I never go to police riots anymore. There was a time when if I heard there was a police riot goin’ on, I simply had to be there to see it with my own eyes. It was like going birding. “There’s a scarlet tanager where? I can be there in ten minutes! To the bat cave!” Now I’m just too old to grab the binoculars and run across town to see stuff I could just as easily enjoy from home on YouTube.
On Saturday July 25, I thought all the police rioting up on Capitol Hill was suspended. The cat, meanwhile, needed a replenishment of his favorite dry food and freeze-dried morsels, and we usually get those at a store a block from what was called CHOP.
Anitra and I could take care of that business there, and then, as a reward to ourselves for so unselfishly restocking the cat’s goodies, we could consume items containing black beans, rice, mole chicken, cheese and hot sauce at a certain restaurant actually inside the former CHOP area itself.
So we got the cat food and then walked up and around the corner to the restaurant. And right into a police riot.
We couldn’t see the police at first. All we could see was a sea of humans, mostly carrying umbrellas, walking briskly toward us, coming from the direction we were trying to go.
Umbrellas on a sunny day.
Then we started hearing loud explosions. I mean really loud. I told Anitra, “haha, some people are using up some leftover 4th of July fireworks, right?” So we struggled against the crowd and kept going and got to the door of the Mexican restaurant, and it was locked. The staff appeared to have called it a holiday. At this point, it started to dawn on me that I was in a police riot.
I was not watching a police riot — I was in one, all because I picked the wrong day and time to visit my favorite burrito joint.
At that instant, I realized I smelled tear gas.
Suddenly I knew what the umbrellas were for. Not for regular rain, but for raining pepper spray.
We retreated to the Broadway and Pike QFC, where we figured we’d be safe and could buy food items to make up for the failure to procure burritos and burrito-like food.
Making our way to the QFC, the whole time we heard those loud explosions, which we now could surmise were flash-bang devices.
Now, here’s what I want to say about all this. Flash-bangs, tear gas and pepper spray cannot be cheap. Especially when it’s used up at the rate it was used up that day.
Some people are opposed to defunding the police on the grounds that if we take so much money away from them, they won’t be able to respond quickly to crime the way they ought to.
I went home and watched live streaming of the police riot from a news helicopter view for over an hour and a half more. You couldn’t hear the flash-bangs on the video, but you could see the endless use of smoking canisters and the streams of pepper spray.
All that costs money, as does paying a few dozen police officers to use that arsenal on peaceful protesters rather than responding to actual crime. Case in point: There was arson several blocks away from the site of the protest, and the police missed it. Opponents to the police defunding said that day, “Ah-hah! See? The protesters were violent criminals; the police were right to attack them.” But there’s no reason to think the arson had anything to do with the Pine Street protest, which stayed along Pine. The arson was south of Seattle University.
And another thing: The police are routinely joining in homeless sweeps. That’s another waste of police resources. How is it worth paying police to oppress homeless people who are minding their own business inside tents rather than dispatching them to home break-ins?
I know what you’re going to say. Wes, tear gas isn’t that expensive. I can buy tear gas for home use from Amazon for about $11 a canister.
Still, if you add up the cost of all the tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bangs used by the SPD all through June and July just in the three blocks west of the East Precinct, you could buy some cop a horse.
Why don’t you people want cops to have nice horses?
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at drwes (at) realchangenews (dot) org
Read more in the Aug. 5-11, 2020 issue.