The city had changed the route of her march to the town courthouse. So here she was, as one of the march leaders, re-surveying the route on the morning of the event. Yesterday, her group had placed signs along the previous route. Today she needed to make sure her committee moved nearly a third of those signs to direct marchers onto different streets.
"This looks like kind of a rough neighborhood," one of her companions pointed out. He pointed to a tenement that had suffered a recent fire. Next to it, four men leaned against a neighboring building. They seemed to have all of their belongings with them.
"It's early morning." She kept walking. "No one will bother us."
As they passed the homeless men, the four demanded money. She ignored them. They didn't move to threaten her or any of her friends.
Half a block later, she and her team stopped to re-position the march signs. They discovered a roadblock had been set across their march route. Police had set it according to the old route but now it would be an obstacle. The march leaders been warned they would be arrested if they deviated from their route, so they stopped to debate the portable wooden barriers.
"Do we have the right to move these?" one of her companions asked.
"I don't think ..." At that moment, someone struck her in the head.
The next minute was confusing. She learned later that one of the homeless men had followed her group and had targeted her in particular. When he attacked, her friends tried to help. One of them called for police. She kept her arms up to keep from getting hit in the head any more. It worked. She couldn't escape the blows entirely, not even with the help of friends, but she could keep herself from injury.
The police who had set the barriers arrived in a minute. They subdued the homeless man. One of the officers asked her to sit down while he checked her arms and head for bruises. When he was done, he helped her to her feet.
"Do you want an ambulance?" he asked.
"No, I'm all right."
"I work this neighborhood a lot. This guy who attacked you is a problem. He picks on women. You don't need to press charges since I saw this but I have to ask, are you going to fill out a police report? Will you appear in court to testify against him?"
"If it will help."
Filing the report took her hours, much of it travel time to the station and back. It forced her to delegate the re-surveying of the protest march route to her companions. But when she was done, she felt she'd accomplished something. She headed to the march in high spirits.
The rally started out in the downtown park. The clouds, which had threatened rain earlier in the day, lifted. The afternoon turned warm. The orators at the rally gave short, impassioned speeches. Musicians drummed up a sense of movement and progress in the throngs. Then they all headed out.
As one of the organizers, she took her spot in the second row. From the rightmost position, she gave cues to the march leaders.
When the march neared the courthouse, their destination, they encountered a counter-protest. A group of nearly a hundred people blocked their path. Rather than confront them, the march leaders decided to turn.
She was never sure if they decided to turn because it was their original route or because of the informal blockade. They'd all been warned that if they deviated from the approved route, they would be arrested.
"I think this is deliberate," said a marcher next to her. "Our opponents want us arrested. The police are on their side."
"Are they?" she wondered. This could have been a coordinated, deliberate ploy by the authorities. It also seemed reasonable that it could have been an accident. Even the counter-demonstrators could have set up where they were because they were acting on old information. Who would have told them about today's change?
The march leaders pushed down a wooden barrier. Police on the sidewalks swarmed into the road to stop them. There were only a dozen officers at first. That wasn't enough to control the crowd if people fought. So instead, the officers moved to block the street. It seemed to be an indication that this wasn't part of their plan. But the march kept moving. Police reinforcements arrived.
"It's a set up!" one of her companions yelled.
The reinforcements came armed in riot gear. This force did look like they'd expected the deviation in the march. However, they didn't charge in with their weapons. The officer in charge shouted through a bullhorn instead.
"You're under arrest!"
One of the protestors tried to march through the police line and got knocked down. Others fled backwards along the march route.
"Don't resist!" she shouted. "Everyone sit down! Cooperate!"
"Don't resist!" others shouted. "Sit down!"
It turned out that many of those at the front of the march were willing to submit to arrest. After the initial group that fled, everyone else stayed. In a few minutes, police vans arrived from farther up the street. Officers began to cuff the protestors, hands behind their backs, and toss them roughly into the waiting vans.
One of the officer walked over to her. She recognized him.
"You're arresting me? You?" She had been furious with the suspicion that this had all been planned to go wrong. But as she sighted her arresting officer, she felt tears come to her face. She laughed even though she didn't think it was funny. "You're the one who saved me this morning."
"I remember." He knelt and cuffed her as he'd done to the others. It was hard for her to put herself in his place. He had seemed so nice before. Now this. She tried to get a sense of what it was like to work in his job.
"You've had a long day."
"It's normal for me, ma'am." He hesitated. His eyes swept the scene. "Now, I've placed you under arrest. I could carry you to the van. But will you get in under your own power?"
"Yes." Handcuffed, she walked in front of him to the line of police vehicles. When she got to her spot, she turned and hopped up backwards. The officer had to help her get her feet inside. She accepted his gentle push with gratitude. "I'm sorry to be such a trouble to you today."
"Not many people say that as we arrest them." He stepped into the van to help her onto the bench seat.
"It's been, well, a shocking day. I'm not sure why I'm apologizing but here I am. Sorry."
"I apologize too, ma'am. I'm the same person as this morning."
"Thank you. I think I may be slightly different."
"Ma'am, I know what you mean."