DAY TWO: TUESDAY EDITION
LAST NIGHT'S RIOT COP BEATINGS
Last updated Tuesday August 26, 2:20 a.m. MST
Previous DNC coverage: 500 Tijuana Bibles on the way to DNC and DAY ONE:MONDAY
We're in Denver for
DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION
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New for Tuesday August 26 2008
Today's Tijuana Bible drop-off locations:
We decided to have a little fun and make today's comic drop a bit easier on you
100 copies on DNC floor / 45 to Delegates
10 copies left at WaxTrax I
10 copies left at Kilgore Comics
10 copies left at WaxTrax II
all store copies at 13th st./Washington
Welcome to Denver, part two
We'll begin with a retraction: What a difference a day makes. I'd like to now lightly flip-flop on my opinion of the protest participants down here in Denver. (see yesterday's jokes at their expense) I no longer consider them live action roleplayers lacking a sense of imagination. Or worse, no sense of humor. I was just busting their balls because yesterday's experience felt pretty half-inflated and bullshit.
However, after tonight I have to admit I respect the whole lot of them. They came here to find something -- and say something. And the truth occurred sometime around 8 p.m. Emphasized earlier with a battering on a single unfortunate protester that included four cops pistol whipping his skull, and others battering him senseless with steel billyclubs. This is what many here had arrived to find, and the sum of this police action amounts to one of the more violent and tense moments I've witnessed. About any messages such a blow-up can provide - or force for change, more on that below.
But this story begins on a funnier note.
Earlier today I had the great pleasure of reconnecting with a good friend who I haven't seen in over a decade -- activist and radio personality Jeff Bell -- and we were in his car driving to get some dinner. We were discussing the massive police presence. I mention I'm still not understanding the justification for the heavy armor found on hundreds of the cops here. Jeff is a boastful, large chested scottish guy, not unlike a bouncer or wrestler. And out of nowhere he explains, "Ah, now, they're wearing Second Chance armor, which prevents knife attacks ... with Standard Ballistic Issue over the top which prevents bullets from pistols, but not rifles."
"Well that settles that!" I concede. Just then Jeff sees four teens in McCain t-shirts on a street corner and yells out a vulgar heckle I can't even begin to repeat, but it makes the neccessary point and the kids run off frightened. It's good to be driving with him. But our drive to dinner soon comes to an abrupt stop. A line of cops are lined up at the intersection making all four lanes seem impassable. There's no clear detour so we both agree: Let's drive down the alley. Little did we know we were about to drive down into the nerve center of the worst confrontation between police and protesters so far during this year's DNC.
COUNTDOWN: About three minutes before seeing some guy get his head bashed in:
Jeff and I still think we're driving to get some food. But getting to the end of the alley we find a cop, who yells at us, "OUT OF THE CAR" We park and get out of the car. I look over to our right and see a growing mass of riot cops. They're still arriving in special carriers. And over the cops, who are blocking a street, I can hear very clearly: chanting and a lot of noise. Jeff and I are about twenty yards away. "Well shit I have to see this better - hold off on food a minute?" - we agree to split up a bit to meet up later, each of us now watching whatever is about to happen from our own chosen vantage points.
Like a dipshit, I run clear up to as far as I can get. And it's a honey of a spot. Through the strange fortune that forced us to drive down the alley we're, at the moment, the only press types there, and I can reach out and touch the cops - who incidentally are growling and idling like a highly wound-up machine about to go berzerk. It's getting much louder and more people are now arriving on bicycles and on foot with cameras, video, everything. We are all reacting to the mass of police and this still unseen trapped body of protesters. The sound in the voices is different today than yesterday. There's a more audible lift here, less posing. They're trying to get away from the cops. I'd learn later the group had been cornered in tightly by the riot police, with no exit in any direction. The charge: They'd crossed the street from the oxymoronic permitted protest space, and onto a city street. And this harmless gesture had become a heavy confrontation with the rule-enforcers, who you could tell really wanted to pound the fuck out of someone.
It's at this moment that the 'early big moment' happened. Just to repeat: the cops were caging these kids in, tighter and tighter. So a tall guy makes what seems to be a break for it. And that's where I happened to be in a good place for a very clear view. Due to our alley detour I was standing about fifteen feet from what happened. And it happened in such a quick blink of an eye that you'd miss it if you sneezed. My excuse for not having a photo is because just as I hit the shutter I swallowed in a gulp of pepper spray that misted through the air forcing me to recoil and lose the shot. But I'll happily go in a court of law to say I saw a guy with no weapons run at a bunch of police, immediately get shot with rubber bullets, and then receive what looked very much like a pistol whipping. The sound of clattering metal billyclubs on the pavement, indicating missed shots, is something I don't think I'll ever forget either.
Later after the incident I spoke to another witness who confirmed my assessment, though he's more graphic. He was in the crowd: "Yeah I saw it right there. The guy, he just, is tackled. And the cop he turned his gun around and BAM BAM BAM, he just bashes this guy's head like five times with the butt of his gun. And then the horses show up and the cops on those, they get their shot with those metal canes. It was just, it was fucked..."
I should mention that I didn't see the horses, but then again there was a lot going on at the time and it seemed any aggressive act was done very quickly. My eyes were also darting around at the time to avoid any cops, myself.
