Seeing Red Nebraska staff note: what follows is the unedited firsthand account of JJ Frederick, who has given us permission to use their name.
I am writing to provide you with an account of my experience regarding the protests that occurred in Omaha. I hope you find this information useful.
On the evening of July 25th, 2020, I participated in a peaceful protest with the local activist group ProBLAC. We were marching, as we have done several times before, to bring awareness to the murder of James Scurlock, stand in solidarity with protestors in Portland and around the country, and also demand justice for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many other PoC and marginalized people who have been murdered and brutalized by the police. We met on the corner of 30th and Farman St. at 7:30PM CST in Omaha, NE, and then began marching at 8:30PM. We marched from that point down to the Old Market district and then back to where we started. Police cruisers followed us the whole way and announced over their PA systems that we were assembling unlawfully and subject to arrest. Finally, on the Farnam St. bridge that crosses highway I-480, we were “kettled” in by the Omaha Police Department.
“Kettling” is defined by a well sourced Wikipedia article as: “Kettling (also known as containment or corralling) is a police tactic for controlling large crowds during demonstrations or protests. It involves the formation of large cordons of police officers who then move to contain a crowd within a limited area. Protesters either leave through an exit controlled by the police or are contained, prevented from leaving, and arrested.” This Wikipedia article contains 66 citations, and while the information in some Wikipedia articles is dubious, this one is definitely well researched. Please follow this link to view the article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kettling
At approximately 9:30PM CST, Omaha SWAT teams mass arrested an estimated 100 – 126 protestors. We were shackled with plastic zip ties that were fastened extremely tightly. We all ended up with friction marks on our wrists, experienced excruciating pain from the restraints, along with numbness in the hands and pain up the arms into the shoulders. I was personally restrained for at least 5 hours while there were some of us who were restrained for at least 8. We were kept outside the Douglas County Corrections center awaiting processing, forced to sit on the concrete still hot after a 95+ degree day. We were denied water for hours until some bottled water was fed to us, as we could not lift the bottles to our own mouths.
There were some minor children who were detained, approximately 9 – 12 years of age, that were not taken to jail, but luckily were released to an adult before we were all driven to the corrections facility. At least one older minor, 17 years of age, was taken to the jail, made to wait with the rest of us until their mother arrived at around 2:00AM CST to take them home. The mother was not allowed to take their child until after several minutes of arguing with the police through the gate. This is particularly dangerous as the fact that these children were present can be used to justify them being taken into CPS custody, away from their parents.
Local media report that 75 – 80 protestors were booked at the jail, which may be accurate, as some of us who were detained on the Farnam St. bridge were let go. However, this downplays the actual size of the protest. Some local media outlets report that only about 5 individuals were arrested, because they only reported on the people who were charged with assaulting police officers (actually they were resisting detention). There were definitely at least 70 – 80 people charged with obstructing a roadway and failure to disperse.
Conditions inside the jail were appalling. Transgender individuals were misgendered and put into holding with others of their assigned at birth sex or placed in solitary confinement. The holding cells were approximately 10 ft. by 20 ft. in size, with no ventilation or climate control. Their listed occupancy was rated at 14 people, but each holding cell (one for males and the other for females) were packed with over 40 individuals each. Temperatures were well in excess of 80 degrees in these holding cells, and we were cycled out a couple times through the night. The male holding cell, where I as a nonbinary person was forced into, was filled with 43 individuals for at least 5 hours at one point. Each cell had one toilet with no partition for privacy. The female cell’s toilet was clogged with paperwork and a tampon, which flooded the floor.
Detainees in both cells were denied water the entire time we were held and were only able drink water when we were periodically released to the waiting room. There was a sink in each holding cell that dispensed lukewarm water that we were told to drink. At least twice, we were forced into our sexually segregated cells when one individual was caught interacting with someone of the opposite assigned sex.
A local activist group, the Nebraska Left Coalition, has an existing bail fund and was collecting donations throughout the night. Another activist group, Black and Pink, were also said to bail individuals out but I have not confirmed this. Personally, my bail was posted at about 3:00AM CST, yet I was not released until about 12 hours later. Every one of us marching were bailed out through this fund. There were also other individuals who were detained for other reasons, that were in no way affiliated with our demonstration, that were subjected to how we were treated.
I walked out of the jail on the afternoon of Sunday, July 26th, with a man who paid his own bail in cash the night before when he was taken in, but was not released until I was. He was not marching and was taken in for not paying a traffic ticket. The Nebraska Left Coalition was told in repeated calls from some time very early Sunday morning up until around 10:00AM CST by Douglas County Corrections that their computer systems were down and could not post bond for any inmates for 10 – 12 hours. The reasons given ranged from “planned maintenence” to a “system malfunction.” It was about 1:00PM CST on Sunday the 26th when we were finally released in small groups of 2 – 4 people. It has been reported to me that the last people who were bailed out were finally released around 1:30AM CST on Monday.
Thank you for reading and I look forward to Seeing Red reporting on this matter! Sincerely, JJ Frederick