Occupy Oakland from a Street Medics View – a bird – Oct 11

the cat’s happy we’re finally home, but she’s confused when we don’t lavish her with attention– our clothing is covered in tear gas which will contaminate everything we touch, cat included. my mouth is full of blood from a gnarly cut on my bottom lip, which happened when a panicked protester slammed into my gas mask during his escape from the third volley of gas and flashbangs. everything is covered in tear gas and magnesium hydroxide, which is starting to cake into little raised circles on the fabric.


we showed up about twenty minutes after four, outside the oakland downtown library. a crowd of approximately 300-400 people had showed up, and were holding general assembly on the building’s front steps and surrounding street. we’d heard the cops had tried, unsuccessfully, to get the library to close the grounds a couple hours before– by the time we arrived they were turning traffic around two blocks out, and had at least a couple dozen tactical guys and a helicopter in the general area keeping an eye on everything. three transport vans were slowly circling the area, but only stopped briefly before vanishing entirely. I turned and saw boots riley standing next to me. I patted him on the shoulder and thanked him for coming. a very small child thought all the equipment hanging off of us was intimidating, so I gave him a sucker (carried for just such occasions) and he was amped.


the march began, fitfully, at about five thirty after a general assembly that largely consisted of people making longwinded speeches into a megaphone and not really understanding how the stack system is supposed to work. we’d hooked up with other medics during the GA, in total I’d say there were probably a dozen– these are the good medics, not the crystal-healing flower children I was lamenting earlier in the thread. the march wound around downtown, occasionally taking a turn when confronted with a line of cops, who by this time had changed into riot armor and were forming shield walls across metal barricades.


the first altercation with the cops came relatively shortly; oakland has a lot of crustpunks who’ll take any opportunity to fuck with the police and they celebrated the day’s activities by tossing a balloon full of bright blue paint at a police line. the cops responded by isolating a group of whoever happened to be in the area (keep in mind, many of these people had children with them) and dropping gas grenades on them. people were understandably outraged, and there were a couple minor injuries when the cops forcibly pushed out with batons and beanbag shotguns against the crowd that had surrounded their bubble.


after the first use of chemicals for the evening the tone got darker. the march (which by this point had swelled to at least 600) was getting rowdy at every intersection at which the cops had set up, and some of the punks were stealing barricades– carrying them section by section as the march went on. at this point, we enlisted a dozen young college types two or three at a time to warn people with children away from the protest, since it was entirely likely at this point that there were going to be riot control methods used. everyone was extremely appreciative of someone who appeared to have their shit together politely encouraging them to get their kids out while they still could, except one fat beardy ponytail dude who just rolled his eyes and gave me a “whatever dude” dismissal.


the march continued (by this time the sun had all but set), making its way to a public park by a lake. the group (still approximately 600-700 people) stopped in the street to convene about what to do. the first thing protest medics are supposed to do, obviously, is keep an eye on the protesters. the second thing you’re supposed to do is keep an eye on the cops– most people won’t, so they’ll be completely blindsided by fairly predictable tactics. this second duty caused us some concern during this second impromptu GA, since the cops had completely vanished. we were still followed by two helicopters playing searchlights over the crowd, but there were none to be seen on foot or in vehicles. we decided they were probably staging somewhere nearby. eventually the group decided to march downtown, and set off. eventually the march came to a five-way intersection, the two forward branches were barricaded off by the cops about a hundred feet down, and there was a moment of pause and contention as some of the crustpunks tried to get people to rush the barricades. the group turned down a side street, however, avoiding that immediate confrontation but soon coming up against another barricade a couple blocks down, in one of the major intersections of downtown oakland.


