Cover Story: Stuck in the Middle With You

Police shove first, ask questions never

Nov 22, 2000 at 2:06 pm

(Click here for images and complete TABD coverage.)

Three times on Nov. 17 I found myself surrounded and detained by police. A journalist amidst a group of protesters, I stood facing cops in full riot gear with nightsticks drawn and rifles out and ready. The worst was that night at Union Terminal.

Things seemed peaceful enough at first — loud, but peaceful. A sizable group of protesters, approximately 200, offered many of the same chants I had heard over the past couple of days.

They marched. They carried signs. They made noise. Meanwhile, members of the TABD were dining within Union Terminal. Fifty or so riot cops stood within the perimeter of the fence lining the grounds.

It all seemed uneventful.

My photographer, Sean Hughes, and I were ready to call it quits; we were cold to the bone. Then the winds seemed to change.

A man in his 40s gently placed his hand on my back. "Let those who want to disperse, go," he whispered to a few nearby protesters and myself. Just moments earlier, Darlene, a fellow reporter, got word to us that something was about to go down. None of us knew exactly what. Were protesters planning to rush the driveway leading back to Union Terminal? I was torn. I didn't want to be part of a re-enactment of that afternoon's events — with tear-gas canisters thrown at protesters. At the same time, I was there to do my job.

Standing in the brisk cold outside of Union Terminal, I was getting nervous and antsy. Not knowing what was about to happen just fed my anxiety. All I knew was to stay close to Sean. Sticking near a co-worker/friend gave me a minor feeling of comfort and safety.

About 7:50 p.m. things started happening. A group of 50-60 protesters broke off from the pack. They marched west, loudly but peacefully, along Kenner Street, getting closer to Union Terminal. They stayed on the sidewalks, not attempting to block the street.

Ten riot cops passed us. The protesters were marching toward even more police officers. It looked like a trap, just waiting to spring shut. And it was.

We stood on a corner near the tunneled underpass that goes behind Union Terminal.

The police moved in, herding everyone into the tunnel, many forcefully. When Sean tried to walk past the cops, one of them aggressively pushed him backwards; a nightstick went into the side of his camera.

Police officers were laying hands on most everyone. Cops shoved me from behind four or five times, putting me off balance and knocking me into Sean.

Granted, I was dressed like one of the many protesters, wearing a black knit cap, a hooded coat, old jeans and black tennis shoes. But I wasn't one of the protesters — it seemed useless to tell that to the cops. Their strategy was to act first, ask questions never.

Cops lined both ends of the tunnel. Everyone was trapped. At this point, I feared the police were capable of anything.

When I was 18 years old, I was held up at gunpoint. But police with rifles, tear gas and nightsticks seemed far more unpredictable and terrifying than an itchy robber out for some quick cash.

I don't blame the police officers for being on alert. They need to be ready for potential trouble. But the protesters they trapped in that tunnel weren't causing trouble. They were loud, but they were just protesting. That's their job.

Police eventually escorted protesters from the tunnel to the front of Union Terminal. That evening's protests ended soon after.

Being trapped in the tunnel, I developed a newfound fear of the police force. It's a shame that a few cops give all police officers a bad name. I also acquired a healthy respect for protesters. I don't know where their resolve to keep fighting comes from in the face of these kinds of threats. ©

(Click here for images and complete TABD coverage.)