The Last Rave

My sense that the only safe enclave you can build in the world is with the people you love was heightened by the pandemic. But, sometime in May, Andrew started having difficulty doing things. He would sit on the couch on his laptop for eighteen hours a day. It wasn’t clear what he was working

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My sense that the only safe enclave you can build in the world is with the people you love was heightened by the pandemic. But, sometime in May, Andrew started having difficulty doing things. He would sit on the couch on his laptop for eighteen hours a day. It wasn’t clear what he was working on, or if he was working on anything at all. He did not leave the house, even for short walks, which I suggested might make him feel a little better. The reason for his reluctance was not a fear of getting sick but a general disengagement. He let his laundry pile up, and would go for days between showers. He lost interest in sex, and dropped the pretense of waiting until the afternoon to start smoking pot.

And so I watered the plants, did the dishes, took out the trash, kept the litter box clean, and invented little excursions, like biking to the fish store in Greenpoint, or to the French bakery near Myrtle-Wyckoff to get us bread. I oscillated between sympathy and frustration. Since he was usually stoned during our arguments, I would say almost anything to try to get a reaction out of him. But our fights would usually end the same way: I would calm down, he would pledge to do more around the house, and our routines would resume. I had grown up in a family that argued regularly, and so had he.

On a warm spring day, we met up with some friends at Maria Hernandez Park, our first time making plans with other people in two months. I could see that Andrew was wary of jumping back into ordinary social interaction, but after taking a long time to get ready he made it outside, and we spent the evening sitting on the sidewalk and eating tacos. It was the most normal we had felt in weeks. At the end of the night, biking home, we were both elated. I didn’t understand what was going on with him, but being depressed seemed like a normal response to the current state of the world. I thought it would pass.

One afternoon, I asked him to take out the trash, and he locked himself in his studio. I was so tired of his refusal to help that I kicked a hole in the door. He came out, blowing weed smoke in my face. He made me feel like it was my fault that he wasn’t producing music. He didn’t have enough room in his studio to work, he told me, and he was going to set everything up in the living room instead. “Fine,” I said. He began piling his synthesizers and mixers on the dining table. As he stalked around, he knocked over a bottle of gin from a bookshelf and it shattered, leaving a puddle that seeped across the floor.

The music equipment sat there unused for the next ten days, until he sullenly put it all back in his studio. I wrote a long letter to myself, trying to figure out if it was time to leave. But then I would think, Am I really going to end things with the person I love the most over some dirty dishes?

The day after the murder of George Floyd, I called my editor asking if I should go to the protests that had started in Minneapolis. The answer was to wait and see. In the end, one of the magazine’s combat reporters, who had been following right-wing militias in Michigan, drove to Minneapolis. Andrew pointed out, as he had before, the depravity of journalistic practice—in this instance, the way white journalists make their names by piggybacking on acts of racial injustice. I didn’t have the energy to argue with him. And what was my claim to the story, anyway? I had grown up in Minneapolis, but I had not lived there for twenty years.

Every time I tried to articulate what the politics of the place were, I could only come up with decades-old memories—of being one of just a few kids on the school bus on the day of the Million Man March, the rally for the civil rights of Black men convened by the Nation of Islam in 1995, because many of my classmates stayed home in solidarity; of the eighth-grade teacher who had us read Howard Zinn; of the community-run radio station KMOJ, “your power station.” My parents were Clinton Democrats and boomers from the East Coast for whom the New York Times was the mouthpiece of reason. Meanwhile, my peers and I read Fanon, Baldwin, and Angela Davis; our soundtrack was A Tribe Called Quest, Black Star, Dead Prez, De La Soul. Now, in Brooklyn, I sat on the couch and watched a reporting collective called Unicorn Riot stream a live broadcast of angry protesters as they filled the halls of the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department, a mile from my old high school, and torched it. Outside the station, hundreds of people were gathered in the night, yelling, “I can’t breathe.” “This is an organic uprising from the belly of the beast of America,” a Unicorn Riot reporter said. “This has been bubbling, bubbling, bubbling, for four hundred years.”

In the days that followed, I saw commentators propose all kinds of theories about what had fuelled the city’s rage. Their impulse to explain was understandable, but it bothered me. The uprising had come from a city with a long tradition of radical activism. People on the coasts always had trouble computing that the people in the middle could live radical lives.

The protests in New York began on Thursday. A large demonstration was planned for Friday outside the Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, and I was asked to cover it. I expected the usual—a blocked intersection, a few arrests—but by the time I arrived the N.Y.P.D. had pepper-sprayed and beaten and arrested more than two hundred people, who were now being loaded onto M.T.A. buses to be taken to booking, their clothes torn and their eyes red. I went home and wrote down what I had witnessed.

The next morning, I followed a protest that started in Harlem, and I ended the day at a protest in Flatbush. The morning after, Andrew and I had what seemed like an ordinary spat about dishes that had piled up, except that it ended with him telling me that my clothes were ugly. A day later, the mayor announced that the city would be placed under an 11 p.m. curfew. The day after that, the curfew was moved up to 8 p.m.

