My first day at the GOP convention in Cleveland involved being detained for two hours by Secret Service and issued a misdemeanor citation for trespassing. Not an auspicious start! Perhaps most disappointingly, not something that necessarily makes a good story, either. The Cleveland police and Secret Service agents we dealt with were mostly very nice. They gave us bottles of water and decided not to press federal charges. We got a cool golf-cart escort out of the convention's restricted perimeters. We didn't get shot.
That's the part I couldn't stop thinking about. Our trespassing was totally accidental—trying to park a reasonable distance from the melee and walk into downtown Cleveland, a colleague (who will, at her request, remain unnamed) and I took a wrong turn and found ourselves confronted by either railroad tracks or stairs. We took the stairs. At the top, behind a fence with plenty of room for us to walk right through the gap between it and a wall, we saw several construction workers driving tractors. We thought we'd ask them for directions. We thought we were in an area on both the border of downtown Cleveland and outside of the restricted convention parameters
By the time we had reached the men on the tractors—who had seemed to be the sole occupants of the area we were entering—we were swarmed by several Secret Service agents bearing rifles. I ran up to them to try and explain. I didn't raise my arms. I didn't make any moves to prove I was non-threatening. Nobody raised their guns.
The worst I got was an obnoxiously gruff and sarcastic Secret Service agent who kept trying to tell me I was "changing my story," which I absolutely was not, he just refused to actually listen. "I want to talk to someone else," I said, and walked away from him toward another agent. Nobody raised their guns. The gruff agent moved on to my less temperamental colleague, and the agent I moved on to was super chill and nice. We ended up joking about the bad convention band playing classic-rock covers loudly across the street, and discussing Donald Trump and our favorite restaurants in Brooklyn. Later, one cop told us this was the most action he'd seen all day.
By the end of the two hours, any of my initial anger at the situation had faded; while we hadn't meant to, we had totally trespassed. As soon as law enforcement had ascertained that we weren't a threat (background check, drug dog) and that our story checked out, they were respectful and tried to minimize the consequences of our stupidity. The Cleveland cops in particular were sympathetic, but alas, the Secret Service wasn't going to let us walk out of there without a production. They brought the dogs in to sweep the area, in case we'd dropped any bombs or contraband on our way in. They called in some backup, who milled about menacingly. But never once did I feel actually threatened. Never did I feel in danger of even serious consequences, let alone a violent eruption.
Being in Cleveland right now, it's hard not to think of Tamir Rice. A kid with a toy gun at a playground. Two grown women literally breaching a security parameter outside a super highly-guarded political event. In no universe should our situation have been the safer one.
So I submit this story in the interest of bearing witness—to my own privilege, to how encounters with police should be, to the fact that the officers we spoke with seemed like consummately decent human beings. And maybe these particular officers would have been decent regardless of who we were, but I can't help but highly doubt that. And nothing else I can say about that seems adequate.