Street Violence in Dublin
Soundtrack: "Dirty Old Town" by the Pogues, and "Fuck the Police" covered by Rage Against the Machine
Dublin's a great city. So I hear. Actually, Dublin itself is a pretty grimy city. It's got nothing all that impressive going for it in terms of architecture (granted, I did come to Dublin immediately on the heels of spending my time in one of the most amazing looking cities I've ever been in, Paris). Also, Dublin has a bit of a problem with crime and drugs. The amount of heroin addicts is through the roof, and hooliganism and street violence is much more apparent than it was in London or Paris.
My first indication of this was when I tried to go into the fast food restaurant "Abrakebabra," in the afternoon, until my mate Ger warned me against it. "That chain is nicknamed 'Abra-ke-stab-ra' for the large numbers of stabbings and fights that go on in there on a regular basis. It should be safe now, but avoid it after about 6pm." With that in mind, we went to a small chip shop down the road instead, and then went into the city for my first Friday night on the piss in Dublin. We met up with a couple of Ger's mates, had a couple of pints, and then started to move down the quay to another bar. We were standing outside a pub waiting to finish our Burger King so we could go in and drink some more, and these three young assholes came up and start harassing one of the girls in our group. When one of the guys (Nigel is his name) defended the girl (Anna, if you're keeping score), one of the three assholes (I don't know his name) nailed Nigel in the head with his bottle of Budweiser (to be honest, probably the best use for a bottle of Bud), smashing the bottle and cutting Nigel and my Ger. Neither of them were hurt seriously, but it colored the rest of the evening.
The next day we went to a Legalize Marijuana festival, which was pretty cool and laid back and stoned, and the cops didn't do a thing other than stand around and look vaguely threatening, which is absurd because there were four of them and about four hundred of us, and only two of those four cops were actually wearing their gear. The most aggressive of the cops moving through the crowd had nothing more than a radio to call for backup (which would serve to identify where to find his body if he ran into any trouble in the hippie crowd; of course, reclaiming it would be a massive "Iliad" style battle).
The Legalize Festival got me in a good mood for Monday, when we had a bank holiday and our Mayday festivities.
The big May Day festivity is a "Reclaim the Street" party. A crowd of about 300 people started off in front of the General Post Office, one of the most historic Dublin landmarks due to it's importance in the Easter Uprising of 1916 (Padraig Pearse and James Connoly read their proclaimation that Ireland was now a Republic and they were the provisional government--they then tried to take over the G.P.O. and hold it. Most of them were killed either during the fighting, or after they surrendered, and the G.P.O. was gutted by fire. This symbolism did not escape me). After assembling at the G.P.O., we moved down the street and wound up "reclaiming" a section of the riverside street, lots of street performers came out, women started dancing with streamers, a fair number of people got around to drinking heavily (when in Ireland...), and general hippie anti-capitalist fun was had. For awhile.
There was a certain amount of spray-painting, an empty building was labeled, "Free Space for the Homeless." The anarchist motto "No Gods, No Masters" showed up in a number of places, while the Anarchist "A" was placed haphazardly everywhere. The occasional banner was flown, and a bunch of people went around canvasing and handing out leaflets (they probably would have been more successful if they didn't insist on getting into deep political conversations with every single person they tried to hand out a leaflet to. I literally had to grab the literature out of wildly gesturing hands). This went on peacefully for about two hours, until someone pushed out a car they had bought to be symbolically destroyed to demonstrate the "reclaim the streets" mentality. This is when gardai came out in force and tried to drag the car off.
That's when it all started to go pear shaped.
One of the car trashers threw an orange smoke bomb into the broken window of the car. The violence against the car had attracted a crowd; the orange smoke billowing out of it brought the rest of the people around. Because there was smoke pouring out of the windows, no gardai could get into it to move it off. It was in neutral, but no one could find the steering wheel without choking, so the gardai could only make a half-hearted effort to bring it out of the center of the mass of people, which had grown to about 500.
But the protesters (because this has turned into a protest rather than simply a street party) didn't want the car moved off, and kept fighting to bring the car back into the center. They managed to push it back about two meters, before the ones pushing it are dragged off and thrown back by the cops. This enraged the mob, and even when the Garda finally manage to get in and drag the car off, with someone behind the wheel holding their breath (presumably, or a garda are trained to breathe smoke), there's a lot of pushing and shoving against the cops. The pushing and shoving was encouraged because half of the riot line was away, pushing the car down the side street. At this point, there was a danger that the line would be broken through and a group of protestors would rush the car and push it back into the middle of the crowd, which probably would have lead to even more violence than we eventually wound up with.
Some of the protesters were reveling in the tension, while others were trying to deflate it. While a lot of people yell, "Pigs leave!" another yells, "Fuck the Republic, and have some fun!" and one confused guy starts shouting, "Kill Americans!" (making me slightly nervous, though I think it he was just taking the piss out of one of his friends), the prevalent shout was, "This street is ours! This street is ours!"
