On One Hand

October 31, 2004


Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 1:56 am

After going to a friend’s party the night before Halloween, three of us came back to Boulder to see if there were any better parties going on. As it turns out, there was a party in just about every other house, with drunken costumed young people running back and forth between houses like some citywide carnival. We found an interesting party and got a small group together.

As the five of us were going back to the car, we saw a crowd gathering up the street from where we were. We wandered in that direction and saw a bunch of cops and more crowds. An arrest had taken place. Off in another direction, some guys were lighting a chair on fire in the street. We laughed and lingered around, as if a burning chair was some sort of big deal. A good Samaratin started to stamp the fire out, and as he did, a cop car pulled up and arrested him. Everyone started laughing again, at the stupidity of the cops and in sympathy with the guy who got arrested trying to put out a fire. A few guys started booing and throwing more stuff on the fire after the cops left.

A guy dressed as Jesus or Moses or some bearded biblical figure stood behind the fire and raised his arms, and everybody laughed. We laughed at the fact that the news was probably going to make a big deal about this even though the small fire in the street was a non-event. Two of the girls in the group were tired and scared of more mischief, so we got back in the car and started to drive off. Everyone except for the two scared girls was sober, so driving was safe.

We dropped the girls off at home, as they requested, and started to drive away. We got to what can be considered the downtown area of the student-dominated part of Boulder, right off the edge of campus, known as The Hill. A crowd was gathering so we parked the car up the street and got out to walk around and see what was going on. As we approached the event, we could see a few guys start kicking newspaper stands around and yelling things at the cops. Chris had his digital camera and was taking pictures, running up close to the action and then coming back to Shidiah and I. Shidiah and I wanted to get out of there, but we couldn’t leave Chris behind, so we waited at the corner at what we thought was a safe distance.

We turned around and found a few cops behind us with nightsticks and riot gear. They were casually standing at the corner right across from us, not seeming to be very involved in the situation. A few bottles flew in their direction and one crashed on the sidewalk within fifteen feet of Shidiah and I. We called for Chris and decided to go back to the car, but then the cops fanned out and blocked us from going the direction of the car. The cops looked more intimidating than the crowd, so we went the only way we could, which was toward the mob.

But as we were going down the street, things started heating up. The group of about ten guys was slowly growing, and getting more passionate. They had gotten the paper out of a newspaper stand and started a small fire. A car had been caught between the mob and the cops and was trying to make its way out of the area, and a group of guys started throwing the newspaper stands at it and beating up the car with sticks. Then some guys lit a trash can on fire and pilied the newspaper stands on top of the trash can, hoping it would all burn, then kicked the stack over when it didn’t. Another group was standing back in the direction we had come from, chanting fuck the cops! fuck the cops! and throwing bottles. Shidiah was not a fast runner so she and I picked up our pace, working our way out of the area while Chris was having a good time with the camera. Rioters pushed newspaper pages into a small tree and lit the tree on fire. The cops raised their pellet guns and started shooting at those who confronted them. Chris finally gave up on taking pictures and joined the crowd standing farther back on the side of the street, slowly moving down the street to stay ahead of the police barricade. There were three or four hundred people in the crowd we were in. We were all scared of the pellet guns, but not so much afraid of the rioters. People were yelling “they’re getting awfully close!” “The cops are almost here, we don’t want to get tear gassed.” “Dude please lets get out of here!” Then everyone was running. I didn’t want to leave Shidiah so fell toward the back of the group with her, and fleeing people were flowing around us like leaves caught up in a stream. My heart was racing. I was scared, but it was exciting – I had never seen anything like this before. We were ducking behind cars, crouching as we ran because we didn’t know when the cops were going to open up. Guys were putting their girlfriends behind cars to protect them. I went with the girls. We kept running down the street and finally got to a place where we could run around the corner.

We stopped running once we were around the corner because we assumed the action would work its way down the street and pass us by. But the riot only fanned out and started filling more streets. Since the large group had split three ways, there were now only sixty or so people where we were. Guys were still yelling at the cops and confronting them, and people were coming into the area from other parts of the city, chanting fuck the police! We heard a few explosions, and only found out later that they were tear gas canisters, not bombs. People pulled their shirts over their mouths and noses as if it could protect them from the tear gas, which gave the air an oniony smell and burned a little. I saw a journalist in the crowd, protected with a gas mask and full-body armor, taking photographs with an armored camera. Police officers were using stun guns on the people who got close enough to them to reach. The cops turned the corner and pointed their guns at us. We started running again. Then there were cops ahead of us. We turned another corner into an alley. We wanted to make our way back down the alley in the general direction where our car was parked, but people were coming down the alley saying “don’t go that way! There are cops up there!” We turned another direction and people warned us that there were cops there too. A few guys were telling us all to stop running because it provokes the cops to shoot. It reminded me of what they told us in Boy Scouts about not running from bears because then they’ll chase you down. The police were supposedly there to protect everyone, but we were more afraid of the police than anyone else.

