This Is What A Police State Looks Like

December 29, 2011 in Media

A First Hand Account of the 12/20 Raid on Occupy Denver. For more writings of our resident 24/7 journalist, please check her blog, “Thick Socks & Picket Signs @ “http://thicksocksandpicketsigns.wordpress.com/

What happened Monday night was the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve spent the last three days trying to figure out how to get the words down on paper in a way which conveys the stunning savagery witnessed. A great plan failed to come to me, so I’m going to wing it.

Cue scene.

There was an op-ed that needed doing, badly, tying together the themes of the homeless, human rights and the visceral response by the encampment to the eviction notices. Monday night I should have been securely tucked into my lovely warm hotpocket, because some of us are too old to be up past ten. Never let it be said procrastination is without benefits.

McDonald’s closes at 10:45PM, and I’d just posted the op-ed, tucked up the blog, heard its prayers and said good-night until it needed feeding again in the morning. I and several Occupy friends* headed back to the park, and though I slept on the Lincoln Park side of Broadway, it was my habit to check in on the Civic Center Park side and the Row before bed.

It couldn’t have been but a few minutes after we got back that I heard Daniel shouting. He came racing down 14th, and he was too out of breath to speak when he reached us.

“Cops,” he panted, pointing off south of the Capitol Building. “Riot cops. At firehouse.”

I’m still not sure who yelled it first. It might have been Daniel, it might have been Karyn – hell, I think it was me. Anyway, some noisy person threw back their head and shouted, “They’re coming!”

It would be nice to report that experienced protestors, savvy with the non-violence and veterans of many raids, reacted with cool calm. It would be nice, but it’d be a lie. We did what anyone would do upon hearing of an imminent attack by men with weapons who faced a stern paid vacation if they shot us dead where we stood. We fucking panicked. People scattered to wake up friends, to grab the bags they’d decided earlier were too valuable to lose to the police, to remind others of the non-violent tactics we’d brainstormed all day. There were shouts to remain calm. There were shouts that the police should do the anatomically impossible. One small young woman was crying as she snatched up the Christmas gifts she had bought for her children, to evacuate out as soon as supporters’ cars showed up. Getting those cars to us in time was my job.

I had the only smartphone on site, and I prayed to all the tech gods in existence as I twittered out the news. Y’all know the prayer. Say it with me now. “Signal, signal, go through, goddammit, where can I get signal?”

We got lucky. People were awake on Twitter and my phone began a running soundtrack of beeps – notifications that I was being re-tweeted. My job done, I ran across the street to grab my bug-out bag and, alas, the sack of clean laundry that had only hours before been dropped off. All my clean clothes, which are normally kept at a safe house, just happened to be at the encampment. I moved fast, but not fast enough. The first car evacuating gear left before I could get my sack of laundry to it. I handed my clothes off to a friend who was going back across the street, and I hied myself to the corner of Broadway and Colfax so I could keep sending out the call. We still had people to get in, gear and the Toys For Tots box to get out.

I looked down at my phone. Looked back up, and realized I was surrounded by riot police several deep. “Oh my good Lord.”

My elbow was grabbed, and a cop pulled me to the median. “Stay on the median in Colfax and enjoy the show,” he laughed.

Later, I found out my friends thought I’d been arrested then. The modus operandi is for the goon squad to round up anyone standing alone, and my fellow Occupiers saw me standing alone on the corner and riot cops surrounding me, and then I disappeared.

I wasn’t the only one caught outside the riot line. Kat and a couple others were wandering around the intersection with me. An ambulance pulled up and we panicked anew. They were shouting at the cops, I yelled a question on who was hurt. Flames and smoke were erupting from the camp, and screams and shouts tore the air. A portly blond police official in a felt overcoat was sporting a broad grin and chuckling at everyone as if to say, “Isn’t this great?”

I hiked up the hill and around Lincoln Park, trying to see where the ambulance had gone. Matt found me there.

“Fuckers.” He spat on the ground and picked up his skateboard. “You got any place to go tonight?”

“No. That’s my only home.” I waved a hand off in the direction of the camp burning in the darkness.

“Hey, assholes,” he yelled at the cops stationed outside Lincoln Park. “She’s been turned out of her only place to go. You feel awesome about that?”

One heavy-set cop shouted back that someone “over there” would find a place for anyone who needed it. On the other hand, when I approached the line I was threatened with arrest if they saw me again, and my name and birthday taken down. The next day Channel 7 News reported that police assisted any Occupy Denver protestors who were homeless. Personally, I’d like to know if that actually happened or if the corporate media just took everything the cops said on faith. I know I was offered only threats, and it would be the last time I – a middle-class woman from rural Texas, who had never been arrested or threatened with arrest in my life – voluntarily approached a cop.

