In the days since the decision to not indict Darren Wilson or Daniel Pantaleo, demonstrations have been happening around the world. Not to say they weren't happening before -- Every day since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, protesters have been on the streets there -- but since the non-indictments, the rage has increased. We've also seen the killings of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy in Ohio, and John Crawford III, also in Ohio. Tamir was killed while playing in a park, and John was killed while on his phone, shopping in a Walmart. Three of those killings were captured on camera, one of them showing the officer that murdered Eric Garner using a chokehold which is banned by the NYPD, and the video of John Crawford's murder completely disproves the officer's statement, and shows Crawford was clearly not a threat. I will attach the videos at the bottom of this post, but be warned that they are obviously graphic.
This is nothing new.
Racist violence has plagued this country since the very first white colonists arrived hundreds of years ago, and it's largely been brushed under the rug in our history text books, and in popular media. However, the advent of social media in the last few years seems to be having a significant effect on the spread of information that hasn't been altered to fit a narrative. In the past, we most likely would not have seen the videos of any of these murders, because the only people who controlled the spread of those videos were TV news organizations, who wesee today still creating narratives that call all black men who were murdered by police "thugs" who had troubled pasts including numerous arrests. If they can't find anything like that, they'll still talk about how they smoked marijuana at some point in their life, desperately trying to find any shred of an excuse that can somehow convince people that they deserved to die. Now we're seeing the evidence without the fake narrative. We're seeing the unedited videos of the murders, and even though the officers are still walking away without even an indictment, the masses are starting to catch on.
I'm going to step away from all of that for a moment and talk about the protests I've been documenting in Berkeley, CA the last couple of nights. I probably should have stated this from the beginning, but I'm speaking here from a position of immense privilege. Straight, white, cis, male. On the first night of the protests, I felt rather uncomfortable. The majority of people at the front of the pack of protesters was white, I'd occasionally hear people start chanting, "All Live Matter", too many white people with megaphones, and there were many, many white people putting their hands up saying, "Hands Up Don't Shoot." Are white people the ones being shot in the back while their hands are up? Are they being choked to death on camera? Do we call white people that riot and burn cars thugs? Does a significant portion of this country believe white people deserve to die for jaywalking? NO. So when I saw those things on the first nights of protests, I felt uncomfortable and rather annoyed, though conflicted because there is great power in numbers, and even if some of those numbers are saying stupid shit because they don't quite get it, they're still there in the name of the same cause, supporting people they care about, albeit in some ways they maybe shouldn't.
Moving right along (not to brush the previous issue under the rug as it's incredibly important and we should all critically examine the ways we occupy space during protests and realize this movement is about black lives, and black voices are the most important in these protests). I joined up at the start of the first protest at 5pm on December 6th. While I absolutely support what people are marching for, I was largely there to document, and film police when they became violent, and to provide water, food, and very basic first aid to protesters. I marched along with them on a winding path to the Berkeley Police Station. It was there that things began to change. There were two groups that decided to split up at that point because they had different goals. It's worth noting that this is exactly what police want -- they stop a group long enough for some people to get antsy, wait for them to split off, and then let the other group through to separate the numbers and make it easier to deal with the individual groups. Anyway, one group, the group I stuck with, wanted to march down University to the freeway. Right after the groups split, things got slightly ugly for a moment.
Among the protesters was a small minority of white anarchists who are there just because they want an excuse to antagonize they police. It was generally fairly easy to tell who they were, as many were wearing all black and sporting full face masks. They were typically the ones throwing bottles at the police. At one point shortly after the split, one threw a sand bag at an officer and the response was what I think was a foam round of some sort that was fired seemingly at random into the crowd. Then there were two rounds of smoke or tear gas fired into the crowd.
Almost immediately after this, a very small group of white people dressed in all black and wearing face masks broke into the Trader Joe's and stole alcohol and then ran away. A little further down the street an even smaller group broke into the Radio Shack on University. A single person smashed the glass doors of a Wells Fargo on University on Shattuck with a hammer. Each time, the mass of protesters begged the people not to damage anything. In all, out of maybe 250 people marching down University, and the hundreds more protesting elsewhere later in the night, the news that came out about the protests focused on the damage that only about ten people did. See a problem there? I hope you do.
