Note: I wrote this first as a comment over on Wonkette.com. I could have written up a description of he evening from scratch. in fact, I intended to, as I like to think that I have a little skill as a writer and I don’t normally want unedited, top-of-my-head thoughts to represent me. But I think that there’s some information in how this was written. My head was spinning when I got home from the Wed July 29th protests and the story below is also a circle. Maybe it’s not my best writing (hell, the tense changes alone drive me batty rereading it) but i think it is communicative of many things, including how rattled I was, and for that reason I’m copying it over almost untouched. As for the reference in the title, it’s to Marcus Ranum’s current post on the history of bloody, violent clashes between cops/ national guards/ security acting on behalf of capitalists and workers organizing for better wages and conditions. It’s titled How to Riot, and it’s a good read.
Fuck, fuck, and triple-ultra-fuck.
Remember when i was wondering a few hours ago if the Feds, knowing that they were on their way out tomorrow, would be more laid back or if they would be extra violent?
EXTRA VIOLENT IT IS.
Got separated from BFF for 80-90 minutes, things were so difficult. We had multiple meet up place (we have 2 every night + the car, wherever that is, as a last-ditch emergency rendezvous site).
We fled a bit before 1am. 12:50, maybe? Not sure. But judging by the time we got home, we would have had to be driving at 1am at the absolute latest, and we slowed down to take some photos & stuff, so I think 12:50 sounds good.
I would have stayed but I was not only scared – the mood there was fucking mean – but I was also physically unable to move much at all. And though I don’t talk about it b/c the protests are not about me, there’s a long history of cops attacking people who use crutches and then saying it was necessary because the person was “armed” and “swinging the crutch as a club” which often just means the person was turning around to walk away and the tip wasn’t dragging on the ground. My body was fucked up enough that I just didn’t think I could take that tonight.
And, the final nail in the coffin, the car was parked right where a skirmish line of cops had formed. If we stayed, they could have started advancing with tear gas without warning, and if they did the car would be completely inaccessible for I don’t know how long. It had taken me an hour to reach it after I’d been able to confirm my BFF wasn’t at the other meet up sites.
The only other option would have been to drive off and park elsewhere in the city where the cops would be driving us towards the car instead of away. In that scenario, I would have been able to stay awhile and monitor farther back than the front ranks and maybe make it to the car without being beaten. But just the idea of parking far enough away that the car would be safe and then walking using my strained body seemed a lot, and just continuing on home since the car had to be moving anyway seemed so easy.
This has been a TERRIBLE night for violence by the feds, and you don’t just have to take my word for it, I have an interview with someone that I’ll upload to youtube later. They say (even without my prompting!) what I am happy to tell you from my own observations: the protests were as peaceful as I’d ever seen them. Before the first assault, there were no fireworks – not even ones that stayed on our side of the fence. No one was throwing water bottles over the fence. No one was even banging on the fence as a noise-making tactic. And then, earlier in the evening than their usual first assault, the fucking cut loose. It was bad. They often save their worst assaults for later in the evening. (Not sure why, but the generous interpretation is that it allows them to drive away the low-tolerance folks using lower doses.) But this was a 1 am assault at 10:45 pm. It was big. There was tear gas everywhere. I don’t back off more than a block away from the nearest corner of the courthouse very often, but I was almost 2 blocks away from even the closest approach before I could stop.
When my BFF & I got back, I was there for maybe 5-10 minutes before i started a conversation with an Oregonian reporter (the newspaper also runs Oregonlive.com). I was trying to stay close to the front line to catch video of people returning and partying, but the reporter was headed to the back lines. I followed and eventually caught up when they stopped at a table handing out free water and snacks.
In the exact center of the park block that faces the west wall of the courthouse there is a tall pillar. We were just to the far side of the pillar from the courthouse’s perspective. The conversation lasted all of 3 minutes before tear gas landed just on the other side of the pillar from us – it had been launched a half a block through the air from the courthouse. They weren’t trying to get people to back off from the fence, they were trying to punish people by setting up a barrier of tear gas that they had to run **into** in order to get away. The reporter was trying to formulate something to say, probably something quick to end the conversation, when another tear gas canister dropped, this one about a meter from me. It didn’t touch me, but seemed to appear out of nowhere and I was worried for a moment that it would roll into my ankle. Whatever that thing’s made out of, however, it just stopped where it hit the dirt in the flower bed next to me.
