In September, police in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, arrested 21-year-old student and racial justice activist Taylor Enterline during a protest against the police killing of Ricardo Muñoz, a 27-year-old autistic Latino man. Enterline was initially given three felony charges with her bail set at $1 million.
Enterline is from a rural suburb in Lancaster County called Manheim, which is 96 percent white and less than 1 percent Black. She said she’s experienced racism in the form of derogatory slurs and unjust treatment her whole life but that those incidents became more frequent and bold following the 2016 election.
After watching police officer Derek Chauvin press his knee on Floyd’s neck in May, Enterline began protesting regularly.
“When we first took to the streets, we were met with an AR-15,” Enterline told VICE in mid-September, days before her arrest. “Then the second time we took to the streets, we had armed militia follow us to make sure we were in check.” Since then, Joe Biden has won the presidency, her state of Pennsylvania voted blue, Georgia Democrats won the Senate runoffs, and a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol building.
VICE got back in touch with Enterline to further discuss her activism, her arrest, the lack of prosecution faced by rioters at the Capitol, and why she’s decided to study the criminal justice system.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VICE: What got you into advocating for racial justice?
Taylor Enterline: When I was 18, there was an incident in Lancaster where a police officer had tasered a man while he was sitting on the curb. And that year, I had faced a lot of racism and my eyes were opened, especially after the 2016 election. So I started interning at Lancaster Stands Up, and I continued with racial justice and gender justice, especially in my studies. And then in May, after George Floyd, that's when the gears switched.
That wasn't the first for many Black Americans. I remember Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and no one was talking about it at school because all of these students were majority white and it didn't affect them in any way. Racial justice doesn't stop because I can't change the color of my skin when I walk out the front door. They see me as a Black woman and I still have to fight for myself in the spaces that I am in. So I'm fighting for those who are affected by police brutality, and I used to say I was fortunate enough not to be touched by that. And then that quickly it became a reality for me.
You and other protesters were arrested in September for protesting the police killing of Ricardo Muñoz in Lancaster County. What was that experience like?
It had not gotten violent until we started getting gassed. There were people who were violent, which is public knowledge, that were smashing windows, smashing cop cars, and later in the night there was a dumpster fire. I, Taylor Enterline, was helping as a medic, especially for those who were getting gassed. I was also helping with safe houses, getting supplies, water for people, making sure people had wet napkins for their eyes and stuff like that.
There were rubber bullets shot at us. We were being maced at, we were being tear gassed. I had went back to go check on my friend. I was about to leave, and as we were trying to get back in the car, a van pulled up and police jumped out. [They had] riot gear and guns. They were running straight at us.
They were cornering us at all ends. I dropped to my knees and put my hands up. And then I was approached and told, “Get on the ground! Get on the ground!” The officer kind of shoved me to the ground and had his knee on my back. I was searched, then I was shoved to other police officers for a second search, which was more hands on and invasive. I was shoved into the van.
I spent 14 hours in a cell by myself. I was prepared to get misdemeanors, but then I was told I had three felony charges. When we were finally transported to prison, it was intense because I was literally shackled from my feet to my hands. I love true crime documentaries, and I felt like I was like someone who just committed first degree murder.
The judge said he read a letter from the police that said, “We want high bails because we saw this person do A, B and C.” He told me I was a very well-spoken person and that this was unfortunate, but I had a $1 million bail, and I was sent out the room. And when you are put on a $1 million bail, you are then put on suicide watch, because your bail is so high.
Then when you're told that you get a phone call, it's to a bail bondsman. And in that moment, I'm sitting there thinking, “I can't pay this. We can't do this.” I'm thinking, I'm going to sit here for at least a few months or something. We were finally moved into the block. I just hope people understand that it's not humane in prisons, especially under COVID.
It was a really traumatizing time. Because we were on suicide watch, we didn’t get toothbrushes.
How did that experience impact you?
When you know you're innocent and you know you're not supposed to be there, it's a very angry and emotional thing. You can minimize your experience because you can say, people go through this all the time, but it’s actually why we need more justice reform and abolition.
I remember the day of getting released, I was able to get my bail reduced to $50,000, and then I noticed the support I had, seeing my GoFund me when I got home, and my fridge full, knowing that people were checking in on my mom and my brother. That was an amazing thing.
It took a toll on me because I've been out here for months, protesting against a system that kills Black and brown people. To have that system used against me in a way to take away my voice, to silence me, that is an abuse of power.
The Lancaster police and those in power in Lancaster know that something was done wrong because the bail was dropped significantly.
How does that experience shape your thoughts on what happened at the Capitol on January 6?
I’m not surprised. Anyone who's surprised hasn't been paying attention. From 2016 in Charlottesville, that should have been the first eye-opener.
Those in the GOP and those who hold power—and especially my own Congressman Lloyd Smucker—those people who enabled that rhetoric, enabled white supremacy, enabled and coddled that base, they opened the doors for them. It's interesting to me because [the people who stormed the Capitol] weren't faced with the same violence that protesters have been faced with. We all know if Black Lives Matter did that it would be a different story.
It was infuriating because I watched as hundreds walked out of the Capitol, and at first there were only 13 arrests. Someone sat on Nancy Pelosi's desk and stole her mail, a federal offense. I stand a block within a dumpster and get a $1 million bail.
What are you looking for in the rest of 2021 and years to come?
I would say for a lot of Black and brown folks to take time to sit back. I feel like we've experienced a lot. I'm hoping we can move forward, but also, I want to see those who enabled this rhetoric held accountable.
It's always going to take a while for equity and fair justice, but we keep working on it. One of the reasons I've gotten into the criminal justice major is because I 100 percent believe in knowing thy enemy. It's hard to work within a system, but it’s possible. I would definitely want to help those who have criminal cases and need that guidance. I want to work with juveniles, especially because of the school-to-prison-pipeline. I think you can't reform what happened on Wednesday, but we can continue to work within our communities to make those changes.