Wells Fargo was the last of the damage I witnessed. From there, it wasn't too much further to 4th and University where the police had already formed a line to defend the freeway. From there, the crowd marched back up University and then moved North on San Pablo. Eventually they were stopped again and pushed down a small residential side street. It was obvious what would happen next, but people pushed on until they hit another police line and were surrounded on both sides. At that point, a good number of people worked together to bring down a chain link fence leading into an empty lot so the 150 or so people could escape. Protesters offered assistance to less able-bodied people in jumping down from that ledge, and hopping over a shorter fence. While people climber the shorter fence, police opened fire with two seemingly random rubber bullets. Both struck, and one man was hit badly enough that protesters had to call him an ambulance because he could no longer walk.
It was at that point, back near MLK and University, and the group mostly dispersed because so many numbers had been lost. A small group kept marching up University but once reaching Shattuck, the white anarchists were the largest presence and were creating a mess by throwing down trash cans in the streets and trying to light fires and threatening people in cars. People kept trying to stop them but they were incredibly aggressive. I guess the other group had gained traction and was back on Telegraph. I was unable to get through, so I stuck around there for a while. It was while I was there that I heard a girl yelling at the police, nearly in tears, because three of them had just tackled her 15 year old friend as he was just walking out of a store. He wasn't present so they may have arrested him for just leaving a store at the wrong time and because he was black. This was in front of the ShareTea, so most of the people in there had come out to see what was happening. After a while, I attempted to go around through Sather Lane and up Durant, but there was another police line there, this one significantly more aggressive. Aggressive as in there was a woman who looked to be the same age as my grandmother who walked slowly up to one to ask him how she should get home, and he yelled at her to back up and held his baton in a way that shows he will strike if you don't move. He did this to any of the people who went up to him to ask how to get home. Kudos to him for building good relations with the people he's supposed to protect and serve by preventing them from getting home, refusing to tell them how to actually get home, and threatening to physically disable them if they ask questions.
And then out of nowhere, came the sound of tear gas canisters being fired. The protesters were sent running, and the police kept firing tear gas at the crowd, as well as what I imagine must have been flashbang grenades or something because they made a huge amount of sound, though the explosions happened out of my sight line so I don't know if they were also designed to visually impair. Regardless, this action appeared unprovoked. At this point, the police line blocking Durant broke, and I was able to return home. My time at home was short lived. I went back out to rejoin the protesters on Telegraph who had regrouped despite the tear gas. After a rather long period, the police started forcing a huge mass of people onto Telegraph, regardless of whether they were protesting or just trying to get home. They then kept pushing people down Telegraph very forcefully, beating those who didn't or couldn't move with their sticks. Of course, with the number of people, it was actually impossible to move at the same rate as the police so there were a lot of people who were shoved to the ground or beaten and crushed at the same time. I was unfortunate enough to have ended up right between to protesters and the police at that point and was shoved into an immovable crowd and then shoved some more. At one point they shoved somebody else into my face. My nose still hurts today from that, and the was another student right next to me who appeared to be in the same nose boat. As they kept shoving, people were holding onto each other for support just so they didn't end up on the ground trampled to death. The police kept pushing to an arbitrary point at which they decided to begin firing more tear gas into the crowd which they kept pushing South on Telegraph into Oakland.
Tear gas is rather unpleasant, as you might imagine. At some point past Ashby and Telegraph, the crowd had sufficiently decreased in size for the police, so they just left. It was at that point around 2:30am on December 7th, that I also broke away from the group. I had been marching for almost 10 hours at that point and I could barely walk, my nose and eyes were killing me, and I was dehydrated.
Tomorrow, I will post about the second day of protests I documented. The downside of social media is that it really decreases our attention span. Below are the videos I previously mentioned. Remember, they are graphic and disturbing. If you choose to watch them, keep in mind the first two take place in Ohio, a state in which it's completely legal to openly carry a loaded firearm. Tamir and John were killed for holding fake guns in non-threatening ways, one of them had just picked it up in a store. In the video of Tamir, it looks almost like a drive-by shooting. He falls to the ground almost instantly after the officer opens his door. If you think any of these people deserved to die, you are wrong, and you are racist. Black Lives Matter.