Monday, September 8, 2008

A Personal Account

At the Milwaukee airport on my way back to New York. News blares from a TV spouting theories about how Sarah Palin will affect the Republican ticket. Through the window I see the airport's flat green and concrete landscape stretching (in my mind) toward St. Paul.

I keep re-living the fight or flight instincts I felt while covering the RNC protests. Unshakable lines of dark uniforms, gas masks, furrowed brows. The incessant chant of "Whose streets?! Our Streets!" making it hard to think. The stench of pepper spray. Commands barking down the police ranks. A protester pushes too far and the police line opens like the jaws of some black beast, spewing white flames and swallowing the man whole.

A part of me begs to run, yet I keep shooting. I'm training myself to think clearly and keep planted, capture the moment. It's not the first time I've found myself in a potentially dangerous crowd of impassioned people, or face-to-face with impatient cops. Intense newspaper assignments. The University of Florida championship celebrations. The Muslim festival of Ashura in India, where thousands of men in a small street cut and beat themselves in mourning. They've all programmed me a bit to feel out a mob and know when I should stay or go.

But this week there were times when I was scared. The first photographer I ran into in St. Paul was Phillip Andrews, covered in pepper spray. His face was so distorted in pain and covered in a white residue that I didn't recognize him until I asked his name. That same day, as I later found out, the police had pepper sprayed, roughed up and arrested photojournalist friends of mine.

I was shooting mainly for my portfolio. No affiliation, no safety net other than being a member of the media. Just me, my cameras, and media credentials from a Puerto Rican newspaper assignment in Minneapolis. According to the US constitution, that should be enough.

Thursday night- a rally at the capitol building. As John McCain was about to take the podium at the Xcel Center, down the road several hundred gathered at a small stage to say "good riddance" to the convention.

It was the usual disorganized anti-government message that blending resentments and issues- End the War, Free Speech, Free Palestine, Down with the biased Media. There was a Where's-Waldo-looking peacenik on stilts. A punky-looking couple making out in the grass. Some colorful mow-hawks.

Speeches became chants and the mob decided to march toward Xcel, without a permit. Riot police blocked roads and the mob pinballed around the capitol plaza searching for an opening, chanting angrily their right to protest. Tension built. A violent encounter seemed imminent, but didn't come.

Earlier in the week a cop in full riot gear had told me "We don't want to be on CNN." After Monday's mass arrests and violence the chief of police and his political friends apparently wanted to keep the spotlight on the Republicans, not on the relatively small dissent. Ironically, the more protesters and journalists hurt and arrested, the more ammunition for the media to report on.

For hours the crowd moved around and the police adapted. Eventually people started dispersing, so I figured it was time to call it quits. No more adrenaline rushes, no more pictures, no more fear of arrest or attacks. I was following a Gannett shooter looking for an open street- one the cops weren't blocking. I was turning the corner when a friend called on the phone. "Umm, they're breaking shit."

I'm not in great shape but somehow I sprinted a mile uphill, around the back of the capitol building- smoke and loud bangs in the distance. I sprinted some more. As I got closer I recognized it was tear gas and concussion bombs the police were throwing, so I went straight toward the action to take some photos.

Fear crept up again - Will they arrest everyone? Will I get sprayed? Shot with a rubber bullet?

By the time I realized I was at the center of the conflict it was too late. Bombs and tear gas were exploding all around me, cops screaming at everyone to go south toward the bridge.

"I'm media! Where do I go?!" I yelled to one cop. He pointed his rubber bullet gun at me and yelled "Go to the fucking bridge!" It was utter chaos, like a war zone. Police were throwing gas and bombs in between the bridge and the people who were being told to go to the bridge. Poor aim? Amid the mayhem I managed to click away a few frames, but began to notice what was going on. Police had surrounded the area and were corralling some 300 people, including a large number of media and legal observers, onto the bridge for a mass arrest.

