I'm a backseat revolutionary. I see that there are problems in the world but I either a) have faith that the people in government actually care and are trying to fix things, or b) feel like it can't be fixed. Either way, I generally don't get involved. There are very few issues I'm passionate about and they almost never come up in the news as they are a little (lot) fringe.
On Tuesday night, I was sitting in my new apartment reading textsfromlastnight and watching X-Factor. A fairly solid American night in. I toggled over to twitter and suddenly my tweetstream was on fire. I began to see pictures of people showing injuries from rubber bullets. Video of groups trying to outrun clouds of tear gas being set by the police. I started checking tweets from people who were there and the outcry was unanimous. A group of people marching in protest had been violently responded to by the Oakland PD. And the best defense Oakland could come up with was that protesters had thrown "paint and other hazardous chemicals"* at the police. Also, hearsay about one M-80 being thrown at a police officer.
I was stunned by this, and I sat in shock on my couch as I started frantically switching between news outlets both on my TV and online trying to find someone who was covering what was going on. At the time, only ABC was saying anything, and that wasn't much.
It didn't take long for me to move from stunned into angry. I very rarely get truly mad about something, although I get frustrated fairly easily, and when I do it generally has to do with injustice. Here was a group of people trying to make things better for everyone, being violently opposed by their own government.
Now, I'm not sure I support Occupy Wall Street. I understand and agree with what they are trying to do, but I'm not sure their methods are exactly the best. But on Tuesday night it didn't matter. These were US citizens being treated like a criminals.
I wrote the number of the one person I thought might bail me out of jail on my arm and I jumped in my car.
I'm not sure what I thought I would accomplish. One more person wasn't going to make a difference. But I couldn't think of any other way to let Oakland PD and indeed all of America know that this wasn't right. This isn't what America is supposed to look like. Not ever.
I'm pretty sure I parked illegally - every cop for forty miles had their hands full two blocks north of me, who was going to give me a ticket? And I started jogging towards 14th street.
Then a bang.
Bang doesn't even begin to cover the sound it made when it went off. It was loud enough to make me stop dead, jarring enough to stop my heart. The noise was less than two blocks away and I had no idea whether it was a gunshot, an explosion, or some even scarier third category.
That's when I saw the people running. And right behind them, like a monster from a Stephen King novel, a cloud of smoke.
It felt far away. Like another planet. Very unreal. Honestly, the sound of the canister going off frightened me more than the idea of the gas itself.
Until a change in breeze pushed the edges of the cloud my direction.
I didn't get a full face of tear gas. I can't imagine how painful that would be. The brief exposure I had made it almost impossible to breath and left me retching into the side of a building.
People, I guess with the same idea I'd had originally, were running past me to those who had caught the full brunt of the gas - pulling people out of the way, washing their eyes out with water and lending a shoulder for those who were having difficulty moving on their own.
This was the 'mob', this was the 'riot' that police from all over the East Bay had been called out to respond to.
Oh yes, this is an unruly group of people, what with their cameras and mobile phones. The only time a camera becomes dangerous is if you throw it someone's head. And by the looks of them they cost more than I make in a month so I sincerely doubt that was going on.
Now, I admit this was not all, or even a majority of the people down at Occupy Oakland. The people who had started it were behind the barricades, still fighting in many ways for their lives. There is no such thing as 'non-lethal', only 'less-lethal'. Can you imagine the fear? You're facing a much larger force which has already proven how far they were willing to take things on virtually no provocation. What could that possibly feel like to the people trapped behind the barricades in downtown Oakland?
But the police were not containing their aggression to the 'official' Occupy Oakland protests. They weren't containing it behind the barricades, but openly firing into public spaces. They were firing upon journalists and photographers. Hipster onlookers and curious college students. They were firing on the people trying to help the people who were fired on before. This wasn't crowd dispersal, it was a police-led riot.
I didn't stick around to get arrested. I was disgusted with the police, with Oakland, and a little bit with myself as it became increasingly clear that there was nothing I could do to help this situation. I was just another body downtown making the police nervous.
So I went home.
I had to pull over twice because my eyes were stinging so bad I still couldn't see. I've had breathing troubles since then.
This isn't America. In no world should this be how people who are legally and peaceably protesting their government are treated.
I haven't been a big supporter of the Occupy movement, their's just wasn't a cause I felt I could get behind. But a government assaulting its citizens? I'm not just mad, I'm not just riled up, I'm fucking furious.
"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
*If the top of your list of hazardous chemicals is 'paint', you're over-reacting. That's just a fact.