One guy with a powerful set of lungs tried to deflate the tension by yelling, "Cops are people too! Join the party!" and asked the superior officer if "Would any of you guys feel like dancing?" But then it all went to hell. The line started to push, and the Garda got increasingly more aggressive and violent. The batons came out, and I saw a couple people--including this guy Ollie who I met at the Legalize festival--being dragged away by gardai or taken away form their friends drenched in blood. This was where I start to get very nervous, but the ones who were bleeding were the ones who were aggressively challenging gardai and throwing punches themselves. It didn't yet feel like it's going to spill over into the hoi polloi.
At one point in this, I saw a Garda go up to a guy on crutches, kick the crutches out from him, and drag him off, tossing him into a van and arresting him. It was at this point I started to move away from the frontline, and stopped taking pictures. I probably should have left at this point, but I still was in a state of mind where nothing bad could happen to me; if nothing else, I could just play the American tourist card and say I just walked into this while making my way to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College.
Enough people moved away from the riotline that it didn't come to a head quite yet. More people moved around the bongos and street dancing, and gardai didn't push it yet. It was calm for awhile. People started to leave, either from feeling that it could turn very ugly or that it already had gotten as ugly as it could get and they could leave without missing anything. The crowd dwindled to a couple hundred people, about half its original size.
Eventually, those left started to move. An announcement was made by someone that they would move to the Garda station where those who had been arrested had been taken to protest their arrest. Not everyone on the street heard this announcement, but Reclaim the Streets was abandoning the quay and heading to another street. There were probably about 200 people moving Dame Street. At the time, I was unaware that this was a decision of the Reclaim the Streets crew; I believed it to be pressure by the gardai.
For if it had been an intentional move by the gardai, it was done so they could justify their actions against the protesters by making them a threat to the commercial traffic of the city. Most of the protest were just kids born too late to be hippies, playing bongos, dancing around with fire bolos, and drinking furtively from paper bags. They were never a threat to gardai, and were causing as minimal harm to traffic as they could. Still, when we were moved onto Dame Street at rush hour, gardai charged the crowd. The batons came out, and people were dragged into riot vans. 24 arrests were made, and over a dozen people were hospitalized, in the Garda assault.
Tellingly, not a single gardai were injured. Most of the gardai weren't even wearing their badge numbers in locations that people could read them.
So by any stretch of the imagination, a number of civil liberties were violated here, including the badge numbers, and the batons being intentionally used on people's heads (it is illegal for batons to be intentionally aimed at people's heads in most police departments over the world). A reporter had his camera broken and his picture-taking finger broken as well. Other photographers were kept away from the rally, or had the batteries confiscated from their cameras.
Three days later, we had an anti-police brutality rally, hoping all the while that the Garda won't prove our points for us. For awhile it was a bit nerve-wracking. Fifteen minutes before the rally started there were more members of the media and pamphleteers than there are protestors. But the people rallied around, and by the time the rally started there are about two to three times as many people at the rally then there were at the "Reclaim the Streets" event itself. These people were not put off by the troika of tabloid newspapers warning of a "rogue element" planning on coming to the rally and disrupting it.
By far the biggest "disruption" came from two speakers, the Socialist Worker's party and the Anarchist speakers who tried to hijack the proceedings to make their own political points. They tried to talk about how this was "part of a greater global movement" towards socialism and political freedom. I agreed with them, actually, but it wound up alienating a lot of listeners, who tried to shout him down. Most people seemed to want believe their street protest and street violence were just an isolated incident that they thought up themselves (well, the protest, no one wants to admit to planning the street violence), not placing in the pattern of protests around the world, such as in Seattle, Toronto, Barcelona, or Genoa, in which the police forces over-reacted at those protestors taking to the streets and trying to speak truth to power to express their disagreement with the ruling parties and the forces of capitalism and globalization.
The most constructive speakers asked, "Who watches the watchmen?" and demanded that an independent ombudsman be appointed to deal with the Monday protest inquiry, and that the Garda cannot police themselves. They also asked for the Civil Order Act to be abolished, which was set up years ago and gives the Garda immense powers in dealing with social and civil disobedience. The primary issue here is that there will most likely be plenty of protests to come, as Ireland will soon be assuming the E.U. Presidency and will be the site of a number of gatherings of world leaders.
After the rally, our group decided to march down Dame Street, where the worst violence took place three days before, and "take over the street." The rally swelled to around 2,000 people, according to the media counters. We moved down the streets, chanting, "Whose streets? Our streets! Whose world? Our world!" going to city down in front of city hall. We stayed seated only for about a single minute, before getting up to move to a public park. The organizers (or, at least, the guy with the only bullhorn) were still a bit nervous about provoking the police, so we didn't block the streets for longer than we had to.
It was as we moved to the park that my favorite chant of the evening was unveiled. I quote:
[repeat, ad nauseum]
But I suppose it's a sign of a quintessential element of Irish culture that, for me, after making an appearance at the park with the rest of the rally, I nicked off with a couple of my mates to go finish the evening in a pub, sucking down pints of Guinness.
Is there any other way for a political rally to end properly?
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