Denver Direct: On Being Tear-Gassed

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

On Being Tear-Gassed

If police use tear-gas at the upcoming DNC, protesters should be aware of what happened to me in 1968 at a Washington, D.C. rally. What you see on TV is often not what you get.

I had gone down to Washington from my parents home in suburban Maryland, “to get my fair share of abuse” as the Rolling Stones put it. I drove as far as I could, parked my van, and walked a few blocks until I came upon a group of about 100 police gathering at an intersection. In the middle of the block, I stepped up into a townhouse yard to watch the action.

The police were in formation to sweep each of the four streets from the intersection. Being a half-block away, in a yard and off of the street, I felt fairly safe.

Suddenly, and without warning, an officer fired a tear-gas canister in my direction. It hit in the middle of the street in front of me, about 20 feet from where I stood.

Now on TV when you see this happen, smoke starts to rise slowly from the canister. People often run up to it, pick it up, and throw it back. Something different happened to me.

As soon as the canister hit, I was sprayed with a fine liquid, not gas. This was instantaneous. I never got to see the smoke, as the liquid, hitting my face, instantly sent me into a “senseless” state. I could not see, hear, or tell which way was up. I think I fell to the ground but I could not tell. I was completely cut off from my senses. I was like a blind drunk, spinning out of control. (CS nerve gas?)

Within seconds, I was grabbed by some neighbors (but I had no idea who was grabbing me) and taken inside where my face was washed down with water and slowly, in minutes, my senses came back. Whatever had happened on the street took place without me. Within 15 minutes, I was able to walk back to my parked van and drive home.

I picked up some hitchhikers on the way home. They got gassed from being in the van with me. The heavy leather welder’s jacket I was wearing had enough residual chemical on it to gas the hitchhikers. They got out a few blocks later, thanking me through their tears.

When I got home and showered, the gas on my skin was reactivated and I fell down in the shower. Eventually, I got it off and recovered. I had indeed, gotten my “fair share of abuse”.

Be careful out there.