i'm working on a response to what's been going on in rio over the past week, and planning to post it soon. in the meantime, though, i just found the email i wrote on december 1, 1999, just after the battle in seattle. i apologise for my pretentious teenage writing style - at the time, i was sure that being good with words meant sounding like stephen fry - but i think it makes for an interesting historical artifact... and an interesting lead-in for thinking about the place of law enforcement 11 years down the line, whether in seattle, new york, or rio de janeiro:
Do not read the following if you're not interested in what's going on in Seattle. I am alive, have not been arrested (yet, anyway), and I am doing well, although I may not be able to eat hot sauce for a while.
Since arriving at work today (after scouring downtown for blockades to join or barricades to annoy, neither of which had yet materialised), hundreds of people have been arrested. I fear that I cannot provide an update or firsthand account of the ure of yesterday's charmingly labeled "chaos."
I cannot speak as a member of the (legal) AFL-CIO march, but I do have the pleasure of having taken part in the protest that actually closed down the WTO.
We in Seattle keep hearing of the fantastic "police estraint." Was I witness to police restraint? Yes,
in terms of restraining peaceful protestors and their respiratory passages. Violence against the masses is, of course, an entirely seperate catagory.
Yesterday -- for me at least -- began when the number 27 bus was kind enough to deposit me within a few blocks of the rally that preceeded the much-discussed civil disobedience. At least a thousand people marched together toward the convention site under banners, cardboard ears of corn, and a papier-mache cow. Groups of one hundred or more broke off at various WTO hotspots.
I joined the human chain in front of the Sheraton, which is functioning as the main hotel for the event.
Our blockade was somewhat successful: there was no direct police interference when delegates approached the chain, but when delegates (mostly German and Belgium men) ran at us and attempted to break the chain, the police line behind us moved forward, clubs swinging, to escort the delegates into the hotel. Still, the line held off most of the delegates who attempted to enter for about three hours (we allowedthe Cuban delegates through with no trouble; the police proceeded to detain them for five minutes).
At about ten, there was some trouble at the police barricade about a block south of our position, and the ever-pleasant aroma of tear gas came wafting toward us. The line held, although additional cannisters fired within a hundred feet of us made it neccessary for us to cover our faces completely, thereby compromising our ability to spot delegates.
The tear gas eventually subsided, and I left the front of the line to act as an escort, attempting to move
delegates politely away from the line before they charged, and before they had a chance to berate
protestors. We effectively talked away three or four people by about 10:45.
Shortly thereafter, the police line on the street in front of us began firing tear gas and pepper spray,
and moving protestors back. This was apparently triggered by protestors who threw sticks, although
from our position it looked like a random, police-initiated action.
As the line moved down the street, a cannister was fired toward the hotel entrance. Cannisters went off
to the immediate left of the entrance. The line held, mostly silently, and with no violence or even sudden movements of any kind.
Suddenly, the police line behind the protesters' blockade moved forward, breaking up the line with
their clubs. The line began to break, and the immediate right of the hotel entrance was gassed,
leaving us with no exit. When we attempted to push back toward the hotel, we were pepper-sprayed (I was fortunate enough to get some directly in my right eye; lots of fun). Several people fell, overcome by the panoply of fumes. Police ignored them and continued to beat anyone standing closely enough.
The Seattle police pepper-sprayed another escort -- a 70-year-old man -- so severly that he was unable to speak. Protestors had to pry his hands away from his face in order to rinse away some of the spray. Police restraint? Not as such.
The opportunity for mass arrest presented itself several times yesterday, and thousands of people were
ready to be arrested with no attempts at violence (the violence all occured at least a block away). Instead, we were continually gassed and sprayed, and those within a block of us were shot with rubber bullets. In three particularly memorable minutes, at least ten tear gas cannisters were fired on the same
intersection. One of the cannisters ignited a dumpster, which prompted vandals to burn two others.
Yesterday's protests were undoubtedly a success, and the message sent to the WTO and massive international corporations was evident. But the Seattle police played no part in the calm, and it is they who are ultimately culpable for the majority of the distruction and disorder.
Hope everything is less gassy in your respective necks of the woods.
Viva la revolucion!