Rob St. Amant

Rob St. Amant
December 31
My roots are in San Francisco and later Baltimore, where I went to high school and college. I stayed on the move, living for a while in Texas, several years in a small town in Germany, and then several more in Massachusetts, working on a Ph.D. in computer science. I'm now a professor at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh. My book, Computing for Ordinary Mortals, will appear this fall from Oxford University Press.


APRIL 19, 2012 10:12AM

My uneventful arrest

Rate: 7 Flag

I've been arrested just once in my life. I wasn't charged, and I was released after a couple of hours. So this wasn't a life-changing experience. It just means that when filling out forms for employment and security clearances (I worked in the defense industry for several years), I have to pause and write a bit when I come to the box that asks, "Have you ever been arrested?"

The pattern of my arrest followed a model that had been established a short time earlier, in November, 1984, when a group of activists gathered at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., to protest against apartheid. Randall Robinson (TransAfrica), Walter Fauntroy (D.C. congressional delegate), and Mary Frances Berry (U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner) were arrested. Half a dozen members of Congress were arrested during later protests. 

Have you ever thought about an important historical movement during your life and asked yourself, "Why didn't I get involved?" For me it's the opposite--I don't remember exactly why I did get involved. All I recall is a series of vignettes:

My girlfriend and I meet with a small group of students on the campus of my university. We're told what to expect and how to behave. (Peacefully. This is civil disobedience.) The leader of the group passes out new $50 bills, which we'll need to get out of custody.

I'm on the sidewalk, chanting a slogan, standing among dozens of other protesters. It's cold and rainy.

A police officer holds me by the shoulders and tells me to put my hands together. Handcuffs? No, big plastic zip ties.

Off the police bus, we're in a classroom of some kind. I'm sitting in a too-small desk near a Catholic priest who's also been arrested. We talk about South Africa and then about American culture. I like a new TV show called Miami Vice but the priest does not.

Paperwork finished, we're released.

 It's strange for me to realize that I joined a movement that drew in thousands of people across the world. (Newspapers at that time reported that hundreds of arrests had taken place at the South African Embassy by February.) It eventually did produce change; my university ended up divesting $3.9 million of its South African holdings later that year, and of course apartheid is now a thing of the past. I'm glad I was a part of it all, even as just a warm body at a distance, on the outskirts.

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We talk a lot about Freedom of Speech, but few of us realize just how expensive "free" can be. You're lucky to have exercised yours for only $50. Largemouth Limbaugh is finding out the hard way that his freedom to insult and denigrate has a price, too -- to date 120 advertisers. 'Bout damned time, I'd say, since his "cause" (personal profit) was far less just than yours.
Nowadays you would have been strip searched since it recently been given the SCOTUS imprimatur for all sorts of seemingly non sequitur offenses. Ah for the good old days. I was not as much on the vanguard as you, but I did get castigated for writing a paper that posited that the US was subsidizing institutional racism by our government purchasing gold Rands. The castigator was a white woman from South Africa who happened to be in the same class so no real danger to me though she was a very big Boer.

Good for you, btw.
My line, "Let's do something to get ourselves arrested" never scored me a date with a girl.

Kudos to you for your participation. Are you now on the Do Not Fly list? Cause you know the NSA has you monitored constantly.
Hey, Tom, I'm also glad of free speech--you've used it better than I have, here on OS.

Thanks for the comment, Barry. Wow, that sounds very strange now--someone defending the US position at the time, but it is understandable, I suppose.

Hey, Stim, it turns out that my girlfriend of those days is now my wife. We share quite a few memories.
They say our regrets are what we didn't do. So I guess that's one less regret for you! ;)
Thanks for the perspective, Painting. I hadn't thought of things that way, but that's good.
Thanks for sharing this experience with us. I have done some protesting in the last 15 years, but never was arrested.
I did a lot but looking back, not enough. Maybe it is never enough? R