Kelly Sans Culotte


EYEWITNESS

Austin, Texas, Overwhelmingly Antiwar
Despite the media silence and the cops.
By Annette D'Armata


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APRIL 3, 2003. On Saturday, March 20, nearly 2000 people protested the war on Iraq by blocking traffic all day long on Austin's main drag, near the University of Texas. I was there with my partner, Lourdes Pérez, a musician and activist, Diana Hamad, of the Palestinian Childrens' Welfare Fund, and Patrice Mallard of the American Friends Service Committee.

At rush hour, we began marching slowly from the state capitol building to the main tourist bridge, doing die-ins at the intersections. One sign carried by a protester said, "'Iraq' is Arabic for 'Poland.'" Another said "Iraqi lives are sacred too." And there were the by now familiar, "Draft the twins" (a reference to Bush's daughters), "Not in my name," among many others.

Dozens of riot police with no name tags, or badge numbers, unaccountable and anonymous, waited for night to fall, then began clearing the street of protesters.

About 20 people sat in the street in an act of peaceful civil disobedience. The rest of us stayed on the sidewalks to witness their arrests.

Suddenly, for no apparent reason, a policeman approached the sidewalk and sprayed some of us in the face with pepper spray. When we complained that this was unprovoked, and that the sidewalk was public property, we were told, "Tonight it's not," and, "We're going to spray you again if you don't leave."

We began moving away, with the police right behind us. They started to walk faster, hitting us in the back with their batons, and screaming, "Move!" As soon as we were pushed far enough, so we couldn't see it, they began the arrests of those we'd left behind sitting in the street. The chants of, "This is what democracy looks like," quickly turned to, "This is what a police state looks like."

As we were being pushed from the sidewalk into an intersection, a riot police grabbed a young man right in front of me who was just chanting peacefully, and slammed him onto the pavement. Another cop pepper-sprayed a woman directly in her eyes. The rest of the police started running toward us to push us ever farther away so we couldn't see what was happening to the young man still on the ground.

It looked like they were trying to provoke a riot so that they could become even more violent. It was clear that this group of riot police felt accountable to no one and able to do anything and get away with it. One wonders if they were getting support from their higher ups.

Everyone I went with was pepper-sprayed in the face. Despite TV cameras present, nothing was shown on the news that night. The local TV station KVUE told me later that they had reported the incident the next morning, and referred to it as "police brutality."

Austin is overwhelmingly against the war in Iraq. The only reason you don't hear about it is because it's not being reported. Protest actions are being planned for every day that this war lasts.

Annette D'Armata is a composer and human rights activist.


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