arrested and kept in that jail came to front of their cells, clutching the bars, and staged their own demonstration that would reflect the one occurring outside the U.S. base. People spoke in turn and I could understand the feelings, even though many of the words alluded me. My words of strength and solidarity came easily because I felt them.

The last of those arrested would be released around 10:30 pm on June 15. We immediately returned to the demonstration site to share experiences and thank those who had been demanding our release throughout the day. More people greeted us than had seen us off to jail. The spirit of resistance had strengthened and spread while the walls of police and the U.S. military base stood much the same.


By Amy Levine (GKU Volunteer)

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