Wednesday night, after the Rage Against the Machine concert in downtown Minneapolis, the police used the same corralling strategy, and I was let out immediately and with dignity. The police had been reasonable then, allowing Rage fans to march the streets for a while without doing anything rash. After releasing some anarchist energy, most Rage fans went home peacefully.

Thursday, something changed. Both sides seemed angrier and more willing to resort to violence. My sense was that toward the end of the protest people just wanted to leave, which is why they went uphill past the capitol where there were no police barricades. The bad apples that allegedly smashed windows may have ruined it for everyone. Maybe the police provoked them. Or both.

Once on the bridge they got on a megaphone and told us we were all being arrested.

I stuck with some network cameramen in hopes the police would see me as media, and I started making phone calls. Media guys next to me were calling bosses. I was trying to find out what lawyers Jim Winn and Nathan Webber (my photo friends who were arrested Monday) contacted when they were nabbed. Contacted Tim Hussin (who created this blog and covered the DNC), and my girlfriend. I reached for the phone in my pocket one last time when call a cop pointed at me, yelling "This one doesn't know how to follow orders!" He rushed and grabbed the phone out my hand. "I don't know what you could be doing with this!"

He ordered a group of cops to put me in cuffs. They grabbed my arms, jostled me but lifted me slowly so as not to break the camera equipment hanging from my arms. Little did they know my cameras are much more dangerous than my phone.

I was embarrassed and outraged. Tim Hussin sent me a text message telling me to see it as an adventure. That put me in the right mindset. From then on I was smiling.

Whether I ended up in jail or not, I knew this whole thing was a joke. In this country, the law does not hold media accountable for actions of people on whom they're reporting. It was absurd that I and other reporters, cameramen, and photographers had been arrested like common criminals. We had no responsibility or participation in the protesters' cause other than documenting it for the world.

The cop left in charge of my group of arrestees said he was one of only two Democrats on the bridge, and we had a little laugh, mine a nervous one. A parade of media were walking free down the bridge and I looked up to my captor with puppy-dog eyes.

"I'd really appreciate your help."

"Well, you must be media if you've got all those expensive cameras," he said.

Within minutes I was released and joined the other media to receive "unlawful assembly" citations.

I felt nauseous. Yet beneath my worries I had a certain sense of well-being. Despite all the problems this country has, our Constitution is solid. There have been terrible violations, like what happened to AP photographer Bilal Hussein who was detained in Iraq for more than a year without a trial. But for the most part it's solid. In many countries I could have been beaten and locked up, with no hope for a fair trial. Here, worst-case was probably a couple of days in jail and dropped charges. Some protesters might face felony charges, but most of the peaceful ones were allowed to walk the streets, letting the world know how they feel.

I've got a citation that I'm hoping will be dropped, and an indelible experience that will serve me in circumstances to come.

I hope you see in our photographs about the nature of our country- the good, the bad, what we have to be proud of, what we need to keep fighting to improve.

- Danny Ghitis


Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you made it out fairly unscathed. It could have been a lot worse. Amazing entry and photos!

G. D. Rawlinson said...

fascinating, thank you for the all the great photos.

Dan the Echo Boomer said...

It should be "Whose streets?"

not who's.

Just sayin


Amazing. Only in America... but St. Paul Minnesota?

Good work. Thanks for your witness.


tony said...

Great story and pictures....Dr. Gonzo would of provoked you into some craziness...Glad you got outta St. Paul with all your camera's and teeth...Keep the pictures and words coming...

Allen Klosowski said...

Seriously fantastic blog. I did a bit of work during the DNC, but it was much less crazy than this!

Jerry said...

My experience was similar at the end in that I was more than willing to get out of what I saw as a closing web of police, but had no way to escape. I figured, "hey, I'm a reporter with credentials. Surely they'll check my credentials and let me go." Of course I got cited too. Made me angry, but I'm still glad I covered it. It's important that reporters be able to be there, even when "things go bad", so to speak. Here's hoping the prosecutor's office has a good sense of Democracy and the First Amendment.

Ben said...

"According to the US constitution, that should be enough."

Actually according to the constitution you be out there with a gun and if the cop touches you, kill him.

Although I am glad you made it out, for now. They have your name, might as well sew a star to all your clothes.

G. said...

Great post & pics..really

The Corinthian said...

Were those all the photos? I would like to see more than just the ones posted on the blogs.

Amazing story. It's good to know their are others who are awake.

Anonymous said...

Armageddon Thru To You

If you've been wondering why it seems like the world around us is unraveling, it's because the last days as foretold in the bible are now upon us. Just as it was 2000 years ago, many were unable to discern the signs of Jesus Christ's first coming (Mat 16:3), as will many concerning his second coming, which will occur very soon. Yes many have proclaimed a similar sentiment many times in the past, but their errors have no bearing on today other than to lull you into spiritual apathy, and that too was prophesied to occur in the last days.

If you're not a believer in Jesus Christ because you're an atheist, consider that the underlying impetus for your disbelief is most likely borne of pride and here's why:

When we die, if you as an atheist were right, then there is no upside or downside for anyone regarding the afterlife. We will all simply cease to exist

However if we Christians were right about our belief in the afterlife, then we will be given eternal life and you as an atheist will receive eternal damnation

Given the choices, the position held by an atheist is a fools bet any way you look at it because the atheist has everything to lose and nothing to gain. It is tantamount to accepting a “heads I win, tails you lose” coin toss proposition from someone. And that someone by the way is Satan (see Ephesians 6:12).

The only way to explain the attitude held by an atheist is pride, pure and simple. The intellectually dishonest and/or tortured reasoning used by atheists to try and disprove the existence of God is nothing more than attempts to posture themselves as superior (a symptom of pride). And as anyone who has read their bible knows, this is precisely the character flaw that befell Lucifer, God's formerly most high angel. (Isaiah 14:12-15). Is it any wonder then why the bible is so replete with references to pride as the cause of mankind's downfall?

Pride permeates our lives and burdens us in ways that most of us seldom recognize. Ironically, pride is the one thing that can blind someone to things even the unsighted can see. And sadly pride will blind many with an otherwise good heart, to accepting the offer of eternal salvation that Christ bought and paid for with his life.

In any event, if you're an atheist, I wish you only the best for every day of the rest of your life because for you, this life is as close to heaven as you'll ever get, but for believers in Christ, this life is as close to hell as we'll ever get.

If you're not a believer and follower of Jesus Christ because you are of another faith, please take the time to very carefully compare your faith to Christianity and ask yourself, why is the bible the only religious book with both hundreds of proven prophecies already fulfilled as well as those being fulfilled today? No other religion can claim anything remotely close to this fact. Many Christians who are serious students of bible prophecy are already aware of the role and significance of bible prophecy in foretelling end time events. God gave us prophecy as evidence of his divine holiness to know the begining from the end (Isa 46:10). God also believed prophecy to be so important that to those willing to read the most prophetic book in the bible, the Book of Revelation, he promised a special blessing (see Rev 1:3), and this is the only book in the bible that God gives its reader a special blessing for reading. Something to think about.

Don't risk losing Christ's offer of eternal life by not accepting him as your savior and by thinking that the bible is nothing more than a compilation of unrelated and scattered stories about people who lived 2,000 plus years ago. If you take the time to study (not just read) the bible, you will literally be shocked to learn things you would have never imagined would be revealed in it. Did you know that like parables, God also uses particular months and days in the Jewish calendar, Jewish Feasts and customs, solar and lunar phases, celestial alignments, gematria (Hebrew numerology) early bible events and more as patterns and models to foretell future events?

