Night Action

Updated: Jun 16

Battle Royale

200 block, King Street West

10:30 PM


The invite went out just before 10 o'clock. I grabbed a jacket and my phone. I didn't dare carry a camera without press credentials, but I had a fully charged phone and a backup battery so I felt prepared.


Being new to Acheron, I was unaware that "King Street West" refers to an entertainment district, and is not simply the West end of King Street. The mix up set me back nearly 20 minutes. By the time I arrived, there was a group of 25-30 protestors milling about in the center of the street.


On either side, trendy bars and restaurants with pretentious names like "Foggy Dew" and "Aroma" were filled with people enjoying a warm Friday evening. They seemed aware but uninterested in the gathering in the road, and I can't say I blame them.


The teens and twenty somethings had donned the obligatory, non-descript black clothing and strapped on their masks and backpacks, but they weren't doing a great deal of protesting. They were just standing there, talking amongst themselves and gazing curiously at their surroundings. It was like watching a bad house party with no music and not enough booze.


I wondered with disappointment if this was the super-secret protest action Gopher had alluded to earlier in the day. I have to admit, I was expecting a lot more. (Some chanting at least. Maybe a few broken windows if I was lucky.) Boredom was already setting in and I began to consider more productive options for the remainder of the evening. There was a Poutinerie down the way. At least I could grab a quick bite.


I scanned the faces of the protesters as I made my way down the block, quickly realizing I would recognize my guide beneath a mask despite the fact that they were all facing the sidewalk. Normally people standing in a group face inward, making it hard to see anyone's face. This group was very distinctly facing outward...


I crossed to the opposite side of the street and found the same. They were lookout, and they were forming a perimeter around some kind of activity at the center. The street was well lit, but between the black clothes and the shadows it was hard to make out exactly what they were doing until I saw it rising above them.


The structure must have been 9 feet tall. As it rose, the mass of black clad protesters opened up to reveal a makeshift gallows constructed of PVC pipes and old 2x4s. An effigy of a DSF officer, complete with state issued riot gear, swung freely in the noose.


The previously ambivalent bystanders around me were starting to take notice. Chants of "No Justice, No Peace" started modestly but quickly grew in volume. The organizers were working the crowded patios like an audience, urging them to join the demonstration. And they did. People cheered and applauded and chanted with them, their combined voices echoing off the buildings and into the night.


A black clad figure with a full face mask moved to the center of the street, a dinged-up aluminum bat in one hand. He had the thing frame of a teenager and was not very tall, but he carried himself with the confidence of an adult. He stopped next to the gallows and raised the bat high into the air, waiting until he had everyone's full attention. Silence spread like a wave in both directions. Faint music could still be heard from inside nightclubs, but the patios were quiet and still.


"Are you tired of DSF beating you down?" he roared at the crowd. His booming voice more than made up for his size. The crowd roared back.


"Are you tired of double standards? Are you tired of false justice?"


The crowd screamed again. He had them eating out of the palm of his hands.


"It only ends when WE end it!" he yelled, swinging the bat with all his might into the pretend DSF agent, sending it swinging wildly in it's noose. Thew crowd cheered and he hit it again.


"Fuck the police!" he screamed and hit it a third time. Spectators picked up the chant as he swung a fourth and fifth time, then something soared through the air. It missed it's target and hit the road with a splat. It was an egg. I turned to see where it came from just in time to see a barrage of projectiles soaring through the air. The demonstrators had been carrying cartons of eggs in their backpacks and were handing them out to the now frothy crowd, who were more than ready to join in the fun. Countless bar tabs were abandoned as people joined the protest, swelling their numbers from twenty or thirty to well over a hundred. The scene was festive and jovial, even as they ran out of eggs.


Our ring leader returned to the center of the egg-slathered road. He raised his fist above his head and waited as his audience grew quiet.


"Tyranny and injustice NEVER surrender without a fight. Neither should WE!"


The growing crowd roared again, even louder than before. (Did they even know what they were cheering for?) The man lowered his fist and reached towards the now still effigy. A flame sputtered then caught, spreading up one leg and then encompassing the body. The glow of the flames seemed to make the night darker. The patios emptied as people swarmed around the bonfire, reprisals of "No Justice, No Peace" drowning out the sounds of approaching sirens.


Not wanting to get hit with flying egg, I had backed up to watch the scene unfold from under the protection of some nearby scaffolding. A dozen or so other people had joined me there. Most were nervously enjoying the demonstration, though a few were openly concerned. A kind-looking woman in her sixties stood to my right. Her hand absent-mindedly touched my arm, attracting my attention.


I couldn't make out her words over the noise, but I followed her gaze and saw the double line of DSF approaching from my right. They were followed by a pair armored vehicles, each with some type of weapon attached to a swivel on the roof. A voice came over a loudspeaker.


