From Anarchist News
Thursday night, December 19th, marked the one-month anniversary of 17-year old Jesus “Chuy” Huerta’s death and the second demonstration in an ongoing and escalating battle with the Durham, NC police department. Catalyzed though certainly not contained by the mysterious death of Chuy while in police custody on November 19th, around 200 family members, friends, neighbors, and fed-up local residents converged at CCB plaza again to grieve and express their rage. Despite the fact that officers report they frisked Chuy before placing him in the vehicle and despite the fact that his hands were handcuffed behind his back, Chief of Police Lopez is still claiming that Chuy shot himself in the head while in the back of the squad car at Police Headquarters.
Three days after Chuy’s murder, on November 22nd, a mixed crowd of as many as 300 furious people—family members, children, youth wielding skateboards, local activists, anarchists, masked groups with improvised bandanas or full cover black block; black, white, brown, young and old—marched from CCB Plaza, made popular as a site of protest during the days of Occupy and later Trayvon Martin demos, to the police headquarters. The crowd was enraged; fireworks and smoke bombs were shot off, walls spray painted, a police cruiser window broken with a magical flying hammer, the front glass facade of the headquarters smashed to cheers and shouts of “Burn it down!” The crowd held its ground against the cops, who were taken totally unaware.
Perhaps most importantly, new friendships and affinities began to form in the streets, from bringing masks and banners to sharing chants and strategies for holding the street—and those affinities only deepened through the processes of jail support and conversations after the march. This first demo set a precedent in recent Durham history, a town with small and passive demos, often dominated by a conservative brand of identity politics and stale Leftism. Various socialist and leftist activists complained, in cliché style, after the first demo that the anarchists were putting teens at risk. The lived experience of a diverse crowd that protected each other and delighted in the collective opportunity to fight back told a totally different story.
Nonetheless it was unclear how much energy from the first march would survive into the second. As expected, the media regurgitated the Police’s line blaming “outside agitators” in their attempt to divide and conquer march-goers. On top of this the family explicitly called for the second march to be a peaceful candlelit vigil, asking the crowd of supporters to carve out the space to grieve and pray on the one-month anniversary at the site of Chuy’s murder. Furthermore, the cops had been severely embarrassed the first time, and were sure to be looking for blood tonight.
The numbers were small when we first showed up a little before 7pm, only fifty or sixty people gathered in a corner of the park. The plaza was surrounded by media van vultures of all kinds, and beyond them at least fifty bike and beat cops stood in lines surrounding the entire area. Helicopters were circling downtown and motorcycle brigades started to make their rounds. We could hear the idiotic banter on their walkie-talkies: “Two large black banners just put up, five people behind each one.” “They’re handing out masks and sharing soup.” “They’re passing out flowers.” The banners were indeed massive, 30 feet long and black, with slits cut at head level to see from. While some walked around with anti-cop propaganda, roses, and candles, others shared food and found old friends from the month prior.
Gradually the crowd swelled to an estimated 200 people. Kids with skateboards showed up en masse, high school kids and kids from Chuy’s neighborhood forming a large contingent, as well as family members and older parents with children. Some of the usual Durham activist-types seemed absent, but a large number of anarchists showed up, some in appropriately all-back memorial attire, others carrying flags.
The crowd soon left the park, snaking along the sidewalk and edge of the street in the direction of police headquarters. Some held candles, some held roses, some held skateboards, but everyone young and old was screaming “No Justice No Peace, Fuck the Police.” Cries of “Policia: Asesina” and “Chuy Huerta, Presente” echoed off the walls of downtown Durham. Family members helped start the chant of “Cops, Pigs, Murderers,” presumably already popularized at the last demo, as teenagers generally just screamed obscenities at the cops. For their part the cops, embarrassed by the last march and eager to reassert control, formed a tight perimeter that pushed back on us every time we entered the street.
We reached the headquarters relatively without incident, angry and rowdy, but slightly overwhelmed by the massive police presence. Led by the family and protected in part by 60 feet of black canvas and bamboo poles, we marched straight onto police property, this time not to attack the building but rather to offer a venue for those to grieve at the site of Chuy’s murder.
The cops had other ideas, forming massive lines protecting the police building—now including a large squad in full riot gear with shields—and trespassing everyone over a bullhorn. In an effort at multicultural conciliation that enraged members of the crowd, they had the politeness to issue the warning in Spanish as well as English. At this point, eleven poorly disguised undercover cops left the march. Most of the crowd refused to move, while the family grouped in a circle on the property. The crowd couldn’t stay quiet though—teenagers screamed at the cops, raising skateboards threateningly, while other friends screamed at the pigs to let the family pray.
