I went to the Trump rally; this is what happened.

Al Lavallee, Reporter

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Phoenix, Arizona.

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017.

6:45 PM.

   My father and I drive into the city as the sun begins to set, toward the Phoenix Convention Center, where the President is about to deliver a speech. All day, hundreds of people have been gathering around the building on opposites sides of the street, desperately trying to make their voices heard, to raise their signs higher and higher so that they might be more easily seen.

Later tonight, far later, half of those people will run from the place as police officers in riot gear, several people deep, slowly proceed down the street. Later tonight, men and women with bandanas over their mouths will run to help people who struggle to see, to breathe, and will whisk them away to safety. Later tonight, to cries of ‘peaceful protest, peaceful protest’, people will be shot at by the people supposed to protect them, journalists will be struck with tear gas and pepper bombs, people in bandanas and all-black will pick up the pepper bombs meant for them and throw them back over the other side only to be fired at again, and again, and again.

Later tonight, helicopters will circle around the Center, ordering the crowds to disperse, floodlights lancing through the trees and between the buildings to land on people bent double and broken-down and beaten back and bitter, while others still saunter slowly, smugly forward, skirting past the people only just now catching their breath, and they will celebrate their little victories in the bruised looks in the eyes of every protester they see.

Later tonight, before, during, and long after the President has preached about love, there will be hate.

But now, we drive, and, as the sky darkens, we listen to the speech on the radio, watching the steady trickle of people coming in and out with signs and shirts and sayings turn into a stream, and then a torrent. There are all manner of people people all along the sidewalk offering enough bottled water and granola bars to feed an army, and selling enough pins and shirts to clothe them. Just outside, as we come to find out, the streets are suffocated with people — all entirely of one mind, as any counter-protesters all entered the building almost two hours ago. Anyone else has been barred from coming in for the rest of the night, and for good reason, too: The only thing between those doors and a seething mass of hundreds of protesters is a flimsy metal barricade. It is clear to my father and I as we join the crowd that if any of them – any of us – wanted to break it down, there would be no stopping us. Other people mutter the same thing.

But it is at the barricade that people stand, chants stopping and starting and stopping again, shouting and staring down the small cluster of police officers across the street. There is a single unoccupied ambulance, there, and a couple slightly more durable plastic barricades hastily assembled around it, forming another wall where what has to be more than twenty discarded water bottles rest. We can see more in the ambulance. The police must have been there all day, as well. The surprising thing is how unconcerned they must be, to number only five or six in all, standing in silence, daring us to move aside the barricades. But the chanting goes on, and there is a strange peace within the crowd. There are people from every conceivable – and inconceivable – walk of life standing together, all united under the same cause, crying for justice. It would be comforting to be so unified, if we forgot what we were unified for.

After we settle into the rhythm of the crowd, I take better stock of my surroundings and realize that people have taken to getting as high up as they can. One person sits on the roof of a bus stop — the unofficial leader of the event, if the megaphone is any indication. The rainbow tie-dyed shirt he wears is in stark contrast to the chants that he leads. There are also people perched on top of newspaper vending machines, and cement walls, and signs, and I, just barely able to see, make my way toward the former-most, where a single spot remains, just small enough for me. The machine comes up to my shoulder, so I nearly slip right off as I try to get up, but I take a hand from one of the people already up there and manage to stand with my dignity still mostly intact. It’s worth it: the view makes a world of a difference.

The chants go on for a while, bubbling up and dying down here and there all the time but never really stopping completely. It seems like it could go on like this all night, protesters shouting incessantly for impeachment as the police placidly switch shifts with one another, unempathetic. But after long enough, the man with the megaphone starts to convince the crowd to move down the street to the capitol building. For a while, he’s hard to hear over the noise, but people eventually catch on and start drifting down the sidewalk with him.

