reckoning with a reckoning

The Room Where It Happened

Derrick Ingram is still shut inside the Hell’s Kitchen apartment the police tried to invade.

Derrick Ingram. Photo: Tania Franco Klein
Derrick Ingram. Photo: Tania Franco Klein

In August 7, 2020, NYPD officers surrounded the home of Derrick Ingram, a co-founder of the activist group Warriors in the Garden, who had been accused of yelling into an officer’s ear with a megaphone at a June protest. After a five-hour standoff, which Ingram livestreamed on Instagram, the officers left without arresting him. The next day, Ingram turned himself in to the police, who would charge him with third-degree assault (later reduced to a misdemeanor). Ingram denied that any assault took place; the charges against him were dismissed this month.

On what led to the standoff:

Last summer, we were at a protest in Bayside, Queens. My organization, Warriors in the Garden, had been requested by BLM Bayside, which is a small group of majority-white suburban soccer moms, and there were a lot of police. Across from us was a Blue Lives Matter counterprotest. There were racial slurs being thrown at us. I was spit on and kicked. Some of us decided to file complaints because of the cops’ refusal to address those assaults. A couple of weeks later, I led another protest in Manhattan with thousands of people. As officers attempted to barricade us, I began to chant on my megaphone. I didn’t think anything of it because within five minutes they let us continue through Times Square.

Months later — this is August 6 — we had a protest, and afterward we went out for drinks at a bar. They have $5 margaritas, they overpour, it was a complete vibe. The next morning, I literally had on combat boots and the clothes from the previous day when I was awakened by a knock at my door. I had seen this person previously in my apartment building — he had been knocking on doors on my floor and was wearing what looked like delivery-person attire, so I thought he was delivering packages. I cracked the door, and he asked my name and said that he had a warrant for my arrest.

On the threat of surveillance:

I’d been pretty behind-the-scenes. I do all of our social media and communications work. One of the big things that I was doing was educating people on the surveillance that happens at protests — cell-phone taps, geofencing, social-media monitoring, all kinds of passive digital surveillance. I was telling people, “Make sure you cover your face and turn off your phone,” and warning them about the databases that the NYPD uses to scan and find people.

I always thought, Not me. Because I felt like what we were doing was so basic, so innocent, kind of fun. I was the one dropping the locations on Reddit and other social media about upcoming protests. I was like, Is this why?

On what was happening inside the apartment:

I immediately closed the door. I texted my group: “Hey, this guy’s saying he has a warrant for my arrest. He said he’s not going to leave.” My friends and comrades suggested I go on Instagram Live. And I think that most likely saved my life.

I was pacing back and forth. I was attempting to cover up my windows. I’m talking to a team of public defenders. Some were telling me, “Go outside”; “Don’t go outside”; “It’s up to you”; “Surrender”; “Don’t surrender.” So I’m getting even more confused, and the lawyer I ended up keeping was the only one that told me not to surrender. All the other ones just said, “Just go outside, it’s going to be fine.” I’m like, “Are y’all insane? No.”

I’m livestreaming on my iPad and on my Google Home; I’m watching myself on YouTube and news channels. The police are telling me, “Just come outside, it’s going to be okay.” My friends down the street told me they could see drones hovering outside my windows. I had a curtain up, and in the middle of this I saw just an eye peeking through. It was one of the scariest, creepiest things. At one point, I thought I was going to die because, honestly, it was like shit from a movie — you know how they have the red laser? I saw that go across my living room, right in front of my face. I was like, Oh my God, they’re going to shoot me. They’re going to fucking shoot me!

On the psychological aftermath:

People know my address now. I live by myself in a walk-up. I’m scared every day, but I don’t have the means to relocate.

People still ask me, “How did you not break down? How did you not crack?” I don’t know. I guess I’m really good at compartmentalizing. For something that was so crazy — in the moment, I was thinking so logically, and I’m proud of that. In the days and weeks and months after, I just became numb. I’ve heard this happens a lot with trauma; it feels like it was an out-of-body experience. Even now, it feels like I’m telling somebody else’s story, but I know that it happened to me.

I’ve missed out on opportunities socially because I’m still dealing with PTSD. I’ve missed out on my dream job. Around the holidays, I was offered a position with an amazing company as their social-media director. I had references from everybody from Amnesty to members of Congress. But in the interview process, I realized that I didn’t have the emotional capacity to begin this. I knew, if I accepted it, that I would fail because I wasn’t at a place where I was healed. I didn’t want to accept my dream job and not be able to do it.

I was stuck in the middle of a lease that my landlord wouldn’t let me out of. A lot of people reached out to me about crashing with them, but I was in no place to couch surf every four or five days. I had my parents in St. Louis wanting me to come back home. I didn’t feel like that was appropriate either in the middle of COVID. I’m still in the same apartment, which is triggering almost every day.

On getting through the year:

What I did was envelop as much of myself as I could in my work, which probably wasn’t the healthiest thing, but I don’t regret it. During the election, we were driving seniors to the polls, feeding people, registering people to vote. That was my therapy.

All of my hearings were digital. Our carceral process is emotionally taxing, and I think it’s that way on purpose. My lawyer said she felt like the charges and the way that things were being dragged out were strategic, a way to intimidate me. I think it was stretched out because they were waiting for me to do anything else that could be considered illegal or to demonstrate that I had some type of violent behavior. Thank God, the charges were dropped.

On deciding to stay put:

This was my first apartment that I could afford by myself. I had curated such a beautiful space that I loved and cared about. It was supposed to be my year. When I signed the lease, in December 2019, I was like, 2020 is going to be my year. I can finally afford to live in the city. I have my own space. It’s in a gay part of town. I’m going to have a fucking blast. And then corona happened and then George Floyd happened.

For protesting in Times Square, I had my home surrounded. I was intimidated. I was threatened, and I was monitored. I’m receiving death threats. But this experience also made it feel like home, too. I don’t want to get pushed out of a space where I’ve experienced so much, where I’ve grown so much.

On the future of organizing:

Before, I think digital activism was mocked. It wasn’t called real activism. Then, with the pandemic, people were scared to go outside but still needed education and community. I think the George Floyd uprising showed people how to organize digitally and safely. And seeing that now Palestinian Americans and other groups are using those tools in organizing, it is super-encouraging. I think it shows how Black people are always on the forefront of activism. We don’t have a choice, and how we navigate movements helps other groups because our liberation is intertwined.

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