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What I Saw at McCarren Pool

 

What I Saw at McCarren Pool

by Chavisa Woods 


 Part  One and 1/2  
(Briefly Stated)


 

It was one of the hottest days of the year. I went to McCarren Pool at six oclock. I’d always imagined what it would look like as an actual pool. This was beyond my expectation. It looked like a paradise (although there was a heavily imbedded police presence). I didn't know I was about to witness people wearing nothing but swimming suites getting brutally arrested, slammed on their stomachs, shoved aside and to the cement, children and adults being haplessly maced and rushed by very large, enraged police officers, all because some people, most of whom were kids, decided to do a few flips into the water. 
  I'd been swimming for about a half an hour. The pool closes at seven. At the pool’s center, cheering began; the sound of whooping and yays and ohhs andahhs. It was loud. It was joyful.  Some people had begun jumping in. Some doing flips. The lifeguards stood and began blowing their whistles in unison. The pool began to slowly clear. As the pool began to clear, more people began getting out and jumping and flipping in, repeatedly, as a final hurrah. Most of the people jumping were young, between the ages of ten and nineteen. This was happening along about ten feet of the massive pool edges on both sides of the middle section of the pool. Although, yes, it is against the rules to do flips, people were waiting for each other to jump and flip, watching, being at least moderately careful. 
As I exited the pool, I turned to see that police had begun making arrests. They were leading one young man in his swimming trunks, with his arms behind his back, to the opening of the gates that separated the pool and the sprinklers. I saw a row of police waiting by the sprinklers. “Are they actually arresting people for jumping?” I asked.                          “Yeah they are,” a stranger next to me answered, as if knowingly.
  As this boy was led out by two police, another cop apprehended another man who was getting out of the pool a ways away. This man was older, in his late thirties to early forties, and very large, (obese) wearing a white t-shirt. I saw the cop twisting his wrist to the point it looked as though he was trying to break it. I wasn't the only one who was seeing the cop twisting his wrist. A crowd gathered and stood watching. I was part of the crowd. We stood about six feet away from the police but close to one another, quietly watching the two men being led out. The police scanned the faces of the crowd and they looked terrified. These cops were huge, armed with guns, tazers, mace and Billy-clubs, and they looked terrified of this crowd of basically naked people, barefoot and wet in their swimming suits who were silently watching them. They shouted at the crowd to get back. We started to move back, but before we had a chance, several cops rushed the crowd. The cop who rushed beside me pulled his club out and shouted at the man standing next to me to get back. The man stumbled backwards. The cop shoved him as hard as he could with his arm, putting full the weight of his body behind it. The man pushed away with open palms to defend himself against the onslaught, but within seconds, several cops tackled him to the ground. They had him stomach and face down, shirtless on the cement.
The crowd turned toward the five police who were standing over the man. More police crowded in with them. There was a tableau of police standing over the man who was face down. Everyone was watching, as I know I was, to make sure they were not beating him there inside the tableau of officers covering him. The crowd fell silent again, facing the police, about four feet between the front most line of the crowd of about 40 people and the police. I stood in the second to last row of the crowd. The police shouted, “Get back! Get back!” at the crowd. Simultaneously, a man shouted, “What are you doing to him?” An officer pulled out his mace and maced him directly in the eyes and then swept his mace over the crowd of about 40 people, as two other officers began doing the same, in suite, and we were all screaming and running away from the streams of mace.   
 In a few seconds, I was far away from the police. There was a boy in front of me, no older than thirteen, covering his face with both hands, tears streaming down his cheeks.  It was very, very bad to see a child at a public pool maced in the eyes, hunching, tears streaming down, blinded, wearing nothing but his swimming shorts, only because some other people had been  flipping  into the pool, which yes, I know, is against the rules.
Many boys ran up to the boy who had been maced in the eyes. “Jump in the pool. Just jump in, it’ll wash it out!” one boy told him loudly.
“Don’t do that. They’ll arrest you.” Another boy shouted.
He lifted his head, hand over his eyes, then a hiccup took him and he hunched again.
  Two boys took him by the elbows. ‘The shower. The bathroom. Take him! Take him!” They whisked him away toward the bathroom.
Everyone was clearing, hurrying to the locker, or if they didn’t need it, out. The cops looked like crazed monsters, they looked terrified and heavily armed, rushing the remaining crowd hollering to “Clear out! Clear out!”
I was afraid to pass them to go into the locker room and get my things and leave. But I did. Trembling. I never thought, in all my life, a person of my age, my generation, would see something like this. I never thought I would see black children and adults being maced, en mass, at a public pool. I thought that was for my grandparent's  generation. Outside, my friend told me she had seen a man carrying a two-year-old girl in his arms running from the macing. She said that it was very bad to see.
I couldn't stop shaking all day. I cried a few times that night. I’m an adult who didn't suffer any injury. I can only imagine the feeling of violence and horror the young boy I saw who got so badly hurt by being maced in the eyes  must have felt, and all just from a day of swimming at a public pool. What is he going to think of when he thinks of public spaces, of swimming, of just leaving the house to have fun?
And yes, all of this happened because some people were jumping, some even flipping, which yes, I know, as has been pointed out in every other article written about this incident, is against the rules. Doing flips into  McCarren Pool is against the rules, and obviously very, very dangerous.