Despite respect for the family, it was clear that the anger and unruliness of the crowd couldn’t be contained by the format of a vigil. As the family concluded its prayer and the march headed back to the plaza, the crowd was pissed. People picked up sticks lying on the cops’ lawn, many of the chants broke down into just screaming obscenities at the pigs, while the entire periphery of the march was one long line of raised middle fingers. At the same time, it was clear we were ill prepared to win a battle with over one hundred Durham cops in riot gear—especially considering we came to attend a vigil.
We arrived at the plaza by around 8:45 and began to discuss future plans and announce an upcoming jail demo. A short bilingual speech was given against police, contacts were shared and future plans discussed, and the crowd seemed to understand the night was ending.
The cops had other ideas, though, and after surrounding the plaza, announced the gathering to be illegal. Within 30 seconds riot cops with raised batons charged the banners surrounding the crowd, which had begun to dwindle. This left just enough time for parents with small kids to get out of the park, but soon we were all retreating. The riot cops, looking both excited and terrified to be in their rarely used gear, started setting off pepper bombs and pushing against the bewildered crowd. Some took the street to slow them down, linking arms and delaying the cops’ charge, while others began to throw bottles at the approaching line. Several people took multiple baton blows to the back of the head as we slowly backed up. To disqualify one police statement already being spewed by their media: there was no counter-attack until well after the police charged and attacked us at CCB Plaza. This is worth pointing out not to victimize the crowd or claim a moral high ground, but simply because the media and cops have obscured this truth to undermine solidarity between protesters.
At this point, the crowd consisted of a small but feisty group of about fifty anarchists, skateboarders, and other youth. We were losing ground, but it was obvious the cops were there to disperse rather than arrest us, so we slowly cat-and-moused backwards down the street. Then the cops started shooting tear gas at us. It was unbelievable, tear gas in downtown Durham, as people in bars and restaurants watched from their windows. One teenager bent down to pick up a canister, and was warned it was hot and so kicked it back instead. Others didn’t heed the warning and threw the canisters back at the line of pigs. People masked up as we continued to back down the downtown street, now looking for ways to fight back or slow down the police. The silent vigil had long ended.
We were pushed back to the railroad lines, and found ourselves in possession of a small arsenal of stones lining the tracks. The high cell windows of the downtown jail loomed over us. To my left I saw a new friend hurling a glass bottle over a cloud of gas at a line of cops. To my right I saw people, some in masks and some not, picking up rocks, others throwing them. They land with a heavy thud among the cops. Cop cars swerve visibly around the corner of a long side street, and our very short-lived street battle comes to a quick end as people disperse in small groups. Most everyone got away, though two were arrested earlier and four more youth were pulled out of a packed car well after dispersal.
We regrouped at a local, friendly bar, catching our breath, cleaning our eyes out, and wondering at the bizarre turn of events that saw small street battles breaking out in the streets of sleepy Durham. There’s no doubt that we lost on the streets by any kind of military judgment—reportedly a friend saw cops in the plaza later on giving chest and fist bumps to each other about how they beat us—but this misses the point. We helped protect the family when necessary, and found new friends in fighting back. DPD eventually won the streets, but they lost the image of social peace. Before midnight, the media was already teeming with images of cops gassing families and kids. Police immediately called for a press conference the following morning to explain and defend their actions. The family and others have remained courageous and for their part have refused to be divided, now publicly calling for an anti-police demo every month on the anniversary of Chuy’s death. The family has refused to make demands of the police department, citing a complete lack of trust in the institution. This morning Chuy’s sister Eveline Huerta told the media, “Windows can be fixed, but my brother can never be returned to us.”
It remains unclear what will come next or how our own crews of anarchists and ne’er-do-wells will best engage. How do we best connect with the many people we met earlier in the year in the large demos surrounding the Trayvon Martin verdict, an equally angry subset of Durham residents? How do we make this not just about Chuy’s murder but about police in general, and in the process respect the family without routing every decision through them? What other tactics and formats can we use? How can we continue to spread new unrest without sustaining the probably unnecessary arrests of last night? How do we communicate with others in between these moments of conflict?
Somos malos, queremos ser peores. We are bad, we want to be worse.
-some Bull City insurgents
Report Back on November 22nd march: http://anarchistnews.org/content/reflections-march-chuey-huerta-november-2013