‘The Next Thing I Remember, I’m on the Ground.’

Photo: Marti for Manhattan 2021

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The drag performer Marti Gould Cummings, 32, is a well-known New York queen (perhaps you’ve seen the video of them performing “Baby Shark” at a Jersey City drag brunch at a toddler’s request) and budding politician. The founder of Hell’s Kitchen Democrats and an appointee to Community Board 9, they are running to replace City Councilman Mark D. Levine for District 7 (the Upper Upper West Side up to Hamilton Heights). 

On Tuesday morning, Cummings headed — out of drag — with their husband, Blake Allen, and a group downtown to join the protest. (Cummings, who is nonbinary, uses they/them pronouns.) They ended up spending the night in a jail cell in Brooklyn, eventually being released nearly 12 hours after their arrest. Presented with the details of Cummings’s experience with police officers in booking, Sergeant Jessica McRorie, police spokesperson, said, “We are working as fast and safely as we can to process arrests during this unprecedented time.”

So on Tuesday, we put out a call to action. We said we’re going to meet on 145th and Broadway, and people can march down or take the train down to Foley Square. There were, I’d estimate, over 100 people gathered at the train station. The cops saw the call to action online and they were waiting. That’s a problem in itself. Knowing that there’s a call to action for peaceful action, that’s enough to send six or seven cop cars? Give me a break.

We met at 11:30. Some of the group marched all the way downtown; we met up with the protestors at City Hall. It was a peaceful, beautiful demonstration. Everyone on their knees, listening to people’s names. It’s so many walks of life coming together to demand justice.

At five o’clock that night, there was a memorial for trans women of color outside of Stonewall. We get to the West Side Highway, and it gets to be eight o’clock. You’d think, the curfew is at 8, let’s give people time to get home. But police are coming toward people. We’re holding the line with hands up, peacefully. That’s when the police really came in. Everything happened very fast. I remember pushing Blake out of the way and seeing my friend Nathan go down. The next thing I remember, I’m on the ground. The video shows four cops on top of me. Blake says he saw me get hit on the head with a baton, which I guess I did, because the ER says I have a concussion. I remember a cop looking at this girl who had blue hair next to me, and he goes, “Get her, get that bitch with the blue hair.” Just pointing people out.

They pulled our masks down and took our picture on the scene, outside the van. We’re zip-tied, so we can’t put our masks back on. There’s about 15 of us total, obviously not socially distanced. They put us in a van — two of them later reached out to me on social media. At first, the cops didn’t even know where they were taking us. That’s the thing — this is so unorganized. “Oh, we’re going to One Police Plaza.” “No, we’re going to go to Brooklyn.”

We were having a good time in the van. There was underlying fear and anxiety, but people were trying to stay upbeat. When we got to booking, the mood obviously shifted a lot from jovial to “oh shit.” I didn’t even know what neighborhood I was in.

I’ve not been arrested before. There’s a five-by-12 cell without a toilet they put people into. No distancing. One person, their mask is filled with blood because their chin is bleeding. Somebody else was drenched in blood, no medical attention. I was in that cell with handcuffs for four hours. Requests for water were denied. Requests to have our cuffs taken off were denied. Requests for phone call, denied. Requests to read us our rights, denied. There was someone in the cell who had a very bad reaction to pepper spray, their eyes were swollen shut, writhing in pain. I remember police standing there, laughing, before finally taking him out.

Then they moved us to a different cell. There was a toilet there, but it was overflowing; there was pee all around it. We were all sharing stories of what was happening, how to organize the next protest.

Finally, they took us to a line to get a picture. This is now probably hour eight. We were put in a hallway with 100 other people, shoulder to shoulder. No offering of clean masks. The cops were all talking openly to us and with each other about, “We’re going to keep you here as long as possible so you learn your lesson and don’t go out again.” And bragging about how they’re getting overtime.

I was released at 7:20 a.m., almost 12 hours later after I was arrested. I was given a desk ticket to appear in court for a curfew violation in September. Legal Aid was outside getting people cars home. They had breakfast sandwiches, donuts, Gatorade, water bottles, coffee. I got home around 9.

That afternoon, I felt kind of dizzy. Blake said my eyes were, like, going all over the place. I felt really woozy. We went to CityMD. I told the doctor what happened and she said, “I think you have a concussion; you need to go to the ER.” At the ER, they did a CT scan that was negative for any fluid or blood or anything in my brain. The doctor did an exam and said I have a mild concussion. I don’t have insurance. I’m not paying this medical bill. The NYPD will pay for that. Any PTSD therapy, you better damn well believe the NYPD is paying for that, too.

I’m taking the day off to rest my concussion, but I will be out there this weekend. Yesterday was Blake’s and my wedding anniversary. It wasn’t the best way to spend it. Hmm? Oh — Blake says it was the best way to spend it.

Interview by Matthew Schneier.

‘The Next Thing I Remember, I’m on the Ground.’