Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Labor Fought Back in Lansing

The following is a transcription of my notes about our skirmishes with the police at the Save Michigan Anti-Right to Work rallies in Lansing. 

Matthew, Ashley and I arrived at the capital building around one o'clock in the afternoon, upon arrival we noticed a swelling of people and a lot commotion happening around the George W. Romney State Building. Around one hundred workers and demonstrators had begun gathering in the open-air foyer of the building outside of the entrances in what was a supportive action for the dozen or so union workers sitting-in and blocking the entrances to the building where Gov. Snyder has an office.

There was a heavy presence of union organizers, students and workers chanting, and singing labor songs. Police began filing in around the perimeters, and a line splitting down the center of our crowd. An electrical worker in the IBEW shouted out, “They got a hard hat! They’re beating a hard hat!” And those of us tall enough to see could see the police wrestling a worker in a hard hat to the ground. Another voice shouted out, “Everyone sit down!” The majority of the crowd began sitting-in and chanted, “Sit!” and “Shame!” at the police and continued shouting at the police to stop interfering with our right to assemble.

The police immediately escalated the situation coming with more force into the crowd- stepping on people (Matthew’s thigh was stomped on by a Michigan State Police officer, who wasn’t wearing a name badge or badge number), and pushing people over. It was clear though that they didn’t have specific orders, and also didn’t know how to handle to crowd because they just stood there in the midst of the crowd for a long while, immobile, without a working plan for dispersal.

Finally the crowd stood back up, began more chants, “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?” and the police began picking us off one by one and escorting us away from the crowd with force. At first it wasn’t clear what was happening- arrests, being detained, just clearing the area etc. Of our group Matthew was grabbed first and the officers pulling him away wouldn’t respond affirming or denying arrest. The crowd shouted back at the police, demanding to know what was happening with those being escorted away.

An older man, a worker with an Occupy Detroit patch on his jacket, sat back down and told the police they would have to drag him away- that he was staying to exercise his right to assemble and protest. They roughly picked him up by his wrists and ankles and dragged him away. Ashley and I were grabbed next shouting over and over, “We are exercising our first amendment rights!” We were pushed out of the foyer and found Matthew, comrades and the other removed protestors there.

Then they brought out the older worker who was carried and in front of our crowd dropped him on his back onto the concrete, Matthew knelt down by him to check and make sure he didn’t hit his head, and a state police officer kneed Matthew in the back, kicking him over, causing him to fall. At this point another rally where we had all been escorted to was forming with chanting and singing- then a woman union carpenter took the bullhorn from an organizer and started shouting, “The Cops are bullies! They’ve always been bullies. They’re traitors!”

It was at this point that we saw the lines of horsed police officers forming, and moving into the street. Several lines of union workers formed, and they literally chased off the horsed officers causing them to retreat. People looking on chanted, “Get that animal off that horse!” The police tried to reform lines and move the horses onto the sidewalk flanking the crowd, but were pushed back again.

A riot line of police then began to form near the street blockade, and they approached those of us milling around in the street with immediate aggression. The police chanted, “Move Back!” were horizontally pumping their batons in our direction. Linked-arm lines of protestors formed in response to this and I was hit in the clavicle and breasts (by an officer not wearing a name or badge number), Ashley hit in the cheek and neck repeatedly (by an officer named Milner), Matthew kicked and chest checked, and Trish hit in the breast-bone. 

We buttressed ourselves and held the street for around 10-15min before the police converged on a protestor, and police from the capital started filing in elongating the riot line. By this point we had the police surrounded on all sides- the crowd had filled in behind the riot line in the absence of the mounted police. People were chanting a range of mixed consciousness type messages at the police, “They’re gonna come for you next, and we won’t be here to back you up!” “Pigs!” “Cowards!” “Class Traitors!” “You should be on our side!” “Our kids go to the same schools!” “Why are you protecting Snyder?” and even a “Fuck off, you boss bitches!” As the police line began to move it side-stepped in a single file retreat pushing along with them another man they had arrested, and conceded the street to the demonstrators. There was a final chant of “Whose streets? Our streets!” before people began breaking off and milling around giving fist pumps and high-fives for standing their ground.

Photo credit: Neil Blake

Also, if you were wondering where the photo of Ashley being hit in the face with a riot baton went, the "owner" of that photograph called me posting it (and also notedly attributing it to him) illegal. So I removed it to stop a fuss. Something that should be said though to this guy: you don't own a moment in history. You also don't own an image of a women fighting for what she believes in. You do not own art. If you continue treating "your" captured images that way, you won't get far with the people you're documenting. 

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