The reporter looked at me, and I told her, “Go, do your job, it’s okay!” and she ran off. Another tear gas canister landed 3-4 meters away, but on the exact line of my planned retreat. Someone quickly dropped a cone on that. I didn’t even see what direction they came from. I turned around to see what other directions I could head, and someone with a thick glove was grabbing the canister that had dropped so frighteningly close to me.
I was retching and coughing and my eyes were burning and the tear gas kept falling. The street corners a block away from the SW and NW corners of the courthouse would normally be rally points where folks could catch their breath, but everyone was streaming past there. The tear gas was simply too close to those corners. I was 2 blocks away when the burning in my eyes stopped increasing.
Read that again. I’m not talking about when my eyes started to feel better. I’m talking about when they stopped getting worse.
It was during this attack that I lost track of BFF. I took advantage of the time I needed to recover to record a video of someone who was really struggling with the effects of the gas so you could get the perspective of someone other than me. They ended up spending more time talking about how unexpected the attack was, and how peaceful we had been. I tried to head back to the courthouse, but I’d barely gotten closer than 4th & Salmon, almost a full block away still, and a third offensive broke out, as bad or worse than the other 2.
From that point I was constantly moving in search of a way to get close to the courthouse or the car to see if I could find BFF, but I just couldn’t. Tear gas erupted again and again. Pepper balls. Rubber bullets. And I’m exhausted on my feet with nowhere to sit – the benches are in the park, and the park is flooded with gas even after the Feds have retreated. They were simply saturating the air so heavily that it couldn’t fully clear before the next offensive.
Then I saw something new: forest green smoke. It wasn’t the yellowish tear gas smoke we’d been seeing the last couple weeks, and I had no idea what the effects would be. More mild? More severe? I had no idea and with how nasty the feds were being, I was in no mood to find out. I turned around and was walking away when I got hit in the back of the head by a fist. The person who hit me kept on moving and I have no idea what motivated them to punch me, but it was sure as hell an intentional punch.
That wasn’t the only punch thrown, though it was the only one that targeted me. The heavy aggression of the cops seemed to take a toll on the crowd. One group of younger protesters was involved in at least 3 fights, and another fist fight broke out between protesters that seemed to have no connection to that group.
My legs are dying, my back is dying, my arms are dying, and the only way to get home is to march right back through the thickest smoke to find the woman with the keys to the car. I’m very scared she’s not okay, but I’m keeping up hope: as long as I haven’t visited all our emergency rendezvous sites, I can just keep believing that she’s fine and made it to one and is waiting there for me. One is in the park just a few feet away from the intersection on the NW corner of the courthouse. The other is the car, which tonight is only a half block from the NE corner of the courthouse, but the east side of the courthouse, away from the park, has rarely been the site of much violence. She’s probably there, but I can’t rule out that close-in point in the park. And since the site in the park is on the way to the parked car, I’m going to have to go in close to the courthouse again soon.
So I steel myself and head back in. Another offensive.
I get the worst lungful of the night, worse even than when I was talking to the reporter and tear gas dropped next to me. I’m blind again, but I’ve done this before. I deliberately slow down and listen for people coming up behind me. I’m listening for voices, but even the ones who aren’t talking are telling me with their gait whether they’re panicked or careful. I’m literally dodging clumsy careless people who are coming up on me from behind by listening until the last moment and then swinging a crutch away from the side they dive past.
I’m out of the smoke at 4th and Salmon when the first medics ask to help. I’m telling the medics to leave me alone, not because I couldn’t use help, but because they’ll want me to tip my head this way or that and I’m already off balance. I’d just fall over in the street if they tried to help me because they have no idea what it’s like to contort your body on crutches when your whole body is weak and exhausted and in pain. But they can see that I’m not doing well, so they keep approaching me and keep trying to insist, and they’re too fucking cluelessly eager-to-be-helpful to recognize that they’re putting themselves in the way of my crutches while I’m moving. I have to move in disjointed half-gaits. They are slowing me down and making me spend longer in the drifting cloud that’s burning my eyes and throat and lungs and even skin. Now I want to scream at them, “DO NOT HELP ME!” but I muster up every ounce of respect for their generosity I can, set aside my anger at their cluelessness, and say, “Thank you, I’m fine, I just want to walk away.”
I am not fine, but now I can walk away. I feel like an asshole for lying – is that how I should feel? Now my long training in intellectualizing ethical questions kicks in, and even if it implicates me in making an immoral choice, the academic distraction is better than being in my body in this moment of ragged, gasping breaths, burning lungs, blind, stinging eyes.