 

The more detailed version is here, below:

It Was Bad to See

What I Saw at McCarren Pool

by Chavisa Woods 


 Part One (of at least two)


It was one of the hottest days of the year. I had been working at home since nine a.m. McCarren Pool is just fifteen minutes from my apartment. I’d been there several times over the years when it was a concert, movie and art party venue, peopled mostly by crusties, queers, avant-garde artists and rich hipsters. I had seen people smoking pot, acting weird on acid and ecstasy, getting drunk, making out, getting nude, dancing, breaking bottles and all sort of other happy debaucheries when the pool was an empty and dry venue serving a majority white constituency. On Tuesday, I decided to meet my friend for an hour, take a dip and refresh before going back home and finishing what I was writing. I went to McCarren Pool at six oclock, and for the first time entered in a swimming suit. I’d always imagined what it would look like as an actual pool. This was beyond my expectation. It looked like a paradise; a beach sized swimming pool full of people wading and splashing joyfully in a cool blue ocean. My friend said to me as we swam through the sea of people, “You never see this many people in Brooklyn so happy sharing a space together. Water makes everyone so happy.” I was about to witness people wearing nothing but swimming suites getting brutally arrested, slammed on their stomachs, shoved aside and to the cement, black and brown children and adults being haplessly maced and rushed by very large, enraged police officers, all because some people, most of whom were kids, decided to do a few flips into the pool before closing time. 


I'd been swimming for about 30 minutes. The pool closes at seven. At the pool’s center, cheering began; the sound of whooping and yays and ohhs and ahhs. It was loud. It was joyful.  Some people had begun jumping in. Some doing flips. The lifeguards stood and began blowing their whistles in unison. The pool began to slowly clear. As the pool began to clear, more people began getting out and jumping and flipping in, repeatedly, as a final hurrah. Most of the people jumping were young, between the ages of ten and nineteen.
  This was happening along about ten feet of the massive pool edges on both sides of the middle section of the pool. Although, yes, it is against the rules to do flips, people were waiting for each other to jump and flip, watching, being at least moderately careful. They were far away from (no where near) the kiddy section, and no one was in serious danger of being hurt. The pool is 37,950 square feet. The jumping area claimed about twenty feet on both sides in the center section of the pool. Jumping looked fun. I wanted to do it, too. I remembered the public pool in my hometown had diving board and high dives and diving was my favorite thing. At the public pool I went to as a child, it was against the rules to jump off the diving board with more than one person. Sometimes we snuck it in though. Sometimes, we waited until lifeguards weren't looking. We would get ten or so people together and one after another, jump off in pairs. Sometimes we got yelled at. A few times, kids who cannonball too much, or threw and flipped people in the air repeatedly, were given warnings that they would have to leave the pool if they didn’t stop. No one got arrested, beaten by police or maced in the eyes for such horseplay.

