On Monday, XXXXXXXX, I joined XXXXXXXX in protest of police brutality and the disproportionate and unjust killings of black people in the United States by police. The protest began on XXXXXXXX in front of the XXXXXXXX Police Department Headquarters. I had driven in with a friend, XXXXXXXX, from our apartment in XXXXXXXX and parked my car at XXXXXXXX. We arrived to the event a bit after 3pm.
We caught a few of the speakers and each got a glimpse of our friend, XXXXXXXX snapping photos of the event. He didn’t notice us. A march began and we joined the crowd of what felt like thousands walking toward the XXXXXXXX River, then we turned south, and then west toward City Hall, eventually ending up over by the museums along the XXXXXXXX. We had been marching for a little over an hour. It was here that we saw our roommate, XXXXXXXX and her two friends, XXXXXXXX. We lost them in the crowd soon after.
XXXXXXXX and I walked down XXXXXXXX until we entered almost a standstill. We were slowly turning right onto the entrance ramp of XXXXXXXX. I saw my friend, XXXXXXXX with her partner and we exchanged greetings before they split off ahead of us. A police officer clutching a baton stood to the side of a police pickup truck, wearing a protective vest and a helmet with a face-shield. He watched us silently as we entered the entrance ramp by going around the backside of the truck and along a line of police on bikes. These officers didn’t seem to be engaging with the protesters aside from standing around.
People poured out into the expressway in front of us, waving signs and shouting chants. We followed the mass of protesters eastward down XXXXXXXX. XXXXXXXX and I decided to stay on the left side of the expressway where there were less people. We were still interested in socially distancing as much as possible because of Covid-19. About everyone we saw at the protest was wearing masks like us.
Motorists on the expressway were honking their horns and getting out of their cars to sit on their roofs to watch as we passed by. One person planted their fist outside of their passenger-side window in solidarity. I felt a sense of euphoria in that moment. Seconds later, that feeling would be replaced with crushing fear. I saw an empty police cruiser parked at an awkward angle in front of the tunnel which starts under the XXXXXXXX at XXXXXXXX across from XXXXXXXX. Everyone was ignoring it and marching forward through the tunnel.
At 5 o’clock, just as XXXXXXXX and I were about to enter the tunnel, a hush fell upon the crowd in front of us and a stampede of protesters pushed us back. We ran up a grassy incline, fenced in along XXXXXXXX and the XXXXXXXX. We had a good view of everyone exiting the tunnel. Once they were out, we watched as three police officers appeared, two of them looking very militarized, like SWAT, while the other appeared normally dressed for the most part. This officer stood by the empty police cruiser.
The militarized police wouldn’t come out too far from the underpass. This seemed
suspicious to me, like they were trying to remain hidden. One of them raised their rifle at protesters, while the other pepper sprayed people on the right side of the expressway without warning while they tried to take photos and video, or lay their protest signs down on the strip. This last bit seemed like it was being done as a peace offering to persuade the police to stop using excessive force against us. I hadn’t seen a single protester do anything unlawful, aside from the civil disobedient disruption of the expressway. Even then, there were no warnings given by the police telling us not to enter the expressway or any instructions ordering us to leave once we were on road.
The packed-together crowd was looking very restless from our spot on the hill. Afraid that another stampede would ensue, I shouted “stay put” to the mass of people. The protesters in the officer’s line of fire were kneeling and yelling out chants like, “hands up, don’t shoot.”
Out of nowhere, I sensed an irritation in my eyes, like someone was cutting onions. Then it got worse, harder to ignore as it spread to my throat. XXXXXXXX yelled out “tear gas” and everyone began to run toward us and the fence to escape. I pulled my tube scarf over my face to cover my eyes and XXXXXXXX took his mask off to spit and cough as we ran to the fence. People were choking and screaming, “I can’t breathe.” The fence was taller than everyone’s heads and required scaling a stone wall in some parts. We were lucky to be near the top of the hill where the bottom of the fence was not too far from the ground. People lined up like sardines on either side of the fence to help protesters up and down to escape the cloud of powder.
I grabbed someone’s foot and lifted them up to the top of the fence with another person’s help. XXXXXXXX did the same to the right of me. I helped lift another person and prepared to hoist one more when a body fell from above, striking my head, neck, then left shoulder. I felt my shoulder rip out of its socket and I blacked out for a second. XXXXXXXX and others helped me up from the ground and escorted me to the fence. My shoulder popped back in when I was climbing it. I reached the top and as I was bringing my knee over, another person was lifting their knee at the same time. I wanted to push their knee over, but I only had one arm to use, and that arm was keeping me held on to the fence. XXXXXXXX asked if I was okay. I said “yeah, I’m waiting for them to get over.” Eventually, they made it to the other side and so did I.
XXXXXXXX followed after and told me to sit down with the rest of the injured along the XXXXXXXX. A makeshift triage of sorts was taking shape here. People were yelling “who needs water?” Someone asked me if I was okay. I was alright. In a lot of pain, but not down and out. As XXXXXXXX was helping people down from the fence, I ran over and grabbed a milk bottle from his backpack. It was filled with a solution for eye irritants such as tear gas. He brought it just in case, since we had seen law enforcement use chemical weapons against peaceful protesters all around the country and were afraid XXXXXXXX was not immune to these tactics.
I walked up and down the path shouting, “water and baking soda” and “for eye irritation” like I was selling peanuts at a baseball game. At some point during all of this, a helicopter swooped over our heads, very low to the ground, blaring a siren in an act of what felt like overkill. The wind had picked up a bit and tear gas still hung in the air. XXXXXXXX was finished helping people down from the fence, since his eyes were bothering him way too much and his throat was scorched like mine. He washed his eyes out with the solution and spotted our friends XXXXXXXX. They were unscathed for the most part. Craving human connection after barely surviving a harrowing ordeal, I gave XXXXXXXX a big hug. XXXXXXXX said something like, “we should get out of here, this isn’t looking good.”
XXXXXXXX and I started to treat people with our liquid for eye irritants. Somebody tried to drink it and we stopped them before they could. We lost our friends in the pandemonium. A line of cops marched up the street toward the scene as we walked to City Hall where the National Guard was posted and police officers sat and contentedly cracked jokes and ate snacks. We headed down XXXXXXXX and turned east to the car.
I drove us home because I was unsure about XXXXXXXX’s eyes, and I could still use my left arm if I needed to, though it hurt. I was too scared to go to the hospital because of Covid and also out of fear of being arrested or harassed by the police. I just wanted to go home and lie in my bed and cry. Our roommate XXXXXXXX came home from the protest not too long after us. We dumped all our clothes on the floor to be washed later and took showers. I dug an old sling out of the closet to use for my arm and took a deep breath.
George JM is a writer and interdisciplinary artist working primarily in theatre and film. He holds a BA from Bennington College, and is an active member and organizer for Lino Kino, a Philadelphia-based media arts collective. His work has been featured in Philadelphia at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Cherry Street Pier and Da Vinci Art Alliance, along with the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA), Seattle; Neighborhood Film Festival, Montreal; No Theme Performance Festival, Poughkeepsie, NY; Built on Stilts Performance Festival, Martha’s Vineyard; and a slew of defunct DIY spaces in Philadelphia and New York City. He is currently involved in a lawsuit with the city of [redacted] and things are a little crazy right now.
#policebrutality #protest #lawsuit
Ipsen, Michael. https://linokino.com/