This was, I'm thinking, the first opportunity all week for any cop to really (I mean with feeling) attack someone in front of other cops, and you could feel the pent-up release of it everywhere. FINALLY, they must have all thought. The whole crowd reacts, as well. Horrored, screaming, chanting to 'let him go/let him go' ... Off to the side of the road I see the guy on the ground, bloodied up and coughing. I don't even think to take a photo. Things had suddenly become extremely severe.
Next came the stormtroopers, running directly in my direction, and jesus what a ridiculous looking bunch of bastards. This was the moment I finally reacted to how dangerous things were becoming and retreated to the other side of the street. But it wasn't without these fifty militarized police nearly colliding with me and a few others, and for one clumsy cop to drop a red cannister of gas on the cement. Clank. Quickly retreived, but with tension like this we'll take comedy slapstick relief wherever we can find it.
It was here that - and I'll post the photos soon - that all the hundreds of cops started to crouch down and put on heavy duty gas masks. I was part of a very large crowd of onlookers now. The cops informed us that we were about to be choked by gas and to leave immediately. I wondered about the kids in the crowd. Had they suddenly changed things to allow them to retreat? Do you gas a group you're trapping? What's the purpose of this? I had no answers because I still couldn't see the crowd. But one thing was certain, the cops were making sure this side of the barricade didn't ALSO become a confrontation, either. They never gassed, instead using the tactic of it 'about to occur' over and over with numerous repeated warnings to leave or be choked. This makes a lot more sense to me, because you can only gas once but you can threaten for control perpetually.
I suddenly thought of my teases yesterday, namely the ones about the ninja masks and wished I had one on hand. The fabric would have made a good filter.
Over here on this side, the only thing saving everyone was a collection of videocameras and an army of press badges. But demands started to get more and more hostile that everyone move away, not watch, etc. This would repeat more and more aggressively with us outside the caged in crowd. Finally the cops started to threaten that our observance would be met with arrest if we set foot in designated areas, all the best viewing locations. Holding rifles and billyclubs, they moved us farther and farther away from the conflict, leaving us only to hear the crowd and not see it.
And the sounds. My. The trapped crowd was swelling and reeling, letting out all forms of chants and noises. The worst were the increasingly more frequent ones of horror. A lot of kids were screaming and terrified in there - and I'd see why - many barely looked sixteen once they were allowed to leave.
Finally, after the arrival of two tanks, hundreds more police, some snypers on the top of the Sheraton hotel, more gas masks, horses, cargo trucks, five helicopters -- the crowd was released. And with them, the stories.
It's difficult to know what is true and what isn't, but I can trust the faces. You can tell when someone has experienced something truly shocking to their internal system. They begin to purge out information like they're just trying to make sense of it for themselves. It was during a few conversations that I heard the most brutal stuff:
"I saw this one cop - it was with a fifteen year old kid.... They scream for everyone to get on the sidewalk. This kid does what he's told but the cop just still comes right at him with him billy club and WHAM, hits the kid horizontally ... fifteen years old ... right in the chest with the cane with something that looked like 80 or 90% of the cop's body weight. This kid's suddenly up against a wall and the cop continues to hit this kid eight or nine times."
The somewhat humorous:
"We couldn't get out of there. We were videomakers - on a permit from the city and the cops wouldn't let us leave. We even screamed PLEASE LET US OUT - WE'RE DOCUMENTING"
And the concocted:
"Man I saw three undercover cops today - wearing bandanas wrong - over their HEADS like BIKERS. We confronted them, they didn't know anyone - wearing nikes! But they were planning this. They've totally infiltrated."
"Well a lot of the people tonight simply should not have been there. They got into it way too early. This is not a good first dance for anyone, man. Not a good first dance at all."
I'm missing out on a lot of the violent details because they become redundant: excessive force that harms regardless of compliance. I'll post some of the better photos of the atmosphere later tomorrow, along with a postscript on freeing the passengers and the temporary comedy carnival. But here, tonight, let me say something:
This was the first victory of the protesters in saying something of substance to the rest of the country. It took a few sacrifices, but they managed the big one: they had gotten this terrifying oversized militarized force to react. PHYSICALLY and ABUSIVELY. And to do so without any use of the technology they were armed with. The victory for these protesters was that even a cop covered in "Second Chance Armor" and "standard ballistic tops" along with helmets and other football gear - that, despite these protections, they choose to thuggishly pound the unarmed first and without thought. Where, in any of these accounts of violence is there a sign that a cop could have been harmed, or even tested? In a suit designed to repel bullets and knives they're worried about a slap or a shove?
No, Despite the hundreds of physical restraint options available ON-HAND to these police officers they opted first and foremost for technology years old: billyclubs, horses, and fists. It's a huge embarrassment for Denver, and a huge victory for the protesters. They finally managed a piece of valuable theater that speaks specifically to this modern day anxiety of too many cops, too much control.
It's with some irony that this all occured near a monument to Denver freedom fighters from the 1800s, complete with a city-issued plaque celebrating their resistance to authority.
Leaving for the evening I would be gifted with a set of quotes that carried some good weight and value. It happened walking down a street far off from the protesters, I was passing two cops in riot gear, talking back and forth in front of a barricade. The first one, aping a protester says, "So she yells, 'who's going to protect our first amendment rights?'"
And then, in a response that confuses almost like a zen proverb, the other cop offers: "EXACTLY. Why do you think we have a job?"
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