Riot! - Part 2 (The March)
This march began more or less like any other. Organizers in the front led the way, chanting protests classics like "No justice, No Peace" and "This is what democracy looks like." They traded off megaphone duty every ten or fifteen minutes, and some were significantly better at it than others. Occasionally one of them would try to freestyle and no one would know how to respond so they'd all giggle and the megaphone would be passed to the next person. It would take several minutes for them to regain their composure and get back on track, but no one seemed to mind. These were kids, after all, and we all benefitted from the break in tension.
Our path zig-zagged through neighborhoods heading more or less South-East. We seemed to be avoiding main roads and I wondered if this was a DSF-approved route intended to minimize traffic disruption, or if it was just a route chosen by city kids used to traveling by bus. Either way, it felt like we did a lot more walking than was probably needed. A few members of the crowd were grumbling about this when we heard shouting ahead of us.
We had been marching for nearly 40 minutes by this point and the jittery excitement that many of us felt when we departed had pretty much faded away. The walk had calmed us and we had let our guard down, but now we were on full alert again. The megaphone had cut out and the chanting had stopped, but we were still walking. We could hear a man's voice ahead telling us we had 5 minutes to clear the area. He was authoritative, but something in the wording didn't sound like DSF. People in the front of our group yelled and booed in response, but there were too many overlapping voices to make out what any of them were saying. I was walking closer to the middle of the group. People here looked apprehensive, but kept walking.
We passed the last of a row of town houses and the right side of the street opened up to a parking lot. Beyond it sat a CVS Pharmacy. One side of the orange, brick facade had been scorched black by flames. Someone had spray painted the words "Justice for Myles" in tall white letters next to a white silhouette of a man. Around the corner, employees were boarding up windows while men in khaki pants and polo shirts stood guard with rifles that seemed completely unnecessary. One of them had crossed the parking lot and was now standing just beyond the sidewalk. He was not pointing his weapon at the crowd, but his finger was resting on the trigger.
"One of you motherfuckers steps foot on this property again, you'll wish you hadn't!" he threatened.
Again? Whatever had happened here had clearly happened long before we arrived, but this man apparently saw us as the same enemy.
Teenage demonstrators taunted the man and yelled profanities the way teenagers do, slowing down as they walked so they could appreciate the reaction to their words. They didn't seem to fully respect the gravity of the situation, or the fact that their decrease in speed was seen as a threat. Two more Khaki vigilantes were crossing the lot in our direction.
A young man walking near the sidewalk stopped and looked the self-appointed guard up and down with a sideways grin. "Man, you don't have enough bullets to shoot us all. Even with your friends." He shook his head and waved the man off as he continued walking. The kids around him laughed and turned their focus back on the march with a new chant:
When innocent kids are under attack - What do we do?
STAND UP! FIGHT BACK!
When peaceful protesters are under attack - What do we do?
STAND UP! FIGHT BACK! ...
By the time I passed the parking lot, the armed men had retreated a good distance from the street. The grips on their weapons had loosened and they stood silently with bewildered looks on their faces. Perhaps they had come to the same realization I had. These kids were NOT intimidated by middle aged men with guns, and there were far too many of them to mess with.
The immediate threat had been neutralized and the march carried on, but the incident had left everyone on edge. People talked nervously between chants and scanned their surroundings for signs of danger. Many commented that, as usual, DSF were never around to protect people when they were needed. Others argued that DSF presence would have only made things more dangerous. The one thing they agreed on was that DSF had been uncharacteristically absent all day, despite the unrest throughout the city.
Late last night, someone in the coroner's office had leaked the autopsy report on Myles Schneider. In it, the medical examiner explicitly stated that the journalist had been shot in the temple with an 8.6mm round. I'm not familiar enough with guns to understand the details, but the gist of it is that there is no way Schneider was shot with the Ruger Mark IV said to have been found on the man they arrested. The bullet simply doesn't fit the gun.
In addition, the medical examiner stated that the trajectory of the bullet indicates Schneider was shot from above and to his right. Given Schneider's location when he was shot and the angle of entry, the medical examiner concluded that the shooter was most likely located on a rooftop or top floor of a building on the opposite side of Victoria Square.
Given the discrepancies between the autopsy findings and the arrest report, and the fact that DSF Headquarters happens to be one of the buildings across the square from where Schneider was murdered, a significant portion of the city is now justifiably convinced that DSF are involved in a coverup. The social media outrage of the early morning spilled out into the streets following a tweeted response by DSF Captain Burgess:
DSF stand by the arrest of Riad Abdi and denounce the fraudulent "evidence"
intended to smear this department.
Things would have been better if he had said nothing at all.
Burgess' denial fueled suspicions that DSF were behind the shooting and had assassinated Schneider because he was trying to reveal evidence that DSF had knowingly targeted innocent children when they stormed North Acheron High School. A number of precincts saw protests outside their doors this morning. When DSF refused to come out, people grew angry and destructive. Windows were broken and a number of dumpsters were set on fire. A second wave of people came out into the street to defend businesses. A few came out to counter-protest in support of DSF. Several fights broke out, ending when one side or the other was chased out of the area.
