Jesse Nesbitt, charged with Occupy violence on May Day, tell his story.
The brick-throwing man whose projectiles hit two protesters at the Occupy San Francisco takeover of a Turk Street building on May Day has helped spark intense internal debates in the movement about the use of violence.
But nobody has heard the alleged hurler's side of the story.
Jesse Nesbitt, 34, was arrested on the scene, and is accused of felony assault, assault on a police officer, and vandalism. I interviewed Nesbitt in San Francisco County Jail May 3. He spoke of his associations with drug addicts and revolutionaries; his previous stints in jails, prisons and psych wards; and his countless arrests on the streets of San Francisco for illegal lodging.
What emerged was a picture of a homeless Army veteran who suffers from untreated mental illness and substance-abuse issues — someone who found a degree of help and solace in the Occupy movement but has never fully escaped his problems. His story is, unfortunately, not unusual — there are many thousands of vets who the system has utterly failed.
Nesbitt told me he was diagnosed as schizophrenic at 16. "From bad things happening, my mental illness has snowballed since then," he explained.
Nesbitt said he grew up in the projects outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the 1980s. "It wasn't too nice," he explained. When he was 18, he joined the Army.
"I wanted to join the military all my life. That's what I wanted to do," he said. The schizophrenia could have stopped him — but "I lied my way in."
His tour in Korea was during peace time, but he says he still saw combat. "We were supposed to be at peace with North Korea, in a ceasefire. But whenever they got a chance, they shot at us. And whenever we got a chance, we shot at them.
"It hardened my heart. And it gave me a sense of duty to uphold our Constitution."
Nesbitt returned from South Korea in 1996. Afterward, "I hitchhiked from coast to coast twice. I got married three times. I have a kid in Pennsylvania. I went to jail in Pennsylvania for — being young and stupid," he said.
Later in the interview, he expanded on his prison time in Pennsylvania. "I did four years and eight months for aggravated assault, theft, and possession of an instrument of crime," said Nesbitt. "I also did time in Georgia for assault. And I did time in Alameda County for vandalism and weapons."
In fact, as he tells it, Nesbitt's time in Berkeley was spent mainly in jail, before he got involved with Occupy Berkeley.
"I don't know how much time I did in total in Alameda County. I'd be in jail two, three weeks, get out five, six days, then get arrested again. That was from last April to July," he says.
On the days when he was free, "I was doing what I normally do," said Nesbitt. "I'd squat somewhere. In the daytime I'd panhandle, go to the library. I was doing a lot of drinking. Then I started getting arrested a lot when I started doing meth."
That was his life before joining Occupy. "A friend of mine who was shooting heroin at the time said, let's go join the revolution. It will help clean you up. It helped pull me out of a drug addiction and keep me healthy," said Nesbitt.
But that wasn't the only reason he joined.
"I've always had revolutionary beliefs," he says. He spoke of his friends in Pittsburgh. They wouldn't let him go the G20 protests in 2009, fearing he would be incited to violence.
"I've been involved with anarchists for a long time. They pointed out documentaries I should watch, things I should read," said Nesbitt.
But the example he gave me isn't your classic Emma Goldman. Nesbitt remembered "The Esoteric Agenda" — a conspiracy-theory film that connects stories about corporate greed with apocalyptic prophecies.
"The education was getting me ready for something," he said.
At Occupy Berkeley, even while Nesbitt recovered from his meth addiction, he continued to live in a cycle of violence.
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