“We Found Strength in Each Other”: Three Workers Tell Their Stories from Orlando

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Protesters in Orlando, Florida, May 30th

Editor’s note: Three workers from Orlando, Florida submitted the following accounts to the Red Phoenix about their experiences facing unprovoked aggression from the militarized police in the city over the past few days. Find them unfiltered below. For more, please follow the Orlando Workers League on Facebook and Twitter. 

From Delilah:

When we arrived to the demonstration the police station (which is a brand new huge building located right in a low-income, primarily black and brown community) was surrounded on two sides with protesters. All of the demonstrators were standing outside of a barricade chanting and holding signs. Inside the barricade were at least 40 cops, all dressed in riot gear and with riot shields at the ready. Shortly after we arrived, another large group marched up Orange Blossom Trail, a large main road, and joined the rest of the demonstrators while we all cheered. As the event went on, many of the protesters tried to engage with the officers directly, pleading with them to stand with them against police brutality. The cops did not engage back and just stood silently. Eventually protesters began playing music and dancing. Tracks included the Boosie Badazz classic “Fuck the Police”, which protesters began singing toward the cops.

“The protesters quickly locked arms to form a line to defend their position. The line stretched across both sides of the 408 toll road and was composed of all races and genders of people.”

Eventually, the protesters began moving. The crowd of 300-400 people began marching down Orange BlossomTrail toward one of Orlando’s many toll roads that serves as a major artery for transit in the city. We all walked past the cop cars and officers blocking the road with our hands up. As we approached the intersection, many of the protesters began running toward the on ramp. The police tried to cut the protesters off, but we got ahead of them. Bicycle cops went zooming past protesters and cars also tried to pass us, but many protester physically blocked the vehicles with their bodies. One officer in a vehicle drove so close to me almost as to hit me. Another got out of his vehicle to scream at a black male protester that if he didn’t move he was going to jail. Even though they tried to stop us, it was already too late as enough protesters made it up the ramp to form a line. The protesters quickly locked arms to form a line to defend their position. The line stretched across both sides of the 408 toll road and was composed of all races and genders of people. Another line quickly formed in front of that one to consolidate the position.

At one point, cops maced protesters on one side of the highway, sending them running to the center. It was at this point that myself and another comrade stepped in to provide medic assistance, spraying protesters faces with water and other soothing solutions to try to stop the burning. Shortly after we finished providing care, we turned around to watch bike cops using their bikes as shields as they continued to encroach on us, eventually breaking up the line. They move their bikes like a Roman army. Eventually, the largest group of protesters had converged on a group of cops on one side of the highway. Another group of cops behind them quietly put on their gas masks. They were giving orders over a loudspeaker, but they were difficult to make out over the noise.

Myself and my comrades noticed the cops putting on gas masks behind most protesters and started yelling out warnings. As people turned around and saw the cops behind them with gas masks on, the cops on their otherside put on their masks. We continued to yell out warnings that tear gas was imminent. Myself and my comrade moved to the sidelines at this point to be able to provide care for those might have gotten caught in the gas as it was deployed. At this point we did notice one of the cops pointing directly at us, possibly to target us, but there was no way to confirm.

“It was maybe two minutes after this that the tear gas canisters flew. Protesters ran down the sloping hill to escape the gas, many tripping and getting caught in the fumes. As protesters ran, the cops continued to fire canisters down the hill, sending a sparking canister sliding fast on the slick grass close enough to burn many of the protesters.”

The cops announced a few more things over the loudspeaker while one empty water bottle went flying through the air in the general direction of the cops striking no one on its way down. It was maybe two minutes after this that the tear gas canisters flew. Protesters ran down the sloping hill to escape the gas, many tripping and getting caught in the fumes. As protesters ran, the cops continued to fire canisters down the hill, sending a sparking canister sliding fast on the slick grass close enough to burn many of the protesters. As we continued to retreat, the cops continued shooting the tear gas. Even as protester made it to the street below the highway, canisters continued landing on the pavement.

Shortly after this, it started to rain heavily. Most of the protesters got separated into smaller groups, but most reconvened at the police station. However, the cops blocked us from even taking to the street outside the station at that point, and many of the demonstrators took refuge under the roof of a 7-eleven gas station across the street from the station. While we were hiding out from the rain, the cops drove multiple large SUVS into the parking lot and very close to the protesters. In response, some threw bottles and rocks at the cop cars hitting the sides and windshields but causing no damage. As the cops continued to drive through the lot, the protesters retreated down a side street and reformed downtown.