Normally, DSF would quickly put an end to these kinds of skirmishes. We don't talk about it a lot, but we live in a security state. There aren't many places you can go in any city that aren't covered by cameras. If you set a dumpster on fire or start brawling in the street, DSF are going to know about it. These small, spontaneous actions had broken out all over the city, and from the sounds of it DSF didn't respond to a single one of them.
Wild theories were circulating as to why the usually heavy-handed DSF did not emerge from their precincts to put a stop to the violence. Some say they wanted to show Acheron what the city would be like if they weren't there to protect people. Others say there were no DSF agents in the precincts because they were conducting neighborhood sweeps in search of missing students...or responding to an uprising at the prison...or amassing inside buildings near Victoria Square, awaiting our arrival. Other theories were too bizarre for me to responsibly repeat.
I have to admit, it was unsettling. Thinking back, no one I spoke to could remember seeing ANY uniformed DSF while we were at the high school. They could have had undercovers on scene, of course, but you can't hang out outside anywhere for very long and not see at least one or two patrol cars roll by. Not in working class neighborhoods. We'd been marching through th city for nearly an hour and had yet to encounter a single officer. I couldn't even remember seeing any patrols when I ran errands earlier in the day. Whatever was happening, it was too widespread to be a coincidence.
A flurry of cell phone notifications rippled through the crowd as we approached the business district. Something had happened downtown. People were being tear gassed near Victoria Square. Details echoed through the crowd from a hundred different sources as people tried to piece together the story. A group of activists had held a die-in in front of DSF headquarters. A car had tried to drive into them. Angry protesters swarmed the vehicle to protect the people on the ground, eventually forcing the car out of the area. DSF had gassed them for their efforts. Two were arrested for assaulting the driver through his car window. The car was allowed to drive away.
We were only a few blocks away from Victoria Square when this news came in, and we were walking right towards the violence. You could see the flicker of anxiety running through the crowd. Organizers at the front stopped to let everyone gather together to discuss the situation. As we waited on the people in back to catch up, a breeze brought us the first whiffs of the tear gas ahead of us. It was too diluted to cause any irritation, but that made it no less ominous.
Sirens interrupted the silence before we had time to overthink it. They were coming from behind us. A young woman climbed on top of a nearby car to see what was going on. She said there was an ambulance and some other emergency vehicles driving up the center of the road in a single file line, trying to get through. Someone handed her a megaphone and she directed people onto the sidewalks to let the ambulance through.
The crowd split and the vehicles were able to pass easily. First the ambulance, then a fire truck, and then two DSF patrol cars. As the last car passed, the driver rolled down his window and yelled "GET OUT OF THE ROAD" before spraying everyone on that side of the street full on, in the face, with pepper spray, his car still moving unencumbered down the street.
I was far enough back to not get hit, but I saw the entire incident. A man next to me recorded it on his phone. The people being sprayed were protesters who had moved out of the way to let emergency vehicles pass. They're standing, compliantly, to either side of the road. No one was in anyway moving towards the vehicles or posing a threat to the passing cars. Most were stopped and watching the cars pass. Others were moving away from the vehicles as they passed. Dozens and dozens of peaceful protesters were pepper sprayed for no reason at all.
Many of the people who were sprayed were screaming. Several of them ran down side streets to get away. Medics chased after them, calling for them to come back and let them help. Anxieties in the crowd were quickly turning to panic. Fortunately, an older woman who gave the impression of being an experienced demonstrator, grabbed a megaphone and took charge.
"Listen up! Listen up! There is no need to panic. There are medics up here who can help you. If you got sprayed, come to the front and let us get you cleaned up. People - let them through!!
For any of you who don't know, THAT was pepper spray. DSF use it all the time for crowd control. It sucks, but it's not going to kill you. If you get sprayed, find a medic and they will help you. They're the folks with the big red crosses on their gear. If you cannot find a medic, just keep yelling 'MEDIC' and one will find you. We have a team of medics with us here, and there are many more already in place in Victoria Square.
Speaking of Victoria Square, I'm sure by now most of you have heard that DSF have used tear gas on demonstrators in the square in the last hour. Some of you have probably smelled it in the air. We are in contact with people in the square and they are telling us that the scuffle between DSF and the demonstrators is over. DSF have cleared the street in front of their building and reformed their lines near the intersection, but the demonstration in the square is still going on and there does not appear to be any violence at the moment.
That said, you are about to enter an active protest zone. There will be more confrontations with DSF as the night continues. You can count on it. You may be pepper sprayed. You may be tear gassed. If you are not prepared for this, it is better to decide that now and go home than to get yourself into a situation where you will need to be rescued.
So while we're getting people cleaned up, let's all take a moment and think about where we are and what we want to do. If you need to leave, that's ok. We thank you for being here and we hope to stand by you again. For those of us continuing on, we go in together and we watch each other's backs. Stay safe everyone."
And with that final warning, we marched on to Victoria Square...
• • •
To Be Continued in: Riot! - Part 3 (Confrontation)