So here I was at McCarran pool, watching kids and a few adults jump and flip in (yes, against the rules) as the pool was closing for the day. Big woop. It was, actually, a big woop. It felt liberating and cute, childlike that something so simple was so refreshing. When there was no one left swimming and only a handful left jumping, after about five minutes since the lifeguards began blowing whistles, my friend and I exited the pool. As I stepped out and turned to my left, I saw a line of at least ten cops heading toward the  few remaining jumpers. I headed past the men’s dressing room and stood in the sprinklers for two minutes. Those sprinklers were warm. I didn't like it. I wanted cold water. The pool was almost cleared. A few people swam around lazily, prolonging getting out. People waded in the kiddy section and in the sprinklers. It was ten to seven. There were a few jumpers getting some final jumps and flips in, and a few more swimmers paddling toward the ladders (which were not anywhere near the jumpers, btw.) I should also note, no one who was jumping was white, at any point. (And I do not mean to say white people don’t take part in this type of playful behavior. I’m noting that this activity, which quickly became overly policed, was one that only people of color were taking part in this day.)

I headed toward the second patch of sprinklers. “Oh, these are cold,” my friend told me happily, as I turned to see a cop leading a young man who was in his swimming suite, with his arms behind his back to the opening of the gates that separated the pool and the sprinklers. I saw a row of waiting police by the sprinklers. “Are they actually arresting people for jumping?” I asked.
“Yeah they are,” a stranger next to me answered, as if knowingly.
I was always taught to stand as witness when I see someone being arrested, especially if I don’t see cause for the arrest, and especially if they are a person of color. We have a right to witness arrests, and to witness police actions. It usually makes the person safer if the police see that there are people who are watching and seeing what they are doing. As this boy was led out by two police, another cop apprehended another man who was getting out of the pool a ways away. This man was older, in his late thirties to early forties, and very large, (obese) wearing a white t-shirt. I was physically very close to him, as he was being walked out very near me. I saw the cop twisting his wrist. The man had both hands behind his  back, but the cop was twisting his wrist to the point it looked as though he was trying to break it. The man was not struggling at all. He was flanked by two cops on either side of him with one large cop who had ahold of both of his hands, and the cop was obviously twisting one hand so that it was hurting him very badly. He grimaced and his face contorted. It was bad to see, and this pool outing was beginning to shine neon bright on this hot summer day.
I wasn't the only one who was seeing the cop twisting his wrist. If he tried to rearrange his one hand which was being twisted, the cop twisted harder and shoved him forward, as if propositioning that the man might be resisting arrest. What the cop was doing was trying to antagonize the man into appearing to resist. Many people around me were witnessing this as well. It was very apparent what was happening to those within view, and there were many within view. A tension fell over the crowd, and you could feel the hurt and unease moving through. It was very bad to see a black man being led out of a public pool by a police officer who was not so covertly hurting him for no good reason. People mumbled things like, “Damn, you see that?” and “Come on, dude, he's hurting him.”
As the two men were led to the sprinkler area, a crowd formed. I was part of the crowd. We stood about six feet away from the police but close to one another, quietly watching the two men being led out. Everyone was watching closely. There was a feeling of wanting to protect these two men, a quiet murmuring to one another of “They better not do anything.” We were standing witness to the arrests. These arrests, were being made because the men had been jumping and flipping into the pool and for generally doddling. I will also note that at this point almost all of the white people who had been at the pool had somehow magically disappeared (perhaps into the white dimension) in a matter of two minutes. Many people had gone into the locker rooms, but also, many, many had stayed, and almost none who stayed were white. What I mean by almost none is; my friend and myself were the only people who I saw in the crowd who happened to be white, and had “happened to stay.”    
When the cops began to pass the crowd with the men, the cops who were not holding on to the men began shouting for the crown to get back, but violently so. They scanned the faces of the crowd and they looked terrified. These cops were huge, armed with guns, tazers, mace and Billy-clubs, and they looked terrified of this crowd of basically naked people, barefoot and wet in their swimming suits who were silently watching them. Although, to the credit of the cops , a crowd even of unarmed, half naked people comprised of almost completely black and brown faces is horribly terrifying and threatening (sarcasm, meant to illuminate a deeper issue). When the cops shouted at the crowd to get back, the crowd stepped back, lugubriously, as crowds do, moving all together. Five cops suddenly rushed the crowd, although the crowd was already moving away from them. The cop who rushed beside me pulled his club out and shouted at the man standing next to me to get back. The man stumbled backwards. The cop shoved him as hard as he could with his arm, putting full the weight of his body behind it. The man’s body surged back. He simultaneously caught himself from falling with his foot, and pushed back with his hands. He pushed the cop back. The cop stumbled back. The man began running backwards. The cop regained himself and surged toward the man. I did something very stupid and held my hands in the air and attempted to step in front of the officer, This idea lasted about two seconds. I thought, “I know, I’ll put my white privileged 5’5” female body in front of a two hundred pound NYPD officer who just assaulted this man.” I jumped up, then jumped back as the cop rushed forward, obviously seeing me as invisible and almost swiping my head with the fist intended for his target. The crowd moved like a snake away, and  so did I. I realize what I did was ill thought out and dumb on every level. But I also realize, if a black man had done exactly what I did, even though it only lasted two seconds, they would have been tackled as badly as the man beside me was. The cop grabbed him and the two men spun. People screamed. He was terrified, and I suppose at this point he was technically resisting, but he had also been assaulted and was trying to protect himself. His resistance was not violent, but he was simply trying not to be shoved to the ground by the full weight of the massive body that had barreled upon him; holding his arms above his head and pushing back with open palms. People shouted at him not to resist. Four other cops joined and five cops tackled him to the ground.
All of this happened in the time of about two minutes from the time the cops shouted at the crowd to get back to the time the man was tackled to the ground. It was very bad to see a black man, shirtless, stomach down on the concrete at a public pool, five cops on him, and all because some kids did some flips into the water as the pool was closing.

