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Monday, September 1, 2008

Oh, Oh, Oh I’m on Fire

posted by on September 1 at 16:53 PM

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.

RSS icon Comments


Awesome Brendan! Welcome to the Fraternity of the Pepper Sprayed...Its kinda like Coke though, once you do it it gets better, then you kind of want it...Dont be surprised if you run out in a day or so just to get a whiff....

Posted by MadDog | September 1, 2008 5:07 PM

Ugh. That sucks. I had a friend who went through cop school and they made them practice macing and tasing each other; he said he'd rather be tased ten times than pepper sprayed once. Take it easy up there.

Posted by Stacy in Austin | September 1, 2008 5:08 PM

"Including my balls, which were burning like fire."

That phrase made a good post into a great post. Excellent work. It would also be a good name for a band.

I'm glad protesters are there for things like this, even if I'm not sure what good it does.

Posted by elenchos | September 1, 2008 5:09 PM

Well, all I can say is that I hope the cognac helps to dull the pain.

Posted by Lesley | September 1, 2008 5:16 PM

"What good it does", Elenchos? What good it does, really? It gets Republicans elected is what it does.

Posted by Fnarf | September 1, 2008 5:21 PM

The MSP police seem to be unusually heavyhanded with teargas and other chemicals. I was getting my groove on* at the Gay 90's with some friends one night, and when we left there were a good 5-10 officers hanging about outside. They kept shouting "Leave the area! Drive home!", which is a super fabulous message to be sending to a bunch of people leaving a bar at 2AM. In between when we'd gotten there 4 hours earlier and when we left, they had put up little barricades to corral people across the street before letting them walk off to their cars, etc. We were walking at a reasonable pace, but not running (who would after dancing for four hours straight?), but they kept screaming at people with their bullhorns. We were almost to the parking garage across the street when I began to feel queasy and my eyes started hurting something fierce. They'd discharged a can of teargas in front of the doors of the bar. There hadn't been a ruckus or anything, no crazy people yelling at them- just people quietly leaving the area.

*Awkwardly nodding her head and bouncing, as an Irish Catholic straight girl might do in a happenin' dance spot

Posted by Sara | September 1, 2008 5:28 PM

You know, Fnarf, I'm not buying this crazy-protestors-scare-independents-from-voting-for-Democrats argument. It just doesn't make sense. Some Republicans, who would never vote Democrat, probably conflate the two. (In fact, I met some of them today.) But I don't think undecided voters, sitting at home, think: "Those anarchists represent the values of the Democratic party. So I'm not going to vote for them."

Those undecided voters think of the radical left as freaks, not as ambassadors for the Democratic platform—no more than you or I thought of David Koresh as an ambassador for the Republican platform.

Posted by Brendan Kiley | September 1, 2008 5:32 PM

I just read that some fringe assholes smashed up some cop cars. Maybe they were pissed about that.

Posted by Jen | September 1, 2008 5:33 PM

the link to the more cogent report isn't working.

Posted by amazonmidwife | September 1, 2008 5:42 PM

Brendan, stay safe. While it was obviously no party to be pepper-sprayed, at least you didn't self-inflict, as I did.

A couple years ago I was preparing a fiery dish that called for some habanero oil. I sizzled three sliced habeneros in oil, pulled out the peppers, poured the oil into a remekin and then...oh god, I can still see it today...put the red hot skillet under the faucet.

When the steam cloud hit my face, I fell to the floor, tearing at my eyeballs...

Tell THAT to the Splendid Table...

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | September 1, 2008 5:47 PM

Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinksi, Ralph Nader, the Al Gore for President Campaign, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, Fox News, the John Kerry for President Campaign, and the better finances of the rich compared with the poor are what put Republicans in office, Fnarf. My God, if only street protesters did have that kind of power. There would be hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them if they really could change the course of history.

They make me cringe most of the time, but I'm glad they're out there.

Posted by elenchos | September 1, 2008 5:48 PM

Sorry, amazonmidwife. Maybe this link works better?

Posted by Brendan Kiley | September 1, 2008 5:54 PM

@Brendan @7, I totally buy that. It may not be quite that simple, but it's certainly one more straw on the camel's back. Protesting radicals identify with the democratic party. I don't identify with protesting radicals, therefore i don't identify with the democratic party. It's flawed logic, but there are plenty of people who think that way.