It takes me a while to scramble down from my position on the vending machine and join the congregation, marching steadily down the sidewalk by unspoken agreement. I’m offered another water bottle or two on the way, and enough granola bars to last me the night. Just as I go to accept one, I notice that people are coming in the opposite direction, and quickly— faster and faster, and with more urgency, pushing and shoving others aside in their scramble to get away. I can’t see over the crowd, and strain to stand on tip-toe tall enough to know what the problem is. Somehow, I feel like I already know. But I ask anyway, insensibly, to the open air, far too quiet for anyone to hear. And then I see the smoke, highlighter-green and someone, in the same insensate way, shouts the answer:

Tear gas.

They will say later that there was a warning, a call to disperse.

No one heard one.

As I wade forward through the crowd, toward the source of the smoke, the stinging begins right away, and I understand that the name is all too accurate. For lack of anything better to use, I pull my shirt up over my nose, envying those who had thought to wear bandanas or even the occasional gas mask. While most are able to keep clear of the gas, or simply keep their faces appropriately covered so that they can stick around, others are not so lucky. I watch them run by, retching, into the waiting arms of street medics. They’re masked, armed to the teeth with all sorts of first aid, water close at hand and quickly and deftly used. The ease with which they do all this is unnerving. They were ready for this.

They’d have to be, when those dearly-needed water bottles start sailing over the street in high arcs, landing right at the feet of police, who return with rubber bullets and little explosives that go out like fizzing fireworks near our own. A journalist is struck with one; I watch it happen now, and I’ll see it again later tonight on the news. The police have quadrupled in size now, numbering in the twenties or perhaps even the thirties, all regularly setting off smoke bombs, pepper bombs, tear gas. The smoke covers everything now. As another tear gas canister is thrown onto our side of the street, over the barricades that frame the sidewalk, someone runs forward, picks it up with one hand, and sends it right back.

And then the flashbangs go off. First one, and then another, and then another, all within the span of a couple minutes. And then the police, almost fifty in number now, come together in a single mass, and they tear aside the barricades, and they converge upon the protesters.

If we failed to hear the call to disperse the first time, we do not make the same mistake now. Their presence alone, suddenly much too close, is enough. But there is a helicopter too, hovering high above the crowd, ordering the same thing and threatening arrest if we should linger too long.

So we leave. We try to find a safe path back down the street, but the smoke has covered so much of the area that no matter how often we backtrack we still find ourselves having to run through the smoke. At one point, tear gas explodes all around us, and my father crumples over. I only notice when I turn to look and watch a medic materializing from the yellow-green haze, pulling him to safety – luckily in the direction we were already going – and offering him water. He waves it away, spluttering, and hurriedly continues on with me, and we both finally stop coughing as we get out onto the main road.

A little downtrodden, we walk back down the street to where we parked, quiet and contemplative. The protesters are almost entirely cleared out now, obviously having made the same decision we did: It would do no good for anybody if we were to stay for any longer. In their place, though, come people in strangely sharp dress, all in collared shirts and slacks and dress shoes, the occasional dress or skirt. And all with the same, self-satisfied looks on their faces. I can’t imagine why anybody would be coming here, now, after everything that’s already happened, but then I see them stop to sneer at the protesters walking by, to snap something quick and cruel and take off laughing. I see the hats they wear, and I see the flags they wave: some – American, some Confederate – and I see the signs that they hold.

They’re very different from the ones I saw earlier tonight.

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “I went to the Trump rally; this is what happened.”

  1. Jade Bowser on September 25th, 2017 8:00 am

    The police had no right to shoot the tear gas, for the protesters were not attacking them or barging in, it was a peaceful protest. The police are made for protecting people of the united states – not attacking them! Many people believe Trump is an amazing man, that is not true, and the police, in my opinion, are terrible at doing their job if they are attacking people they’re suppose to protect! I was wondering if you could make an article about Trump and the NFL, and him using the “racist card.” For he wanted every black man in the NFL to kneel when they did the National Anthem, and if they did not kneel for the flag – they were to be fired. And I think that is pretty messed up.

    [Reply]

    Al Lavallee Reply:

    Ask as ye shall receive, Jade! The article should be posted shortly.
    Thank you for the suggestion! :^)

    [Reply]

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