"This is an illegal gathering. You have two minutes to disperse."


I looked to my left. The increasingly intoxicated crowd was cheering and singing around the flaming gallows, seemingly unaware of the approaching officers. The warning repeated.


"This is an illegal gathering. You have one minute to disperse."


The new recruits were oblivious, but the black-clad organizers were fully aware of the developing situation. They had formed a line of their own, positioning themselves between the crowd and the oncoming officers.


"This is an illegal gathering. You are now subject to-"


The last words was cut off by a shout of "DOWN!!" coming from somewhere across the street. The protective wall of demonstrators dropped to the ground, covering their heads just as DSF unleashed water cannons on the crowd behind them. DSF had ignored the burning effigy and aimed directly for the people, pushing some back by force and sending others running in fear.


Another command was shouted from my left and the shadowy wall of instigators rose up from the ground, throwing projectiles at the line of DSF still approaching from my right. I naively expected the splat of more eggs, but instead I heard hard clunks as bottles and rocks bounced off of DSF shields. The line halted and cheers could be heard as the protest regrouped.


It was at this moment that I realized this had been the plan all along. Women in cocktail dresses and men in $300 Italian shoes were scanning their surroundings for rocks and bits of broken pavement to throw at DSF. These people had not come here to protest. They had no particular agenda uniting them - but with just a little bit of deliberate provocation they had been turned into an angry mob ready to take on an armed police force.


Watching from the shelter of the scaffolding, I saw soaked protesters hurling insults and projectiles as fast and as hard as they could against the oncoming security forces. All sense of reason seemed to leave them as they unleashed their undefined rage at the target placed before them.


I had a brief moment of panic in the midst of the carnage around me. My mind was disconnected from my body and I watched the situation unfolding as if from above myself. In this moment of adrenaline I was hyper-aware of my surroundings. I could clearly see the danger to both the protesters and the officers, but they seemed to disregard it. People were being injured on both sides, and every action seemed to escalate the conflict. I wanted to scream at both sides to stop but, like in a bad dream, I couldn't seem to form the words.


A soft "boom" was followed by the clink of metal hitting pavement. I watched a tear gas canister roll towards me and wondered how it had gotten so close. There was a moment when everything paused and I thought "Should I run?"


I looked to the people around me for some indication of an appropriate reaction, but my eyes began to burn and I instinctively squeezed them shut. It was getting hard to breathe and I was coughing. I had nothing to protect myself from the gas. I needed to get out of there.


People were moving around me now, spontaneously and yet still in a single direction. I followed glimpses of their shoes on the sidewalk as I ran with them, trying to keep my eyes closed as much as possible. I was choking on the gas. All I could think about was getting to clean air.


I made it down a side street and around a corner before the wave of nausea hit. I vomited onto the pavement and dropped to my knees, unable to go any further. The smell of gas still hung thick in the air, but I was too dizzy to run. I needed to catch my breath. I needed my eyes to stop burning. Fighting the urge to rub them consumed all of my attention.


Impatient hands grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet, dragging me a few more blocks to a small park. Waiting by the playground were backpacks filled with water bottles and medical supplies. My rescuer grabbed the nearest bottle and used it to flush my eyes. She was asking me something, but at that moment I couldn't focus on anything but the sensation of my eyes being pried open and the rush of cool water that followed. I think I managed to mumble a "thank you" as she turned away to help someone else.


I sat there for a moment while I regathered my senses. The burning in my eyes hadn't stopped, but it was tolerable and I could breathe again.


There were a dozen or so people gathered in the secluded corner of the park. Those still dressed in black were quickly shedding their layers to reveal regular street clothes below. They shoved the disgarded items into their bags and checked their remaining supplies. A few split off into pairs and headed back out into the night. Others paced back and forth, compulsively checking their phones and talking in excited whispers. They were waiting on something.


A phone buzzed. Then another. Then my own. We'd all received the same notification.


Round 2

400 block, Triller Ave

Now


The girl who had rescued me noticed the alert on my phone with a bit of surprise.


"You're the reporter?"


I wasn't really a question, but I nodded anyway. She chuckled and adjusted her mask.


"You ready for Round 2?"


I most definitely was NOT.


I had very clearly underestimated the situation around me. Eggs and effigies I could handle. Openly taunting armed DSF agents and choking on tear gas were a different story. I was neither mentally nor tactically prepared for what Round 2 might bring, but I also didn't want to lose my only source...


My hesitation answered for me.


"Yeah, that's what I thought. Why don't you sit this one out. I'll tell Gopher I found you...and we'll get you some gear for tomorrow."


Tomorrow? The word was still processing as she disappeared into the shadows.

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