Nick called me then, and we exchanged panicky “you okay?”s. He laughed with black humor about the ambulance. “That isn’t for citizens, it’s just in case one of the riot cops gets a hangnail beating peaceful protestors. They keep medical care away from us.” As the longest Occupier on the ground, veteran of five raids, he’s seen this too often not to be cynical about it. A laid-back beatnik whose conflict resolution skills and soothing voice of calm reason made him an asset to the Occupy Denver security team, it was jarring to hear him scream at cops through my phone. Six weeks I’d known him, and I’d rarely even seen him annoyed, let alone furious.

A car roared up, and the driver leaned over to open the passenger door. “Get in!”

I thought it was some random Denver resident trying to rescue Occupiers, but then I recognized Greg from the Non-Violence Committee. “They’re at the library. Meet me there!”

Greg roared off to park his car and I walked around to the library, where I found people who had been strangers to me once, and had become dear friends and family in just a few short weeks. We hugged everyone in sight, often in tears. We Tebow’ed the riot line. I got the news that Dana, a soft-spoken and reticent college girl, had been arrested for being in the park after park hours. Ben – Family of Love patriarch, de facto head of the 24/7 Committee and her boyfriend – was being physically restrained by Occupiers as he shouted himself hoarse at the animals responsible. Two reporters had been assaulted. And then there was more that I’d missed, such as everything that happened with Nicole. Fortunately, that’s what we have Youtube for.

Nicole is my height, which is nearly short enough to qualify for a diagnosis of dwarfism – five feet tall. She weighs less, perhaps ninety pounds soaking wet, whereas I’m a more well-fed 115. We’ve often thought her annoying, especially when she interrupts GA and demands cigarettes for Jesus, and we’ve made cracks about wanting to vote her off the island. She’s the “crazy Jesus lady”, and in the last few weeks she’s become our crazy Jesus lady. Family gets on your nerves a lot, it’s practically the point of having a family, and bigod, she’s family. She’s our lost little lamb at camp, and she repays us by being obnoxious and loving us all in turns.

Next time someone starts on how the police are heroes who are only there to help, remember that these Denver “heroes” assaulted a woman for annoying them. Not just a woman, but a small woman, who isn’t always right in the head, and is homeless. Fuck that noise. Not only are they not heroes, they’re not even men. Animals go after the small and weak; men are raised better than that. Note the cops laughing and smiling in the background of the video and viral photos? You have to wonder about their parents.

Our crazy Jesus lady was the hero of the night. She stood her ground, defended the camp and her friends. In protest at the behavior of the state-sanctioned goon squad, she threw her beloved Bible into the fire. With Nicole, the power of love can go no further.

We marched for hours, with Billy leading the way with his bongo. It was cold, and late. The sidewalks were clogged with slush and ice. And even though we were no longer anywhere near the park, the riot cops followed. They charged again and again, tried to kettle us. Always, the thing that struck me the most was the sound of their laughter. The cops were having the time of their life. They laughed, and they charged and then laughed some more, and they drove by grinning with excitement and yelling nasty things about Constitutional rights and how we needed the exercise anyway, and then they’d laugh and kettle us.

That is what bothered me the most. They stole my blankets and the tarps that keep the snow off me, but I can get new blankets and tarps. They stole food, but I can buy more food. No, what bothered me the most was that these thugs enjoyed it. They beat a woman, charged women, threw their weapons in the faces of the public… and they loved every minute of it. It was a horrifying thing to witness. I don’t even have the words for it.

The march was largely a blur of walking and exhaustion, punctuated by the laughter of rough men and brief excitement. After one attempted kettle, where I was shoved and which we avoided successfully, several Occupiers pushed dumpsters into the middle of the street to keep the cops from following us by goon truck. We spotted a dump truck full of our belongings on Colfax, and several people blocked the truck while others climbed into it to rescue our things. Technically, the police are supposed to make sure we can collect our personal belongings after the raid. They have never actually given anything back though, and considering they ran over our things with a bulldozer before using said bulldozer to toss our things into a dump truck, I doubt I’ll ever see any of my stuff again.

James, an eighteen year old boy who really took the Tebowing to heart, struck a pose again while we were near Colfax. The cops drew their batons and yelled, “Get him!” We screamed for him to run. I thought they were going to kill him – for mocking them. An eighteen year old kid. Nice kid, too.

He’s back safe at camp now, and the first thing I did after hugging him was Tebow him. He loved that, bless his pea-pickin’ heart.

I was evacuated by one of our supporters around the 16th St Mall, where we met up with a large portion of our group which had gotten separated from us. It must have been 3AM, and I was dead on my feet. The drive to her house was quiet, everyone in a state of shock. We kicked off our snowy wet gear just inside her door, and she brought out blankets and pillows and told us where to find fresh towels. I wanted to cry, but I was just too tired. So I made up a new bedroll on her living room carpet, and laughed when she fretted about the quality of her hospitality. I’m used to sleeping on frozen concrete. Carpet and central heating was the height of luxury.

Despite the most comfortable bed – a carpeted floor – I’d had in weeks, I didn’t sleep well. Too many nightmares of flames and laughing armed men. But I’ll tell you where I was bright and early the next morning. Back at my fucking Occupation.

From your Occupation,

Locke in Socks