Ten or fifteen minutes more I spend somewhere up 4th street past Taylor. They closest I get to 4th and Salmon during that time is a block and a half, but honestly some of that time I’m thinking of escaping past 6th and Yamhill, to the Pioneer Courthouse Square. The only thing that stops me is that BFF and I will never find each other that way.
I wander looking for any place to sit. There’s nowhere. There are probably places up on 5th, but it’s the wrong direction and there are people having a fistfight between me and 5th, so I don’t try for it. I think for a moment about getting between the three combatants to help stop the fight, but other people with more mobile bodies make a move to separate them before I can get there, so I back off and let them handle it.
At that point I spy someone with the most beautiful rainbow hair. She lets me take a picture or three. One came out blurry, but this one’s nice enough:
And here’s the best picture:
Somehow her hair and my brief chat with her and her bestie (a Black woman not pictured b/c she was worried about her safety) gave me a little energy back. That’s when I started heading back to 4th and Salmon again. The way through the park was still too filled with tear gas and the action at the fence seemed volatile. As I was standing there wondering whether it was worth it to try taking the shortest path to the car and check the in-park meet-up point on the way, another three tear gas canisters went off at the corner of 3rd and Salmon – exactly between me and the car again. They’re also close to the park corner and I decide I don’t need to check that space. Even if BFF could tolerate it there, she wouldn’t want me to have to tolerate those conditions waiting for her. If she’s anywhere, she must be at the car.
So… it’s back to where I met the woman with the exceptional hair, then down Taylor to 3rd, 3rd back toward Salmon, more tear gas was released before I even made it a third of a block. Back to 4th and down Taylor to 2nd. South on second to Salmon and from there I can see the car near 1st and Salmon, with BFF standing by its rear bumper.
I’m so relieved that I almost miss the action: some feds are dragging an individual through their sally port for arrest. I couldn’t make the phone work, miss the opportunity for video, and ended up taking a few stills of the door closing. Maybe I got a shot of the feds holding someone in the opening as the door closed. Maybe not. The angle wasn’t great. I’ll find out later.
Things are still chaotic at that point, and not happy-chaotic like the hebrew concept of balagan. This is bad chaotic. The only good thing happening is the rapper No Shuz is right there at 2nd & Salmon using his portable amp to taunt the cops. It’s not much that other people wouldn’t say, at least in substance, but No Shuz has a way with words and his style of taunting the cops impresses me. I enjoy his wit. Then another man, a white guy who’s been doing good service for the crowd by playing the trumpet (rally and charge calls help bring people back to the courthouse after each wave of Fed violence), starts yelling and No Shuz quiets as his voice wouldn’t be heard through Trumpet Guy’s yelling. But all Trumpet Guy can muster are challenges to the feds to take off their gear and fight him like a man. Boring macho posturing. No Shuz was a thousand times better and I wish he was still on the mic.
While this is happening, cops in dark blue – not the desert camo of the Border Patrol tactical team (the government calls them BORTAC) form a skirmish line with clubs in hand all across 2nd avenue at Salmon. I’m guessing they’re FPS, but they could be US Marshals. They don’t have “Portland” written on them anywhere, so whatever they are, they’ve got to be feds.
And now we’re back where we started, with me telling you about the decision I had to make to stay and possibly be pushed away from the car, and because of my slower ability to flee inevitably coming into contact with cops that I **know** assault crutch users as if they were armed. If I fell, would I even be able to get up? Especially if the club was aimed at an arm or wrist?
I talk with BFF and she’s scared. We haven’t been together, but she has her own scary stories about how aggressive the cops have been tonight. She convinces me to get in the car. We’re sitting. We’re talking. We make the decision. We leave.
I felt bad retreating with others still facing the Feds’ rage, but it was the right decision.
Tonight was so bad.
If you’re listening to me, if you’ve been listening to me the past 11 days, I’m telling you, however bad the other nights have been, however much you thought those nights sounded scary, they weren’t tonight. Tonight was its own thing, a category to itself.
I hope the reports are true that the feds are turning over primary security to the Oregon State Patrol tomorrow. If things continue like this, protesters are going to die. Fuck me, but I’m not entirely sure we didn’t lose anyone tonight, and I won’t feel like I can be certain of that until I read tomorrow’s media stories.
Shit is bad. So. Bad.