Today in Chicago I Witnessed Police Brutalizing Activists
One thing every activist realizes eventually is that when you stand up for justice you will witness injustice. Many of us were raised to believe that in America people can state their beliefs without fear of getting our heads bashed in by police, that is something that is only supposed to happen in dictatorships it is not supposed to happen in the so-called land of the free.
I am sad to say that the America I learned about in school is a myth, I was aware it was a myth for quite some time but today I witnessed the effects of police brutality with my own eyes and once you actually see people with blood gushing out of their heads after participating in a peaceful protest it effects you in a way that no book or video can prepare you for.
I have been involved in dozens of protests over the past several years, I have marched on the past two Republican National Conventions, I have marched on the School of the Americas, I have marched with Occupy, I have crashed our former Governor's fishing opener, I have been in many marches both permitted and unpermitted and I have certainly seen my share of police abuses but still nothing could prepare me for what I witnessed today.
Last night I got on a bus that left Minneapolis to arrive in Chicago at 5:00 am this morning. Not too many protesters were out yet at that hour as the rally to protest the NATO summit would not begin until much later in the morning, but there was already a heavy police presence. At that point the police were leaving us alone for the most part, but when you see police with batons and homeland security vehicles cruising the streets that early in the morning you know to expect police intimidation, but that still does not prepare you for it.
Despite this intimidation on the streets however police largely left the rally itself alone and I was having a great experience. I got to meet a few people I consider heroes, and I don't use the word hero lightly.
First I met Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin who has been one of the lead figures in the anti-war movement over the last decade. Shortly after meeting her I caught Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello practicing for his performance and after waiting a bit I was able to meet him and have my picture taken with him. Tom Morello's music was instrumental in influencing me to become an activist, before I started really trying to understand Rage's music and reading their web page as a young adult I actually held some pretty right-wing views, Rage Against the Machine got me to question those views and I would have probably never became a lefty much less an activist if I had never heard their music. Being able to thank Morello personally for influencing me was something I always wanted to do so meeting him was enough to put me on what I thought would be a permanent high.
A while later I saw a long haired man in brown camouflage walk by and it was a face I was not expecting to see but who I recognized immediately. It was Scott Olsen, the Iraq Veteran and Occupy Oakland protester who became a national symbol of the movement when he suffered brain damage as a result of unprovoked police brutality. I thanked Olsen for his activism, the fact that he keeps fighting despite the suffering he has faced makes him worthy of being called a hero and I let him know that. Little did I know that a few hours later I would witness seeing a couple protesters bleeding from the head and the images of Scott Olsen that I remember seeing on the internet last fall would become all too real.
We marched through the streets of Chicago with hundreds of police officers lining the streets, a few were in riot gear and holding their batons at the ready but most were in normal uniforms and just casually watched as we marched by. We made it to the end of the march without incident and I started looking for where our bus was parked thinking the big events of the day were over and I was about to come home.
As I gathered with some of the fellow Minnesotans I traveled out to Chicago with a fairly large group of what appeared to be Black Bloc anarchists suddenly marched by us. I should make it clear that none of these Black Bloc members were doing anything violent, I had been in the city the entire day and did not witness any violence from any protester it was a very peaceful day. Many people believe that wherever the Black Bloc goes there is violence, but this is quite simply a myth. I have been in many protests the Black Bloc has shown up at and not a single one of them has ever turned violent. As much as the police might want to use the fact that several Black Bloc members marched into the area as an excuse for their actions, the truth is that the entire march was peaceful and wearing a black mask and endorsing anarchism is protected speech as long as there is no violence involved and there was no violence.
That did not stop the police from greatly overreacting however and jus minutes after the Black Bloc marched by a huge line of what seemed to be hundreds of police in full riot gear marched right by me. They lined up right between me and my friend's isolating me from the rest of my group. I started filming with my camera so I could show people just how much overkill there was, but right when I thought I got them all on video another huge group would show up. There were even a small group of them wearing Army green one of whom was wearing a black face mask, they appeared to be military.
A few minutes later I saw my friends who were allowed to leave from behind the police lines and we headed towards a much more quiet street where our bus would meet us. We were far enough away from the riot police that I finally felt safe and things were quiet for a few minutes until I turned my head and saw medics walking two men to the corner where I was sitting with blood streaming down their heads after getting hit by police batons. The medics asked us to form a circle around them with our backs turned to provide a privacy wall so I helped out, but the whole time I stood there I was deeply disturbed. There were hundreds of police in the streets, but the only people helping were the street medics. Hundreds of police to harass protesters, but not a single one to assist a couple of injured demonstrators who appeared to be peaceful protesters (If they were not peaceful they would have been arrested for sure with that large of a police presence so it is a very safe assumption that neither of them committed any crime. As far as I could tell neither of them appeared to be Black Bloc). Eventually a police official did show up when the ambulance was called and that officer was very professional, the rest of the force however deserves no praise at all. Intimidating peaceful protesters is wrong, and beating them over the head is even more wrong. Unless some Chicago police officers face assault charges over this then we need to hold the entire force accountable for allowing this sort of behavior within their ranks.
As for mayor Rahm Emmanuel, he needs to be pressured to resign immediately. His actions are indefensible, he allowed this police state in his city to happen and he needs to lose his office. I know he is not likely to leave on his own, but people need to put enormous pressure on him until he is forced out.
Democracy requires the right of people to speak their mind without risking violence at the hands of the state, until police are held accountable for these sorts of abuses I can not pretend that we live in a democracy.