Column: A Pagan’s Account of Street Medicine at Dallas BLM Protests

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Editor’s note: Today’s offering comes from TWH correspondent Azure West, who, in addition to her many roles as a “People Magician” in the Pagan community, also recently attended the George Floyd protests in the Dallas area to serve as a street medic. This is her account of participating in those actions.


My friends and family acted like I was heading into a war zone when I told them I was going to “the front lines” of the demonstrations here in Dallas. I set out with one goal: to assist the street medics in whatever capacity I could.

“Why does a peaceful protest need medics?” my father scoffed. I informed him that my friends had been gassed, shot with projectiles, and maced, among other things, but it fell on deaf ears.  

Regardless of choosing a side, people were getting hurt, and I made it my mission to get involved. The accounts below are what helped propel me forward on this path.

Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, June 1, 2020 [Kevin Graham, Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0]

In the first weekend of protests, Austin, Texas, saw its own glimpses of horror. A friend and camp-mate of mine was injured by police while wearing a firefighter shirt marked with red crosses and using their wrists to make a hand signal of a cross. It didn’t matter; they were shot from less than three feet away, the projectile blowing into their hand while they were were administering care to a young Black man named Justin Howell.

A “less lethal” round collided into the back of Howell’s head, sending him into convulsions; the wound bled profusely. He lived, but the injury put him into critical condition. My friend’s hand injury will require surgery. 

At the same event, a pregnant woman was hit in the back and abdomen while screaming, “My baby! My baby!”  Another man also took a shot to his face, sending bits of his teeth spraying out of his bleeding mouth. None of the people mentioned above were doing anything but exercising their right to protest and expressing their desire for change.

Back home in Dallas, I watched live videos featuring flash bang grenades, helicopters, tear gas and more. A half-dozen of my friends were downtown posting live feeds on Facebook. Then I heard of eyewitness accounts alleging people were being scooped up from the streets by white vans.

On the night of June 1st, 674 kneeling demonstrators were arrested on Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. They were “kettled,” a tactic police use for controlling crowds during demonstrations. Officers move in formation to contain a crowd within a limited space. Sometimes police allow protestors to leave the area through an exit they control, but often they prevent anyone from leaving and then make mass arrests of the protestors.

Protestors on the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge [WFAA, courtesy]

In this case, the Dallas crowd, chanting “I can’t breathe,” was blocked on both sides of the bridge. A SWAT truck, detainee shuttles, and squad cars were lined up on the scene, leaving no way out for the protestors.

Officers in riot gear met the front of the march, launching smoking canisters and firing “less-lethal” rounds of ammunition and flash-bangs, which sent the protestors running. My stomach sank as I watched this on my friend’s live feed. I heard them coughing and gasping for breath, and then the images abruptly stopped.

Local media reported there would be no prosecution for those taken into custody, but the precedent for how the Dallas Police Department would treat protestors had been set.

After that night, I sought out groups of street medics that were gearing up to aid participants throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Protestors I spoke with were concerned that more kettling would occur – and there were other dangers as well. Rubber, pepper, and wooden bullets, along with other chemicals like tear gas and mace, were spotted at a majority of the demonstrations.

Most of the other protests were not as eventful as the incident on the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge. On June 11th, I witnessed a tense and passionate crowd as President Trump arrived at Gateway Church to speak. I saw a flurry of activity when I arrived at the demonstration. There were counter-protestors condemning the anti-racist protestors’ message. Mounted officers towered over the activists and used the mass of the horses to push their lines back.

I paired up with an Iraq War veteran who had trained in field trauma, and we set out through the mass of masked faces with a wagon and cooler full of supplies in tow. We radioed our position to the other medic teams on site and rallied with them on a high, shaded ground that gave us a better view of the landscape.

As a street medic, my participation in the demonstration itself was limited. My objective was to maintain situational awareness so that, should an incident take place, medical care could be administered as efficiently as possible. Our backpacks were full of supplies suitable for anything from a scraped knee to an open wound.

A speaker from the Botham Jean Memorial Committee attended and spoke about their project and the life of Botham Jean. On September 26, 2018, Jean, a 26 year old accountant, was shot in his own apartment by a Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger. The officer was sentenced to ten years in prison. The Botham Jean Boulevard project is being petitioned in hopes of keeping his memory alive in Dallas and abroad. 

The police suited up into riot gear not long after medic teams got there. The voices on the front lines started to chant, “Why do you have riot gear? I don’t see no riot here!” A surge of white demonstrators moved to the front of the chanting throng with the intention of blocking any potential harm that may come to the Black attendees. 

 

Soon after the riot squad was in place, someone spotted a tear gas launcher. The other medic teams retrieved goggles and respirators from their packs. After what seemed like an eternity in the sweltering June heat, it was determined that there would be no incoming gas. We remained on high alert, and we kept our equipment close in case we needed it.

As Trump’s motorcade made its way down the street, passing through the shouting of dozens of people, we felt a brief moment of panic. The officers on horseback started advancing, and over the radio we heard more equine units were headed in. The word “kettling” began to make its way through the crowd. But there was a collective sigh of relief from the street medic teams as we watched the officers on horseback make their way down the street, away from the demonstration. We watched the squad cards dissipate, and protestors sang “hey hey hey, good bye” as they left.

At first there had been a massive police presence, but now there was just enough to direct traffic. The demonstrators marched through the neighborhood once the wall of officers left. My medic partner and I followed behind them until we reached our headquarters, where we declared our mission successful.

One of my friends asked, “When is it going to end?”

My response was simple. “I don’t know.”

It feels as though this will be a marathon, not a sprint. Even so, street medics continue to organize, mobilize, and deploy, with the objective to provide care if it is needed, while hoping fervently that it is not.


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