Consider the following interesting facts about the bible that testify to its God-inspired authorship:

Did you know that in Gen 12:2, God said he would bless Israel?. How else can you explain the grossly disproportionate level of success achieved by Jewish people as a tiny minority in the world, especially after all they have gone through? And how can you explain the success achieved by the tiny nation of Israel, surrounded by enemies outnumbering them 100 to 1 and yet still they remain victorious in all their wars?

Did you know that as evidence to indicate that Israel is the epicenter of the world from God's point of view is the fact that languages to the west of Israel are written and read from left to right as if pointing to Israel, and languages from countries to the east of Israel are written and read from right to left, again as though pointing to Israel. Just a coincidence, you say? I think not.

Did you know that the six days of creation and seventh day of rest in Genesis is a model for the six thousand years of this age (ending very soon), that is to be followed by a 1,000 year millennial reign by Christ (see 2 Peter 3:8)? Adam was born sometime prior to 4000 B.C., therefore our 6000 years are almost up.

Did you kow that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is hidden in the meaning of the Hebrew names listed in the genealogy of the book of Genesis (Research it online)? To deny this was God-inspired, one has to instead believe that a group of Jewish rabbis conspired to hide the Christian Gospel right inside a genealogy of their venerated Torah, which is not a very plausible explanation.

Did you know that solar eclipses, which the bible describes as the sun being black as sackcloth, and lunar eclipses, which the bible refers to as blood red moons, have prophetic meaning? Research it online. God showed Adam (and us) his plan for man's redemption through the use of celestial alignments. (research Mazzaroth online)

Did you know that much of the symbolism in the book of revelation refers to planetary alignments that will occur when certain events occur as prophesied? These planetary alignments also explained the birth of Christ, just search out The Bethlehem Star movie on the Internet.

Did you know that the references in Eze 39:4-17 and Rev 19:17-21 in the battle of Gog/Magog and Armageddon respectively, in which birds of prey will eat the flesh of the dead in battle from two enormous wars is based on fact? The largest bird migration in the world consisting of bilions of birds (34 species of raptors and various carrion birds) from several continents converge and fly over Israel every spring and fall. Coincidence? I think not.

Did you know that Hebrew numerology, also known as Gematria, and the numbers with biblical and prophetic significance are hidden in the Star of David? Google the video called "Seal of Jesus Christ"

Did you know that the seven Churches mentioned at the beginning of the Book of Revelation describe the seven stages the Church will go through?

There are literally hundreds of hidden messages in the bible like these that testify to the fact that the bible was God inspired, and statistically speaking, are all exponentially beyond the likelihood of any coincidence. You can find them yourselves if you only take the time to look into it. Remember Proverbs 25:2 "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings".

And finally, if you are Catholic, or one who subscribes to the emergent Church or seeker-friendly Church movement, please compare the doctrine taught, advocated or accepted by your Church, with the actual bible, notwithstanding some new-age version of the bible. And remember that although the bible is often referred to as the living bible, the word "living" was never intended to imply in any way that the bible "evolves" over time to meet, or be consistent with, the standards of man. It's just the opposite.

Well, am I getting through to you? If not, the answer might be explained in the response given by Jesus Christ in his Olivet discourse when he was asked by his disciples why he spoke the way he did (in parables, etc.) in the book of Matthew 13:10-16. What Jesus said could have easily been paraphrased more clearly as "so that the damned won't get it". Why did Christ respond the way he did when asked why he spoke this way? Is there something about pride (the bible says there is) that closes one's heart to seeing or hearing the messages supernaturally hidden in bible parables, models, typologies, and similes, etc.? That should give you something to think about, but don't take too long. Time is now very short.

If it sometimes seems like there are powers at work behind the powers we know, remember what it says in Ephesians 6:12 "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." If you study the bible, it will become clearer.

And by the way, if you are a scoffer, this too was prophesied to occur in the last days. See 2 Peter 3:3.

Thank you and God Bless you! (at)

trompyx said...

very nice post!

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