now, people were staying. the group filled the huge intersection, just sortof staring down the police. the command vehicles placed behind the line of riot cops began to announce that this was an unlawful assembly, and that if we did not immediately disperse we would be subject to chemical weapons and physical dispersal. they were considerate enough to note, repeatedly, that this would cause major injury. nobody moved, and after about ten minutes they launched the first volley. they shot tear gas and flashbangs (five or six of each), along with rubber bullets at whoever they could aim at in the huge rush to get away. we pulled on our gas masks and hung back in the cloud to escort people out one by one, but mine didn’t get a proper seal and filled with gas. it hurts and makes it hard to breathe, but if you know what to expect and keep a level head you can function almost as well as you could normally. I tightened my mask and cycled air through it, and after a breath or two I was fine. my eyes were watering uncontrollably, but this didn’t cause as many problems as you’d expect and dissipated after a minute or so since I’d only gotten a comparatively minor dose through the break in the mask seal.


a lot of other people, however, were not as lucky and got facefuls of chemicals. the protesters, bless them, started yelling for medics immediately. there was a lady in a powered wheelchair who’d gotten stuck when the gas started exploding, who had to be pushed out by a group. she kept right on trucking, though, after being given some LAW and a reassuring talking-to.


LAW, I should note, is Liquid Antacid and Water. magnesium hydroxide mixed 50/50 with water is the best non-hospital method for dealing with tear gas and pepper spray, and every street medic you ever encounter will be carrying a lot of it. there were a good few dozen people who’d gotten gassed or nailed with rubber bullets, and we hopped from group to group (people tend to coalesce around injured protesters) performing eyewashes and distributing ice packs to great acclaim. one of the first people we encountered was a guy who’d badly scalded his hand when he picked up a tear gas canister and threw it back at the cops, who’d then shot him for good measure. he was extremely surprised, as most people are when they’re in this situation, that the cops were attacking a group of peaceful protesters like this. “god bless america” I said as I washed and bandaged the bleeding contusion on his forearm.


the crowd stayed together, and marched around the block (annihilating a bait car the cops had left on the way). a couple blocks away, there was a joyous (I mean JOYOUS) reunion with the other half of the protest, which had dispersed in another direction once the gas started. the reformed group marched right back into the intersection and resumed their previous places. fifteen minutes later, the cops teargassed us again and everyone dispersed. another round of eye washes and injuries tended, and we were back. this happened three, four times. the last time they killed the streetlights on surrounding blocks before gassing. we worked out a system where we’d fall back about fifteen feet once the volley started and take cover behind a mailbox and a dumpster, then emerge once the cops stopped shooting to pull people out of the gas.


during one of these cycles, I responded to a group of people yelling for a medic more urgently than usual. there was a guy laid out on the ground, clutching his head and rolling. I crouched down and asked him what happened, and he yelled at me that his apartment was full of teargas. I told him he was going to be allright, and asked if I could wash his eyes out for him. he yelled FUCK NO and slapped the bottle out of my hand, then jumped to his feet (I was kneeling over him) and started doing the “come at me bro” pose over me like he was going to beat my ass. I put my hands up in a “no harm meant” sort of way, but it didn’t matter since almost instantaneously, at least six or seven people had my back. these people were willing to beat serious ass on my behalf, and they gave not a single shit whether or not the motherfuckre they were gonna whoop on had just been gassed. medics, especially after they’ve spent the last two hours saving people from teargas, command a lot of respect.


a lot of people got hurt. an iraq veteran got nailed directly in the head with a teargas canister and went to the ER. people have died that way, and I don’t know his condition. the cops are straight-up lying, saying that they only fired teargas after protesters threw rocks and M-80s at them, and completely denying the use of rubber bullets and flashbangs. I have a lot of photos of the injuries. someone reported that a child had passed out, but I didn’t see it so I don’t know if it was the dude who’d given me the brush-off earlier in the evening.


a navy officer in dress blues, carrying a flag, unflinchingly stood his ground two feet from the barricades every single time, being repeatedly gassed and flashbanged.


the cops threw a flashbang directly into a group of medics and concerned onlookers who were tending to a woman who’d been knocked out cold by a flashbang going off next to her head.


I can’t really think straight at the moment. I’ve got a million more anecdotes.