After more than a year of hearings and a week in jail for her disorderly conduct arrest at a stop-and-frisk protest, activist Christina Gonzalez, hopes her case isn’t dismissed.
She says she would rather go to jail.
“I’m almost ready to accept another week at Rikers Island because I want my day in court,” said Gonzalez, 26, of Harlem, during an appearance at Kings County Criminal Court in Brooklyn last week – her 13th. “I want my trial, I want to prove my innocence. I don’t just want you to tell me that you’re throwing it out after holding it over my head for a whole year and a half.”
Gonzalez was initially arrested on Nov. 1, 2011 at a stop and frisk protest in Brownsville, in front of the 73rd Precinct. Since then, the Harlem resident has undergone a night in central booking, a week in jail, plus thirteen court appearances – and counting.
Gonzalez and other activists who are willing to be arrested for their causes face not only the potential of jail time or blots on their records. They also have to deal with, in some cases, a years-long process of court appearances and uncertainty before their cases, are resolved.
“They’re wearing us down,” said Gonzalez’ partner, Matthew Swaye, whose own participation in protests has waned, for fear of yet another arrest and drawn-out court process. “I can’t go to rallies, I can’t go to protests. They’ve done a pretty good job of silencing me. (If arrested again) I could be looking at another 17,18, 20 month process.”
The official complaint filed against Gonzalez charged her with one count of obstructing governmental administration in the second degree and two counts of disorderly conduct, accusing her of refusing to comply with a “lawful order to disperse by the police.”
A spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney’s office said he could not comment on an ongoing case.
“They set up a barricade for us and had us go inside the pen,” Gonzalez said. “We weren’t blocking traffic but they don’t want us out there chanting so they said that we were obstructing traffic and being disorderly and within seven to 10 minutes we were being arrested. I was put in handcuffs.”
Gonzalez’s lawyer, Meghan Maurus, believes the courts have no regard for the time people have to take away from their jobs and families to make repeated appearances, often for minor infractions.
“They just say, ‘it’s your own fault for getting arrested’,” Maurus said.
Waiting alongside Gonzalez in court recently were supporters from the activist community, along with several other protesters who had been arrested at the same 2011 rally, including Swaye and comedian Randy Credico. They too were there for the thirteenth time.
Though he calls himself one of the loudest and proudest advocates for system change and equality, Swaye said he is currently applying for jobs and can’t afford to accumulate any more court dates.
“I’m a straight white man with two Ivy League degrees– if this is how they treat me, I can only imagine the things (those within the legal system) are willing to do to destroy the lives of people who’ve grown up much less privileged than me,” he said. “The system is so clearly set up to marginalize them and make them feel that everything is their fault.”
At 26, Gonzalez already has nine arrests to her name. As an avid participant in the Occupy Wall Street and Stop Stop and Frisk movements, Gonzalez has become known for catching police officers’ controversial behavior on camera and posting the videos online. She has accumulated footage of OWS arrests, the stop and frisking of children and officers using derogatory language. The NYPD even posted flyers with photos of Gonzalez and Swaye, all over the city last summer, to alert police officers of their activity.
“You can protest in the city, but you have to go into one of these pens and when the police yell at you, you’re done you have to go home,” said Swaye, “They don’t know anything about rights, they seem to be concerned with the citizens manners.”
“ I think the cops are more afraid of me with a camera than they are a kid with a gun,” Gonzalez said.
The NYPD did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Fresh faced and soft spoken, Gonzalez, a native of Queens,—has twice been to Riker’s Island. Her most recent stint was in May 2012, when Gonzalez was sentenced to 10 days in jail for calling Brooklyn Judge John H. Wilson a “white racist pig,” during a previous hearing for the same arrest she is currently contending, she said.
Even behind bars, Gonzalez considered herself an activist.
“I have my own story to tell and so do those women but being on their level was a completely different experience for me than being a social worker or something like that,” she said. “I did a lot of listening, a lot of talking, a lot of just sitting back and watching. It was a really good week.”
As she waited in court on Tuesday, to be called before the judge, Gonzalez explained what drew her to activism—growing up in a poor, isolated Queens neighborhood; escaping an abusive relationship and a loss of faith in the public school system, which prompted her to drop out of high school. Eventually, Gonzalez said she got her high school equivalency and went on to earn her Bachelors degree from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, but remains determined to fight for a better system for younger generations.
“There are people who are being treated wrong and it’s all in the name of power and money,” says Gonzalez, “I think we have to worry about children right now, because children are the ones we have failed the most. Children are the ones who haven’t been brainwashed for so long and as thoroughly as we all have and I think they’re going to be the ones to free themselves and to free us.”
Currently, Gonzalez works as a server at a spa, instead of relying on her sociology degree. “Working in a school or something like that and knowing that the system is hurting those people– I feel more effective when I’m in the jails with those people, when I’m in the streets with those people, when I’m at protests with those people. I don’t want to be paid to pretend to help,” she said.
After several hours spent in the courthouse, Gonzalez was told that her case would be pushed back yet again, to the following week. Maurus predicted the judge will then choose to simply dismiss the case. “I don’t know if I can accept that,” Gonzalez said.
“They’re going to say this never happened, this case is sealed and that’s not satisfying at all,” said Swaye.
“Some people are happy to have their cases dismissed,” said Gonzalez, “but for us dismissal is a robbery, not a victory.”
Though visibly upset, Gonzalez refrained from making a scene—today, she would not be going back to Rikers Island. However, she may still get her day in court, as Gonzalez has three more hearings scheduled in April for past protest related arrests, in Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx.