Saturday, August 19, 2017

CHARLOTTESVILLE & THE EERIE CALM OF AFTERMATH, A GUEST POST BY GOOCH

We here at the Daily Dirt Diaspora are pleased to be able to bring you some first-hand reportage from Charlottesville by our old pal Gooch, who just happens to live there. He's a fine writer, and I hope to be sharing more of his work with y'all very soon. - Jerky 

I’ve lived in Charlottesville since last June, and I heard about the debate over the statue of Robert E. Lee in Emancipation–née Lee–Park, the first week I was here. My divided thoughts about why one statue of a man who fought to protect the interests of slave owners needs to be removed from a town that sports a large array of monuments paying tribute to the wealthy, slave-owning elite of America’s past–while the others get a pass–have kept me from getting involved. Also, I’m on parole until 2019, and I don’t want to spend the next two years back in prison for being a tourist at somebody else’s cause, so I wasn’t there last Saturday.

But, on Sunday, I went to the downtown mall, where most of the violence on the 12th took place. Not to get involved, or to gawk, but for Audrey Hepburn. I’ve never seen Roman Holiday, and Caroline and I were looking forward to the screening they had planned for last Sunday afternoon at The Paramount. However, because of the rally, the protest, the counter protest, the fights, the civil unrest, and the terrorism, it was cancelled. So, I ended up doing a little gawking.

Just getting to the downtown mall where the theatre is was a bit of a bitch. We wanted to use a different parking garage than usual, so we turned to Google for help getting there, but the GPS on my phone had little red lines all over the streets indicating where things were blocked off. We ended up going to the garage we normally use, but only because the little maze they had created by shutting down various streets led us to it. On the way, we saw a variety of police vehicles, a boxy van-truck with a satellite mounted to the top, and a warlike Humvee with “State Police” stenciled above the grill.

We wanted to park on the top level so we could see what was happening before heading down, but had to go one level lower because, according to a laminated printout on a traffic cone, the roof had been reserved for “police parking.” It didn’t say we couldn’t go up there though, so after we parked, we walked up to have a look. Outside the garage entrance, there was a big, white, windowless bus with no markings except the letters D.O.C. stenciled on the roof, and a light blue school bus with tinted windows. The white one was a Department of Corrections prison transport bus. They are used to move prisoners from one facility to another and It must have been on there in case there was an incident that required them to haul off a lot of people. I think the blue one was for the riot police.

When we got to the mall, the first thing I saw was a guy on top of a building with a tripod-mounted rifle that was pointed at the area in front of City Hall; and a lot of cops. State and city police were milling around in neon vests. There were also several of them leaned up against the wall of the building across the street from City Hall, the one the guy with the rifle was on top of. After a minute, I realized it was because it was one of the only spots around that had shade. It’s been hot as shit here all summer, and Kevlar probably doesn’t breathe very well.

We got past the crowd outside of City Hall and I saw a guy I know from school. He looked miserable. Apparently, Nick had nearly been hit by the car that James Fields drove through the crowd of protesters, he was upset and didn’t look well. I’ve never seen this guy not be in a good mood. I enrolled in the community college here a month after getting out of prison, and he was the first person there that I talked to for more than 2 minutes. We don’t hang out outside of classes, but he’s a good guy, with a good attitude and a nice beard, and even though he is smart enough to know how enormously fucked America’s political landscape is, he devotes a lot of time to trying to change things. Nick gives good hugs, he likes Stanley Kubrick, and is almost always working on something that is due in 6 or 7 minutes. It was weird seeing him in such rough shape.

We’d thought the people grouped in front of City Hall chanting “Shame!” were protesting the city’s fuckups from the day before, or maybe they were releasing some people from jail or transferring them elsewhere (which, in hindsight, makes no sense since City Hall isn’t a jail) but Nick said that Kessler and Spencer were giving a press conference. Spencer wasn’t there, but there was no way to tell that from where we were. Aside from him not being perched very high up, and not being able to hear anything he said over the shouting, there were a lot of cell phones being held up in the air. If it hadn’t been for Nick, we wouldn’t have even known somebody was up there talking until people uploaded the videos from those phones to Facebook. When Kessler left, so did the crowd and off went Nick.

There is a large pavilion at the end of the mall that is set up for live, outdoor events. It has a large roof covering the area in front of the stage, and since it was the only large area of shade around, that is where the riot police were hanging out. Maybe 50 cops in black gear with shields and masks were milling around while a few people sat on the grass just outside of it snapping pictures. On another patch of grass there was a guy in a police vest and shorts, with a big console that controlled a drone somewhere overhead.

Further down the mall, it was less tense. Roman Holiday had been cancelled, and The Paramount was closed because of the events of the day before. Not everything was closed. The ice cream and gelato shop were still open and doing business, though they didn’t look as busy as they usually are on a weekend afternoon. Several restaurants were open, and so was the CVS, but only from one side. The back doors were locked so you couldn’t go in one side and out the other. The printout on their door said it was “for security reasons.” A little further down, a street was blocked off and was being lined with flowers in memorial of Heather Heyer.

Once, a line of cops in those neon vests came walking by, and a minute later, we heard applause. I think they were clapping because now, the day after the tragedy, there was a strong police presence ready to stop violence. Of course, by Sunday, all of the guys that showed up with guns, tiki torches, and riot shields were gone, so it wasn’t likely that there would be a need for much intervention. Although I later found out that they probably kept Kessler from getting beat up as he left City Hall. Good job guys. In the classic style of authority everywhere, they had fucked up and let people get hurt, and after widespread criticism of their failure to act, they were overcompensating with a big, aggressive display, a show of force that made nobody feel any better about what had happened the day before, but made them appear responsible. That applause was probably ironic.

Our backup plan was to go to a different movie at another theatre in the mall that was still open, but our timing was bad, we’d spent too much time walking around and looking at the weirdness. So, while trying to make a plan for the rest of the afternoon, we sat down against a wall and people-watched. It’s a good place to do that. People come there to walk their dogs and eat outside at the restaurants. There are usually street performers playing music, and the panhandlers are much less aggressive than you see in a lot of places. There is good food, there are great drag shows, and during the summer there is free live music on Fridays at the pavilion. It doesn’t really strike one as a hotbed of racial tension–somewhere where ideologies are so opposed that violence is always about to spill over. There are people of all colors and orientations there at any given time, and aside from a fat, drunk, shirtless man that was trying to fight somebody by the cigar shop while Caroline and I were eavesdropping on a Ween show from the patio of the Himalayan restaurant, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone even get their feelings hurt at the mall.

So, don’t draw too many conclusions about Charlottesville. This isn’t some Mississippi Burning shit, this was a bunch of assholes that had to buy their torches at Lowes and travel to get here. And, now that it’s over, they're denying that it's them in the pictures, and crying, literally crying, about how scared they are, on social media. Everyone wants to strut around and act scary until they might get hurt or do some time.

For fuck’s sake...

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