2008 Oh, Oh, Oh I’m on Fire
posted by September 1 at 16:53 PMon
Well folks, I spoke too soon and, as of now, my skin feels like it’s being peeled from my body. Pepper spray: It’s not just crowd control, it’s exfoliation.
About an hour after my Pollyanna post about the peaceful protests and restrained cops, a large group with a “direct-action” banner (100? 200?) started a quiet, ominous march down to the Mississippi River.
These were different from the earlier protestors—mostly in black, mostly tanned, most of their faces covered. They didn’t chant, they just moved, quickly. One kid on a bike, who was bleeding out of his ear all down his shirt—presumably from an earlier encounter with the police—was all grim smiles.
Riot police wearing gas masks massed on the other side of the street (the Xcel Center side, opposite from the Mississippi). Coast Guard boats massed in the river. The protestors tried to cross the street, tear gas was fired, and that was that. Police closed in from both sides, liberally pepper-sprayed the crowd and basically pushed them in a park.
I was watching one phalanx of police walk away from me, corralling the protestors. The last notes I took:
Cop pushes girl into tear-glass cloud, then pepper-sprays her. Unnecessary.
A voice behind me said: “Hey! Keep moving!” It was another phalanx of police. Stupidly, I flashed my media credentials and said “You go on without me. I’m just reporting on this.” I felt a cool shower over my head and heard the cop throw the canister on the sidewalk. She dumped the whole damn thing on me.
(She was a lady. I’ve always wanted to be pepper-sprayed by a lady.)
In a couple of seconds, I was a blind, wheezing, snotting, doubled-over wreck of a man, trying to push my bike toward safety while being jabbed in the back with a baton and told to hurry up. I bumped into several small trees along the way.
I’ll post the boring, first-person details below the jump. I wish I could post some of the photos, but I’m afraid the events—and liquid—of the afternoon has rendered my camera unusable.
More cogent reporting on this latter protest here.
Now I’m off to Minneapolis to try and crash a cognac tasting thrown by the RNC for the delegates. From pepper spray to cognac—it’s a grand old party.
I’ve hurt myself in a lot of different ways—shattered my heel; had violent three-day food poisoning; and broken my nose, ribs, wrist, and leg; took a gulp of tear gas earlier in the afternoon—but nothing hurts like pepper spray. The pain is fleeting, but it is crippling. Plus, you’re helpless: You can’t see, can’t breathe, and are (usually) in a hostile situation. When the anarchist medic came along to pour some water in my eyes—bless you David, whoever you are—and said “we have to move, they’re going to start firing again,” I nearly wept.
So we moved. I wrenched my eyes open long enough to see we were in a park. There was a fountain—all I wanted was blessed, blessed water—just behind a row of horse and foot cops wearing gas masks. I got beyond the police line by sheer pleading with another lady cop . They really wanted to detain everyone in that small park (not arrest, which means paperwork, but detain in one of the corrals for 24 or 36 or however many hours they’re legally allowed to do so in Minnesota.
I finally got through, still a blind, wheezing, pain-wracked person and stumbled to the fountain, with invisible people asking, “Dude? Are you okay?” and saying “He’s been maced—do not go down there” as I stumbled past. I rinsed myself in the fountain (including my balls, which were burning like fire), and biked to the place where I’m staying for a long, cold shower, discovering new parts of me that hurt along the way. It was a long goddamned bike ride.
The shower hurt, the drying-off hurt, everything hurt. It was an afternoon of hurting.