1988 – St. Louis – Mike Ervin

The collectible item of ADAPT apparel for this action was a red and white headband that said: ADAPT met APTA in St. Louis. It was spring 1988, one of our last actions targeting the gatherings of the American Public Transit Association.

This action sticks in my memory because of the comic overreaction of the police. A television news report announcing our coming said police were conducting bomb sweeps in the rooms of APTA’s hotel. We later learned that the police did this at APTA’s behest.

Every time an ADAPT vehicle left the hotel, even to go to the drug store, it was followed by police. As we lined up to begin our marches, police helicopters hovered above.

I remember I was one of those arrested for refusing to disperse from a corridor near where APTA types were meeting. The blind man next to me was told by police that if he was arrested his dog would be sent to the pound and he probably wouldn’t get it back. So, very reluctantly, he dispersed.

They transported all us arrestees to a police lockup and during the processing they did something I’ve never seen police do before or since. They took blood samples. When one guy refused to submit to that he was held down and blood was drawn forcibly. I was among the many others who refused after that. They told us to line up so they could force us all one-by-one later. But so many refused that the police gave up on the drawing blood idea. Our lawyers later filed a lawsuit.

They kept us overnight. We slept in a roomful of cots. They gave us Ziploc bags full of toiletries. The toothpaste tube was white with no label. The watery toothpaste dripped through the bristles of the brush. As I brushed my teeth I spit out bristles. The brush handle was practically bald when I finished. They fed us the standard issue bologna sandwiches — a single slice of bologna smashed between to slices of cottony white bread.

On Tuesday we hit the Greyhound station. Somehow we slipped through the police dragnet and blocked off the St. Louis bus station. After a standoff, an irate, liquored up, stranded passenger stormed out of the terminal. “I’m sick of this shit!’ he barked and he began yanking on wheelchairs. E.T., an African American guy from Denver, resisted by holding tight to his wheels. So the furious drunken guy wrapped his hands around E.T.’s throat and shook him. The police pounced, ripped the guy away and arrested him.

The next day, as we prepared to leave town, there was a newspaper picture of E.T. parked in front of a Greyhound bus and being strangled. And the police commander dropped by our hotel to shake our hands and wish us well. He congratulated and thanked us for conducting a well-organized, nonviolent protest.