In the past three years, I had covered rallies concerning gun control, Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, and climate change. But nothing had seemed as urgent and uncompromising as this outpouring, in the number of people and the depth of their feeling. There was a sense, heightened by the estrangement and mass unemployment of the pandemic, that there was nothing to lose—a willingness to remind the police that they did not rule the cities they claimed to serve. I trailed marchers down a traffic-free Madison Avenue, past the empty store windows of Bottega Veneta and Celine. I watched as protesters in Times Square, many of them teen-agers from the Bronx and Harlem, paused, knelt, and, in the flickering lights of a hundred billboards, read out a long list of names of Black men, women, and children who had died at the hands of the police in recent years. On a billboard above them, an animated wand of CoverGirl mascara endlessly separated eyelashes. Someone threw a water bottle at it. “Don’t throw anything!” another protester shouted.

“Yes, are you guys getting MRI patients at the water park?”

Cartoon by Paul Noth

At the end of that week, there was one more demonstration that I wanted to attend, in the Bronx. It wasn’t for an assignment. I hadn’t yet shown up at a protest as a civilian. I asked Andrew to come with me. He didn’t want to, but I persuaded him. “We’ll go home before curfew,” I promised. “I just want to see.” I relive this moment. I think I will forever. You can ruin your own life in an instant by not paying attention.

We drove to the Bronx in my car, a Toyota Corolla that I’d borrowed from my dad. The protest called itself “FTP” (as in “Fuck the police,” but also, according to the organizers, “Feed the people,” “Free the prisoners,” and “Fight the power”). It was leaving from the Hub, a shopping district in Mott Haven. As Andrew and I walked toward the meeting place, we saw throngs of riot police on bicycles. Their presence seemed heavy for what was a relatively small group of people, compared with the thousands who had been gathering in the streets all week. We arrived at a plaza in front of some shops. Cops monitored the scene from the rooftops above. Andrew and I stood near each other. My press pass was in my bag. I took it out and put it on. As the rally started and the speeches began, I turned on my audio recorder and opened a notebook. Andrew watched me as I began taking notes. I sensed that, by choosing to be an observer rather than a participant, I was failing a moral test.

We walked down the street behind someone carrying a banner that said “Ante Up! Punch that cop!!” But the march was calm. One of the organizers, a neighborhood advocacy group called Take Back the Bronx, had given guidance online. “Goofy irresponsible adventurism in our hoods will be met with these collective hands,” a post had read. Another organizer, Decolonize This Place, had a following of academics and young professionals and had previously held protests at museums. The police, who had been following us at a distance, began to circle closer. There was a call for “white allies” to come to the front. Before I even realized what was going on, Andrew moved up, and I lost sight of him. Shortly before eight o’clock, the police surrounded the marchers on a cross street and would not let anyone out. Then they began pepper-spraying, beating, and arresting everyone. (Later, a class-action lawsuit was brought against the city, which agreed to pay at least $21,5srcsrc to each of the people penned in and arrested at the protest that night.) I was pressed against a fence; all around me, people were getting pepper-sprayed, pushed against one another. A teen-age girl was hyperventilating; a pregnant woman was screaming; medics were handcuffed and arrested. I took out my phone and started recording video, my hands shaking. As I posted the video on Twitter, a police officer grabbed my arm. I reflexively showed him my press pass. “I’m press!” I yelled.

“I can’t hear you with that mask on,” the cop said, shoving me. “You’re not supposed to be here.” But I was let go without arrest, disgorged on the sidewalk, where a handful of other reporters had also been deposited, all of us stunned by the violence. I kept looking for Andrew, but he was gone.

Later, Andrew, with his long arms, managed to reach his cuffed hands into his back pocket to text me from his phone. He had been arrested, he said. They were in some kind of transport van. They had just passed signs for LaGuardia Airport. “LaGuardia?” a lawyer on a protest helpline said when I told her.

It was almost eleven when I got a call saying that most of the arrested protesters had been taken to Queens Central Booking, near Flushing Meadows. I drove there. The air was damp and chilly, the streets dark. The people getting released emerged bloodied, their clothes torn. After it became clear that Andrew would not be released that night, I went home to try to get some sleep.

The next day, I drove back to Queens. As I rounded the corner in the car, I saw Andrew striding purposefully out of the jail. I double-parked, got out, and hugged him. He did not react. He was smoking a cigarette and speaking with a lawyer, who was there to collect evidence of possible civil-rights violations. Andrew’s black T-shirt was crusted with blood. I pulled the car into a parking spot. When he finished talking with the lawyer, he got in on the passenger side and slammed the door.

I asked if we should offer anybody a ride.

“We’re going home,” he said, staring straight ahead.

I understood then that he was angry with me. He had a broken finger, a scratched eye, and a bloody nose, and had been forced to sit in police custody with pepper spray burning his face for sixteen hours. It was my fault: I had made him go, and I was unscathed.

When we got home, Andrew stripped, got into the bathtub, and asked for his bong. I brought it to him and sat next to the tub as he recounted what had happened. He told me that, because he had been in the front, he was one of the first people arrested. More than three hundred people were detained, and they waited in line for hours to be processed. He was put in a cell full of men. Nobody had slept.

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