My grandmother thinks MLK Jr. was a trouble-maker because protests and riots seemed to spring up around him. Of course in that case, the protests and riots brought a lot of attention to the issue of civil rights. In the case of the RNC, it has enough attention on its own.

Posted by cmaceachen | September 1, 2008 5:58 PM

Ummm, Fnarf hates The Clash. Of course he's going to be wrong 99% of the time.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | September 1, 2008 6:03 PM

Having been peppersprayed myself on a few occasions, I highly recommend vinegar, which will cut the stinging. Get yourself some cheap white vinegar and douse in it; while you might smell funny, it will ease the pain. Also, if you're expecting more of this sort of thing, carry a vinegar-soaked rag in a plastic baggie to whip out so you can protect your nose and mouth, allowing yourself to breathe if you get peppersprayed again.

Posted by meloukhia | September 1, 2008 6:12 PM

@15, not to mention you'll have the fixin's on hand for a nice douche so you can march in protest AND have a fresh taco.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | September 1, 2008 6:27 PM

Poor Brenda. Did you tell the cops that Dan Savage sent you? You know, Dan the man who believed Bush and Cheney and the Republican neo-cons and supported making war on Iraq. And now when they make war on Americans you guys whine. Suck it up Kiley! Man up! Get back out there and tell these cops you work for a conservative publication thjat supports wars and bombing of civilian populations. What's a little pepper spray to you macho motherfuckers?

Posted by John McCain | September 1, 2008 6:47 PM

What's a little pepper spray to me? Not much, Johnny. I'm out on the streets right now. Come by sometime and we can do a couple rounds in the ring together.

I'll be easy on you, old man.

Posted by Brendan Kiley | September 1, 2008 6:51 PM

So a bunch of people broke the law and they were suprised when police responed? (To be fair Brendan shouldn't have been sprayed (he is press and should report on the matter), but don't pretend you're hardcore, cause I could get sprayed by hitting people in the stomach on broadway, that's about the same statement they are makeing).

Posted by @19 | September 1, 2008 7:12 PM

Does it really get republicans elected, Fnarf (@5). Like it got democrats elected in 1968. An imploding convention is never a good thing for the party doing the implosion. I'm just waiting for Sarah Palin to pull a Tom Eagleton.

Posted by Don't you think he looks tired? | September 1, 2008 7:35 PM

Brendan, if you're still hurting from the pepper spray try this: dissolve 1 tablespoon baking soda in 1 cup water, apply to skin (I had to apply a couple of times before those nerves chilled out). When I got sprayed during the WTO that was the only thing that helped with the burning later - not vinegar. You might also want to carry a bit of this solution if you think you're going to get sprayed again. Also be sure to wash those clothes well - separately, with a good detergent.

Thanks for still reporting after that & good luck! Hope you get some kind of bonus.

(I'm not a chemistry expert but baking soda neutralizes both acidic and alkaline substances, so I trust it more than vinegar for this.)

Posted by asteria | September 1, 2008 8:06 PM

THe last time I went through the gas chamber (in the military) we used real CS gas, not that pussy pepper spray. I did 15 pushups in the gas. It gets easier.

But props to you for having to go through it.

As an aside, I have some powdered CS tucked away somewhere, it is the best cold remedy ever. 1 minute of pain, followed by 15 minutes of drainage. Presto, no cold!

Posted by wisepunk | September 1, 2008 8:11 PM

Yay! Proof of what a huge jerk-off Fnarf is.

Thanx Fnarf!

Posted by Fark | September 1, 2008 8:31 PM

Aren't political demonstrations fun? I remember the smell of tear gas from when I was 8. When I was 16, I was Maced at close range, and tore ligaments (snap crackle pop) running from a charging rhino with a baton in a state trooper outfit. Good times.
Sounds like modern pepper spray has more bite to it than the old Mace did. Welcome to the club of people who have experienced real social control. It kind of changes how you view future interactions with the police. Next time, try putting some skin protectant on. Maybe a thin layer of vaseline on your face and neck? Swim goggles and nose plugs might help too, if you are going to be on the front lines.

