This story was originally published at Anti-State STL
“Hey, would you help me unfurl this banner?”
So I found myself holding a corner of a massive banner, the size of a billboard that read “Police State.” The moment that my friend asked me this question I knew that the attempt to hold the park had failed. What occurred thirty minutes prior – a group of 100 or so people successfully shouting back the police – would not occur again. Pigs amassed in force. Suddenly, the agreement the group had made before the 10pm curfew that no one would talk to the police was forgotten, and politicians from both sides of the situation began to negotiate… well, it was more of the same “Occupy Movement” attempt to convince a city official that we had a right to set up a camp. The ridiculous 1st amendment argument that some people think is a ticket to freedom… because freedom is apparently synonymous with “rights.”
As I stood there, confused about all the conversations I see occurring at the bottom of the hill, pissed off that people are talking with the cops and the mayor’s aid, the police began to multiply. The first group of pigs stood there, rubbing their batons, obviously fantasizing about avenging their earlier show of weakness. As their numbers continued to swell, it became clear that to prevent ourselves from being arrested in the context of civil disobedience, and to end this night with some measure of power, we had to move. With spontaneity, a march was called, this billboard banner leading the way. As we began to walk south, blocking both lanes of traffic due to the size of the sign, the cops stopped their conversations and conceivably received some kind of vague order. They were pissed. They were disorganized.
I found myself on the west side of the street, closest to the sidewalk with my good friend Ryan on my left. The banner was approximately my height, so the fact that I couldn’t see anything except Ryan and the cars parked to my right made me extremely anxious. Less than 20 seconds went by since we crossed into the road and suddenly, I hear screams of “get on the sidewalk!” and “holy shit, holy shit!” I freeze in confusion and Ryan grabs me and pulls me on to the sidewalk. Several feet in front of me I see another protester… already the cops had picked off their first victim. Half of his body was on the sidewalk, the other half in the street, three cops incapacitate him with their knees. After a moment, I realize that this person happens to be a close friend, and I grab Ryan as we yell “let him go!” and “fuck you!” at the cops. To my right I see another friend get chocked by an officer with a baton and taken to the ground, without any provocation or warning. In an instant, this person went from standing in silent shock, to being kicked in the face, as he lies impotent on the concrete. I stand overwhelmed between two of my friends while I watch their identities be stolen by thugs and turned in to defenseless, nameless bodies.
But I yell, and I do what I can to let my friends know that at the very least, we’re all bearing witness to this attack. For a moment I lose track of Ryan as I see pigs lunge after any bystander within their reach, some run away, some get caught. I step back towards a side street to prevent my own arrest – the cops grope for any body they can get their fist around or bring their baton down on; with this kind of disorganized chaos everyone was at risk for their brutality. A moment passes, and I see Ryan bolt down this dimly lit side street chased by 3 to 4 pigs. It was the first time I watched someone run for their fucking life with the fear that if they got caught, they might not make it out. I find myself screaming “RUN RYAN!” But I stand, immobilized. A second passes, another friend also named Ryan (to prevent confusion this person will be referred to as Ry), sprints around the corner and down the street. I instantly realize he is running to put his body between Ryan and the police chasing him. I begin to comprehend the gravity of the situation: that two people I deeply love are being chased down a dark street by 6 to 8 cops… and my feet move in their direction, just a little… and then I am struck with the disabling realization that more pigs await behind me. What good am I in this situation? How does my certain beating help my friends? Some white shirt runs a few feet down the street and commands “come back, don’t chase them!” No response.
I glance to my right, I hear a friend shouting, demanding that the pigs who are arresting him explain what he has done wrong. They provide no answer. They read him no rights. They simply take him. Another comrade standing near as this is occurring, letting the pigs know what he thinks of them, gets chosen to go down… he manages to out run the fat fuck.
Another moment has passed. I see strange faces with wide eyes all around me. I feel that I am standing in the center of 360 degrees of tumult. I have not moved. I look back down the shadowy street. Ryan is now on the sidewalk. His face smashed against the concrete. There are at least two pieces of shit taking out their dissatisfaction with their lives on his face and body. He is beaten with feet. He is beaten with an archaic bludgeon they euphemistically call a baton – as though they spin and twirl them on their nights off. I am so scared. I am so fucking scared. I think of his little daughter. This beautiful, little person who doesn’t deserve to have to experience the misery and violence of life so early. They pick him up. The very people who chased him down a street, beat him, now have the power to take away all of his defenses and determine his fate. As he is walked up the street, I see his face covered in something and I pray to a god I don’t believe in that it is dirt. I know it is not dirt, but all I can do is hope that what I just saw didn’t actually happen. His stare is blank. He looked so confused. I was the first person he saw but I don’t think he actually saw me. I asked him, “did they hurt you?” Of course I fucking knew they hurt him, but I just wanted to hear his voice and let him know that this person on the sidewalk gives a shit. His voice quivered, “Yes.” One of the pigs is repeatedly yelling, “I fucking showed you respect.”
I watch him be lead up the street and a friend comes out from the shadows and follows behind the three. The same cop who just declared himself such a respectful individual lunges at her, puffs up his chest and shouts “don’t you walk behind me, woman.” She backs up and I start following behind her, up to the main street that only minutes earlier we attempted to march down. As Ryan is being escorted through the crowd, people chant “shame.” And the white shirts start to disperse the crowds.
I find some friends, and we are all in shock. I somehow didn’t see Ry get escorted up the street. I knew what he did, but I can’t imagine how he did it. I don’t have words to describe the feelings I have when I think about him running to help Ryan. I have never seen such love for another person. I have never seen something so full of life. I will never forget what he did that night. I learn that he was also brutally beaten by the pigs. We all know our friends are fucked. They tried to hold on to their autonomy and that is what would most condemn them… later we learned that they were being charged with absurd crimes. How else would the state justify the violence of their paid enforcers?
For those that have never witnessed police violence, I want to make something clear. Nothing about this situation followed the prescription of an arrest – this media image of a “You are under arrest. You have the right…” is not what happens in real life. A friend said it best, what happened Thursday night was some gangsta shit. It was angry, vicious people jumping unarmed protesters and bystanders. It was an attack. It was intentional brutality. They did not follow any procedure of kettling, “less lethal” tactics, etc. Their actions were directly targeting individuals and beating the shit out of them. It was so fucked up.
The rhetoric of violence vs. non-violence is utterly irrelevant and insulting. My friends disappeared for 24 hours. Some strangers, who were weaponized and free from scrutiny, were deciding what was to be done with them. Pigs and judges have been given the power to determine the course of their lives. There is no such thing as non-violence. There is no such thing as safety. These ideas are complete illusions, and one can only hold on to them as long as one has the privilege to avoid the violence that maintains society. As we participate and live our lives, all we are doing is avoiding repression.
I am traumatized. I am having flashbacks, and the more I try to make the motions of my mundane life the more vivid they become. Work, school, friendly conversations all seem completely devoid of meaning. All I can do is tell the story of my experience and force the people I surround myself with to question the society we participate in. I am so fucking angry.