This is 2:42 seconds of a critical time in last night’s protests, taken around 11:30pm Pacific time on the night of July 21st in front of the Hatfield courthouse. My BFF and I are in the front rank, the only people in front of us are a couple of press people who walk briefly in front of us. You won’t see it, but about halfway through someone with a shield comes up and kneels in front of me to protect me (though I didn’t want it or ask for it). I didn’t tell the shield carrier to buzz off and find someone who actually wanted protection, but if this is ever you, please ask permission before you actually touch someone’s body. My shield carrier actually grabbed my arthritic knees in what they thought was a reassuring gesture just before the tear gas was fired. Don’t be that person, okay? Okay.
Now the video:
Elsewhere on the internet, at least one person posted a video (now retweeted multiple times) of the same feds advancing on the Wall of Moms at the exact same time as some of the later scenes in this video. That wall of smoke you can’t see through off to the left in that video? That’s where myself & my BFF are standing, hacking up our lungs until I vomited (only a little, thankfully) into my mask and lost my glasses in the street. I tried to pick them up, but it was hopeless.
For those who aren’t familiar with tear gas, there are “better” and “worse” varieties. I’m told this was a less harmful variety, possibly pepper spray gasified. It’s also true that I’m a lot less healthy and a lot less in shape than a lot of people, but this was terrifying for me. It prevents you from getting sufficient oxygen, and that sets off some primal reactions. Although I’ve never been water boarded, I’m told that despite the fact that you never completely run out of air (since they only pour water on you for so long) your body doesn’t know when it’s going to get its next breath and you panic. That deeply biological panic is supposed to be the source of the torture that causes people to agree to do whatever their torturer asks.
I felt that panic.
Because of my bad joints and my crutches, I could not clear the area faster than they were advancing the line of tear gas grenades. I was one of the very last people, if not the very last person, to clear the block. I was opening my eyes for a brief moment to try to plan a way forward, then crutching forward literally blind for ten to twenty feet, stumbling, catching myself but straining my damaged joints, begging the universe for oxygen. Other people did not seem as badly affected, and perhaps that’s not being in good aerobic shape, or perhaps it’s because it took me so long to clear the area, I’m not sure. It was bad for everyone, but horrifying and terrifying for me.
To reiterate: I had done nothing illegal beyond jaywalk – and that was earlier in the night, not in front of these federal officers. There could not have been anything I had done that would justify inflicting panic was so bad that I didn’t notice my vomit inside my mask until many minutes later. I’ve only ever been very distantly affected by tear gas at protests when I was in a back rank, and that was a couple decades ago.
It was my intent to simply remain calm and remain still and let myself be affected by the gas. i knew it would suck, but I also knew that this gas is hardly ever fatal, and I don’t have asthma or any known breathing difficulties (besides just being out of shape) that would constitute real risk factors for that. And I have been calm in dangerous situations. I once fell asleep with a candle going beside my bed only to wake up and find my comforter fully engulfed in flames, with me still under it. I was calm then, did exactly what I needed to do to put out the fire and take care of myself. I hadn’t panicked, I was very detached – almost dissociated – and coolly competent. I thought I could be just as calm and just as dispassionate in the tear gas.
I was wrong. This shit will fuck you up. It will make you gasp. It will l make you wretch. It will make you vomit. In the midst of your violent coughing fits, it will make you pee yourself. That coughing can be so bad it will make you shit yourself. You will not be calm, you will not be detached. You will be blind and panicked and desperate for a breath that you cannot find, with only instinct to guide you away from the chemical inflicting this torture.
I’m enough of a middle-class white lady to tut tut with my BFF about the fireworks people set off, and about banging on the doors of the courthouse, since it was clearly intended to make the cops inside feel uncomfortable. Maybe you’re at home and you’re thinking, sure the feds overreacted, but it’s not like they had no reason at all to fire that gas.
Let me make it clear: there can be no reason to fire that gas. If they had people they wanted to arrest, they could easily have done that. Save for the one person at the video’s beginning that’s being held down by 3 and sometimes 4 agents, they didn’t even try. In fact, they already had that one person in full control and custody before the tear gas was used. There’s simply no way that any of you would condone mass waterboarding. I want to make sure that you don’t think for a second that this use of tear gas is any different.
Whatever law enforcement job they have to do, this tear gassing of protestors is just wrong.