EDITORIAL: Dissidents face the war machine at NATO 2012
|June 20, 2012||Posted by Carrie Medina under Personal Reflections, Print Issues, Stories, Volume 2, Issue 4 (July/August 2012)|
When I left for the NATO summit, I expected the police in Chicago were going to be oppressive against protesters, if not downright violent. There had been quite a bit of media buzz around the Chicago Police Department having spent a million dollars on riot and tactical gear. They had also announced they had an LRAD (long-range acoustic device) – a military weapon capable of emitting painful noises to disperse crowds. Some workers in Chicago had been advised by their employers to not wear suits (so as not to enrage the protesters). Other residents had been advised to stay indoors, have food and water on-hand, and even to leave town if possible. From my perspective, this was obvious fear-mongering. There was little reason to believe that a peaceful anti-war protest was going to turn into the L.A. riots. I had no idea, however, how the police were going to act.
In my time involved with the Occupy movement, and many protests before, I have seen protesters pepper-sprayed, beaten, and abused by police. I have seen thousands forcibly removed from parks, streets, and sidewalks. I understand the brute force that the police can use if they wish. Still, I have never seen anything like the Chicago NATO protests of 2012.
After the veterans threw back their medals in a touching ceremony at Cermak Road and Michigan Avenue, we took a moment of silence. A horn played as the former soldiers lined up in two neat rows and prepared to leave together. As the rally was wrapping up, one of the veterans suggested on the loudspeaker that the crowd start moving west.
People started to slowly make their way toward the west before realizing that the police had blocked every other direction. The people with me in the area directly on the corner of Michigan & Cermak were now stuck, waiting for thousands to start moving one direction before we could hope to get out. The artificially narrowed area created by rows of police in riot gear was packed with people.
A few minutes later, I was still video streaming when about 20 officers marched in from the west, single-file, in full riot gear, and started pushing into the crowd. It was strange to see officers advance into a crowd, going against the flow of foot traffic. And that’s when things got crazy.
When the last officer in line was about ten feet from me, I heard screams of pain, then shouts of anger, and then multiple cries of “medic!” More panicked cries from farther towards the front of the police line followed seconds later. “MEDIC!” Then we started to see them; one on my left, then two to my right; people bleeding profusely down the side of their heads, other with bloodied faces. The crowd panicked.
I was immediately swept up in a crowd that was scrambling over one another, trying to escape. But there was no way out. I was at one point pressed so tightly in the crowd that my feet were lifted off the ground and carried by the sheer pressure against my sides and ribcage several feet. At several points, I heard myself cry out due to the sharp pains in my ribs. My feet were trampled upon. It was chaos. People screamed, “Which way do we go?!” with panic written all over their faces. People tried leaving in any way they could, only to be stopped in every direction. A woman with a young child yelled, “Get us out of here!” People twisted and groaned against the weight of the crowd as they tried to help her and her child out.
In the midst of the chaos, a man climbed up on two metal barricades that lay stacked on their sides, dismantled by the panicked crowd, trying to leave. He began to play his acoustic guitar. The scene suddenly became very surreal. The music was pure, calming, even upbeat. But the very fact he chose to play it right then, right there, made it an act of defiance. The disconnect between what I was hearing and what I was seeing made the situation seem like something out of a movie. The guitar player was eventually forced to move by the swelling crowd, but his song will stay with me forever.
Many people who had gone to the west turned around or stopped due to the heavy police presence in that direction, in fear of becoming victims of similar brutality to that they had just witnessed. A few seemed to stand there still and slack-jawed as others pushed past them. Nearby, in an alleyway, medics were giving first aid to some of those injured. It was as if the sight of all that blood turned off the medic’s ability to function. I interviewed two different eyewitnesses about what had happened. They both said that the police had just pushed through and started hitting people, completely unprovoked.
The main group of riot police formed a line parallel to Michigan. The police officers used this opportunity to advance several feet into the crowd and used their shields to butt up against those unfortunate enough to be near them at the time. The police shouted “Move! Move! Move!” in unison. But people had nowhere to go. Every time they did this, people were trampled, smashed, hurt. I was pushed into the stacked metal barricades, and sustained injuries to my leg. A woman fell beside me, landing on the barricade with her hands and head. About the third or fourth time the police pushed forward, the people immediately near them started to push back.
At some point a few people up front hit the helmets of officers with the thin wooden sticks from protest signs, and a couple people in the back threw empty plastic water bottles. This futile resistance only enraged the police further, unleashing a beating on a new front row of people, since most of the original front row was now seeking medical care for serious injuries.
A young man with a red bandana around his neck and a Spanish accent addressed the police with his bullhorn. “You don’t have to do this, ” he said. “You can disobey orders that you know are unconstitutional.” He proceeded to tell them why he was there. That he wanted a better world, one where we could stop the wars, stop the killing and spend that money on better things. He told them he wanted a world where his mother could get proper healthcare and not die due to her insurance company denying her treatment. He choked up, and a couple members of the crowd laid a consoling hand on his shoulder.
It was then the crowd heard a dispersal order over the LRAD. We were told that our conduct was unlawful, and warned that we could be subject to removal, noise, or other police actions if we remained. A crowd of a few hundred stayed. I was one of those people. I felt an obligation to film the encounter, hoping that more cameras would encourage less police violence.
When the police had reached the end of the intersection, where Michigan stopped and Cermak started, they sent more officers onto the sidewalk as well, pushing and shoving those of us that were standing there – mostly members of the alternative media, and a few mainstream journalists. Many of us began to angrily complain that standing on a sidewalk to film was perfectly legal. Only one officer responded. He said curtly, “You’ve been ordered to disperse. Go.” Just as many still think we have a freedom to assemble and redress our grievances, many people still believe we have a freedom of press in this country. As a member of the alternative media, I can assure you: they are mistaken.
Almost the entire crowd had left at this point, leaving about 45 people on the sidewalk to fend for themselves. A third and final dispersal order was given, and those who remained were warned they would face arrest if they continued to stay. One young man sat down on the sidewalk directly in front of the police and appeared to pray or meditate. The police, who had remained still and seemed stone-like up until this point noticed him. For a split second, I watched their expressions change to something resembling reflection.
I asked the few remaining individuals how it felt to be the only ones who stood up for their constitutional rights. I got a few smiles, two peace signs, and a solidarity fist. They were exhausted, but victorious. Mark Twain said, “A patriot is merely a rebel at the start. In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.” The NATO protesters seemed optimistic that someday the masses will join this cause. Let’s hope by then it’s not too late.
Carrie Medina is a Citizen Journalist, Streamer, and Editor who is an active member of Occupy Portland. You can follow her @CarrieFoTruth on Twitter, and find her stream athttp://www.ustream.tv/channel/occupypdxnews.