Posted by LMSW | September 1, 2008 9:47 PM

I'm surprised that there's been no coverage of Amy Goodman's arrest here. Apparently Brendan, you're not the only reporter who was hassled today. The Democracy Now! host was arrested (along with two Democracy Now Producers) and Amy's arrest was caught on video:

Although they have all since been released as updated on

Posted by Amy Good! | September 2, 2008 12:05 AM

as sad as this story is, its kinda sexy.

Posted by um | September 2, 2008 5:43 AM

You must have done something to provoke them, Brandon.

Posted by Quit Bragging | September 2, 2008 6:02 AM

I've been pepper sprayed many times in protests, and now I'm evaluating whether it would be worse torture to be pepper sprayed or to attend a GOP cognac reception.

Either way, you have guts. My hat's off to you.

Posted by Nullifidian | September 2, 2008 7:06 AM

I once writhed in agony from getting habanero oil in my eyes and nostrils (I had washed my hands several times but apparently that didn't cut it) so I can only imagine what you were going through.
Wishing you all the best!

It seems pretty fucked up that the cop's first response to seeing media credentials is an entire can of the stuff. Then again, my innocent self hasn't participated in any protests since my high school hippie days of Clayoquot Sound.

Posted by Bemaha | September 2, 2008 8:16 AM

I was in that protest march and was surprised to hear about the idiot anarchists causing trouble. All 10,000-15,000 people in that march walked peacefully with, as far as I could tell, no trouble with the cops. The cops, in full riot gear, were excellent. They caused no trouble and were perfectly behaved.

I am furious that those asshole anarchists turned a large, peaceful rally into a violet clash with the cops. Now, the only thing anyone's going to hear about the rally is about the 1% who caused trouble. these shitheads have disgraced the entire rally and ruined the peaceful message. If I had seen them breaking windows and slashing tires the cops wouldn't have had to beat them down. I would have done it for them.

Posted by Colin | September 2, 2008 8:16 AM

OMG, Brendan. That's terrible.

Under what circumstances is it legal to pepper spray somebody? Does the media not have the right to be there? I'm confused.

Posted by violet_dagrinder | September 2, 2008 8:23 AM

Hey little squirrel is your daddy home?

Posted by NapoleonXIV | September 2, 2008 8:58 AM

So, uh, maybe it's just my naivete talking, but if a cop pepper sprays someone who's just flashed a press badge, doesn't that count as assault? (Not that you'd ever get a conviction, of course. Welcome to the Police States of America.)

Posted by Greg | September 2, 2008 10:12 AM

"If I had seen them breaking windows and slashing tires the cops wouldn't have had to beat them down. I would have done it for them."

Welcome to the world of the 'sensible liberal', where property damage makes physical assault justifiable. I'm sure the pigs are grateful to have such a loyal stooge.

Posted by Nullifidian | September 2, 2008 12:53 PM

ooh, brendan @7, i am sorry to say i do disagree with your argument. i think many political decisions are based on petty aesthetics. conservatives are conservatives, many of them i suspect, because they don't want to be dirty hippies or whatever. and many democrats don't want to be conservative because they recognize conservatives as uptight fascist assholes. everyone's right!

Posted by adrian | September 2, 2008 4:57 PM

"Including my balls, which were burning like fire."

¡Grandes cojones del fuego!

A new meaning.

Posted by Frankly, my dear, ... | September 3, 2008 3:26 AM

It's curious how we are so entrenched in a two party system that assumptions that protestors at rnc being related to the dem party is rife in many peoples minds. We are such creatures of the box. How 'bout anarchists, greens, libertarians, and librarians, wait...
when my balls are on fire i usually use tinactin, but i digress.

Posted by natkingcoy | September 3, 2008 6:15 PM

Hey Brother, Ma just forwarded me the link to this... holy crap, man. I'm sorry to hear Hope you don't get another dose of "the spray." Keep yr head up, bro. God bless America.

Posted by Conor | September 4, 2008 7:50 AM


re: weight shifting and knee bending

I have had those symptoms for over twenty years. The reason: sore knees. Standing for any length of time will require shifting and bending to relieve discomfort.


Posted by al | September 5, 2008 8:41 AM

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