We finally made our way back to the street where the car was parked, running with our hands in the air to show we were not confrontational. But a few guys were standing between us and the car and cussing at another group of police, and we wanted to be careful not to provoke them, either, because many cars had already been smashed. While we were running the cops started shooting pellets. I was the farthest behind, and didn’t know if I was going to be hit. I ducked behind a car until the police stopped shooting. They probably weren’t shooting right at me anyway, but I didn’t know that at the time. I probably only imagined feeling rubber bullets whizz by inches from my body. The police stopped shooting, but still had their guns raised at the group of guys while the guys jeered back. My friends and I got to the car and waited for the standoff to pass, but nothing passed. Deciding that the police probably weren’t going to shoot at a car, we peeled out and made our way away from there, driving betweent the cops and the crowd. My heart was pounding. I was terrified. But I was laughing, too.

We got caught in another skirmish, but felt safer from inside the car. A rioter hit the car but only with his hand. A rubber bullet or pellet or paint ball or whatever the cops were shooting hit the car, but I could never figure out where because it didn’t leave an obvious mark. It sounded like it hit a window. While we were driving off, we saw what had happened to others: an SUV was completely destroyed and beside it was another vehicle that had been completely flipped over. People were shouting about police cars being overturned as well, but I don’t know if those rumors were true. People were limping away, saying that they had been hit by pellets, and some had been beaten up. We saw police cars from the city of Boulder, the county, the campus police, and several surrounding cities, called in to reinforce the original riot officers. While we drove away, I was feeling sad that this whole thing happened. Every trash can, flower pot, street sign, or newspaper stand was ripped down or overturned. Cars were banged up and tires were slashed. In the past, riots have started civil rights movements or shown the power of all sorts of disenfranchised minority groups. The American Revolution started with a riot, as did the gay rights movement. Riots have called attention to hidden issues and are the most democratic form of violence, maybe not to be condoned but still very powerful. But this riot didn’t happen for any good reason. It was for fun, because students were pissed off about parties being broken up, and served only the egos and vanity of the participants. But I’ll have a great story to remember. My throat is still burning from the tear gas. I was in a real riot.

I think I realized from this that being in a crowd watching a riot is just important to the existence of the riot as the rioters. The crowd feeds the riot, by giving the rioters attention and egging them on, and as rioters fall from bullets or tear gas fresh new bodies leave the sidelines and go into the action to take the places of the fallen. I also realized how democratic riots really are. If someone started knocking over trash cans and smashing cars on any Sunday morning, they would not get very far before being tackled. Because the event escalated slowly, most people in the crowd were more excited than anything else. Here were hundreds of people divided about the events of the evening: some were having fun, supporting it, cheering the rioters and booing the cops, others were scared, maybe enjoying the rush but wanting to get out of the area. A few others were freaking out about their property being damaged or opposed to all the violence. Whenever the numbers of scared people overcame the numbers of the angry and excited, the crowd split up and fled. But the biggest thrill of the evening was the most terrifying part: running away from the cops in some huge cinematic mass stampede down the street. It was surreal, like some gigantic game of lazer tag, and even those who wanted nothing to do with it felt like it was us versus the cops. You saw the uniformed officers and felt safe and scared at the same time. It was crazy.


  1. G’lord. I’m glad you’re okay.

    Comment by chocolatebark — October 31, 2004 @ 2:21 pm | Reply

    • Considering how many people were there, it probably wasn’t that dangerous. Lots of people were tear gassed but only small percentages of the crowds were actually being shot or tasered.

      Comment by ononehand — October 31, 2004 @ 10:01 pm | Reply

  2. Wow, I hadn’t heard about it. I heard about the problems in Madison, Wisconsin, but not Boulder. What a crazy town.

    Comment by tempur_tempur — November 1, 2004 @ 5:19 pm | Reply

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