First off I’d like to thank my “boys” who were with me tonight: Brien, Tristan, Logan, Claude and Karl. Secondly, I’m going out on a limb and condemning the other NLG legal observers, not all of them, but the ones who threw off their hats and ran before the hard part even started. You know who you are, and well, don’t even come close to me. As devoted as I am to non-violence, you make me want to rethink that position. A few stayed, Karl, Susan, the crippled Gulf War I vet whose name I didn’t catch. W did our job, we don’t get paid to do this (conflict of interest at trials you know), we do it because we know it’s the right thing to do. To bear witness and try and get the law to work for everyone, equally. To the BBC and CBC, thanks for staying as long as you did.
What happened tonight? I hope you are still asking that question of yourself. I was there, so I know, as do many others, though not all will say it straight. As a legal observer, that’s my job, watch, record and then, if need be, tell the truth about what happened. I’m not saying others that were there won’t have a differing opinion or viewpoint, we probably all will. All I can do is say what I saw and experienced.
I arrived at the Ferguson PD about 15 minutes before the announcement was to be made. Police in riot gear were already throwing a line across the front of the fire department and the PD. There was a crowd of a couple of hundred people, and the press, in the street. Everyone waited. And waited. The announcement was late getting started and then went on and on, until they got to the heart of it and the grand jury returned NO BILL of indictment.
The crowd stood as if stunned for about 5 minutes. Then the chants and marching began. Still, no violence. I had time to take pictures and tweet even. Still, no violence. Some folks even began to leave. Traffic was a mess, but still, nothing.
Then, at the south end of the street, a signal flare went up and landed on a rooftop. A few moments later, smoke was visible from that area. A heartbeat or two and someone at that end of the street set off a roman candle, as if in imitation to the police’s signal. A sudden sound and gas started creeping towards us but the wind was not favorable to gassing the crowd. We masked up and readied emergency medical kits. We were then able to take off the masks as the air cleared. I was standing around talking to a few people when BOOM! (I found out later it was a police vehicle window being smashed out.) and people began to flood back towards the PD.
We stayed in place as folks knew where we were and I was still doing my job. In fact, I’d not been that scared since the police went bonkers back in August, but I kept repeating, “just do your job” to myself, ok, aloud.
More gas and we were forced to move back up the street, but still with clear view of PD. Suddenly, someone hollered my name. There was an older woman down in the road. Not responsive. She’d had a heart attack from the tear gas. Medics and nurses were there as soon as I arrived, so I moved up the street as there were more gas victims needing attention. My photographer was caught in the crowd somewhere, but we all knew where to meet, so I wasn’t worried much about him.
As I knelt on the ground administering aid to another gas victim, I was told the “boys” were taking the heart attack victim down to the fire station next to the PD as instructed by 911 operator. I started off after them. The next thing I knew, I was enveloped in tear gas as the police walked the gas up the street. I found out in a few minutes that the police instructed the men to drop the woman and back way. As they did so, with hands in the air, they were fired upon and that was why the police were walking the tear gas up the street full of people already debilitated by gas.
A few minutes passed, the gas cleared a little and there was a young woman crying next to me. The heart attack victim was her mother. I told her I’d go down to find out what happened as no one had seen or heard ANY kind of emergency vehicle leaving the area.
As I walked down toward the PD, I was waving a white T-shirt, wearing my legal observer hat (neon green) and well, I’m about as white as you can get. None of that mattered. When I neared the sidewalk facing the PD, I noted a fire truck, in the road, in front of me, and I thought I saw firemen’s boots behind the back end so I steered towards it. I raised both my hands and continued waving my “white flag”. Right then, an order I could not understand was barked at me and suddenly, I was face to face with about 7 St. Louis County police, pointing rifles in my face and telling me to get back. Those were the “boots” I saw behind the firetruck. Thank goodness for Rev. Dr. Logan. He helped me off the sidewalk (I’d begun to kneel as I thought that’s what the police were instructing me to do) and he helped me back into the parking lot.
Again, I was hollered at, there was a car full of tear gas and someone was trapped in it. I sent one man for my bag and started, with Dr. Logan, up the street to render aid. Someone got there first, so we turned around, noting ONE window of a shop broken out. It would not be the last for this night.
Did places burn down? Yes. Was there looting? Yes. Was it “justified”? I guess it depends on who you ask these days, and where you ask.
I haven’t cried yet, maybe it’s the gas or maybe it’s fury at seeing MY AMERICA betrayed like this. Yes, mine, and yours. Is this what we fight for? What we dream of? Not me, not this, not to be shot at like dogs in the street for doing nothing but protesting. Think about that, it could be you next.
PS. Pics added later as it’s 4am here and I’m back out in a few hours.