I kept was watching. I’d already witnessed a minor assault, at least one completely illegal arrest/apprehension. Who would leave this man to the trust of these five officers, holding him stomach down on the ground by the sprinklers? The crowd turned toward the five police who were standing over the man. More police crowded in with them. There was a tableau of police standing over the man who was face down. Everyone was watching, as I know I was, to make sure they were not beating him there inside the tableau of officers covering him. The crowd fell silent again, facing the police, about four feet between the front most line of the crowd of about 40 people and the police. Another crowd stood about twenty feet away, a six-foot gap between the two crowds. I stood in the second to last row of the crowd closest to the police. The police shouted, “Get back! Get back!” at the crowd. Simultaneously,  a man shouted, “What are you doing to him?” An officer pulled out his mace and maced him directly in the eyes and then swept his mace over the crowd of about 40 people, as two other officers began doing the same, in suite, and we were all running, screaming, chaos. Running away.   
In a few seconds, I was far away from the police. There was a boy in front of me, no older than thirteen, covering his face with both hands, tears streaming down his cheeks.  It was very, very bad to see a child at a public pool maced in the eyes, hunching, tears streaming down, wearing nothing but his swimming shorts. It was very bad to see a black child at a public pool who’d been maced in the eyes by police only because some other kids had been  flipping  into the pool, which yes, I know, is against the rules.
Many boys ran up to the boy who had been maced in the eyes. “Jump in the pool. Just jump in, it’ll wash it out!” one boy told him loudly.
“Don’t do that. They’ll arrest you.” Another boy shouted.
He lifted his head , hand over his eyes, then a hiccup took him and he hunched again.
Two boys took him by the elbows. ‘The shower. The bathroom. Take him! Take him!” They whisked him away toward the bathroom.
Everyone was clearing, hurrying to the locker, or if they didn’t need it, out. The cops looked like crazed monsters, they looked terrified and heavily armed, rushing the remaining crowd hollering to “Clear out! Clear out!”
I was afraid to pass them to go into the locker room and get my things and leave. But I did. Trembling. I never thought, in all my life, a person of my age, my generation, would see something like this. I never thought I would see black children and adults being maced, en mass, at a public pool. I thought that was for my grandparent's  generation. Outside, my friend told me she had seen a man carrying a two-year-old girl in his arms running from the macing. She said that it was very bad to see.
I couldn't stop shaking all day. I cried a few times that night. I’m an adult who didn't suffer any injury. I can only imagine the feeling of violence and horror the young boy I saw who got so badly hurt by being maced in eyes the  must have felt, and all just from a day of swimming at a public pool. What is he going to think of when he thinks of public spaces, of swimming, of just leaving the house to have fun?
  And yes, all of this happened because some people were jumping, some even flipping, which yes, I know, as has been pointed out in every other article written about this incident, is against the rules. Doing flips into  McCarren Pool is against the rules, and obviously very, very dangerous.




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The Huff Post is Wrong with a capital W: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/mccarren-park-pool-fighting-pepper-spray_n_1682273.html#slide=1157469







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