The second night of protests started at Lake Eola, a large park in the middle of an upscale downtown residential area. We were a bit late and had to catch up to protesters, and ended up joining them in a march down Orange Avenue, the main strip of the downtown Orlando area. The march was massive, and echoes of “Black Lives Matter” and George Floyd’s name bounced off the tall buildings. Protesters continued the march back to the Orlando Police Department building and again made appeals to police. At one point, protesters took to their knees. At this point, Orange County Sheriff John Mina and Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon both took a knee alongside protesters long enough to get a photo snapped. However, myself and some other comrades continued to chant “quit your jobs” at the cops, as the only way for them to truly show solidarity would be to give up on the racist police forces they work for.

“In any case, multiple protesters were maced, including a young man who was so covered in it that his sign and his whole jacket was covered. He could barely breathe.”

Eventually, the protest moved again, mirroring the actions from the day before. As the march approached the 408 toll road again, it was clear the cops had it blocked off. Bike cops and vehicles blocked every ramp. Eventually the protesters confronted police blocking one of the ramps and pled with them again to stand with us and allow our march to pass. Some of the cops smirked at protesters. The group then split, with some of the marchers continuing on down a side street and others staying behind to continue to confront the cops valiantly protecting a toll road. I was part of the group that stayed behind. At one point, bottles of water in various states of being filled were thrown at the cops, with only one actually striking an officer on their helmeted head. It’s unclear if this happened before or after protesters in the crowd were maced. Some demonstrators reported it was before, others that it was after. In any case, multiple protesters were maced, including a young man who was so covered in it that his sign and his whole jacket was covered. He could barely breathe. I treated him and took him to the side to sit down. In the process, I also became contaminated and my entire arm was covered with mace and began to burn. Another medic treated me with baking soda, which helped temporarily, but my arm continued to burn well into the night.

Once this altercation occurred, the protesters in this group moved back to the police station and yelled at the cops stationed there for a few more moments. During this day’s demonstrations, they had nearly doubled the number of cops in the vicinity, including calling on mutual aid agreements with neighboring Osceola county, and also had cops in military fatigues on the roof of the police station peering at us through binoculars.

“We marched peacefully down a street with very rundown houses and housing projects (this is what they put an expensive new multi-story police station next to) . The people living in these homes came out and most of them cheered us on.”

The protests eventually moved again down Church street back toward downtown. Our group was attempting to converge with the other. We marched peacefully down a street with very rundown houses and housing projects (this is what they put an expensive new multi-story police station next to) . The people living in these homes came out and most of them cheered us on. We also passed a truck for sanitation workers, who expressed their solidarity with our action.

Eventually we all converged again downtown in a cacophony of both rage and joy. Rage at the injustice, and joy at our unity in our fight for eachother and our community. People in their cars honked to show support and others played loud music, including the NWA’s “Fuck the Police”. Others parked in the street as we walked by them and got on top of their cars to dance and cheer. Bike cops followed the pack.

I let the crowd pass me to meet up with my comrades from whom I had become separated. At this point we lost the protest and with the burning in my arm, we searched for the crowd for a bit but then eventually decided to go home so I could decontaminate myself. We later heard from our comrades that protesters were kettled onto I-4, another major artery through Orlando, and indiscriminately shot with tear gas and rubber bullets.

“Do not believe the media telling you protestors are getting aggressive and that’s why police are using this violence. They had masks and riot gear on from the very start. They were ready and they had goals and they were pointing us out like targets not to mention no badge numbers or visible ID on them.”

Last night in downtown Orlando as we peacefully protested and made our way to shut down the heart of the City I-4 the police first cut our group in half on the ramp using rubber bullets on anyone trying to continue with us up the ramp. Once we got on the highway amidst all the cars with windows open the police came up behind us and began throwing tear gas canisters at us forcing us into traffic and harming unarmed folks and civilians in their cars. They gassed almost everyone and continued blocking us into traffic to where we had to jump off sides of the highway to get out because cop cars came thru the traffic. This was not the first time they came at us with sprays and gasses. Earlier in the daylight while the cops blocked off the 408 they pepper sprayed a bunch of people myself and my friend included in the face for someone in the very back of the crowd throwing an empty water bottle. Almost everyone they sprayed was women who were standing up front peacefully protesting. I’m not even mad at the person who threw the water because water should never justify mace to the face. Throughout the night they continued to follow us through the city as we attempted to meet up with our other group. Again they maced some innocent girl for no reason as we were walking and tried blocking off almost every exit we had. I want to thank all the street medics who have been out because y’all are truly a god send. Do not believe the media telling you protestors are getting aggressive and that’s why police are using this violence. They had masks and riot gear on from the very start. They were ready and they had goals and they were pointing us out like targets not to mention no badge numbers or visible ID on them. Please stay safe in this time everyone but stay radical these kkkops are not on your side. BLACK LIVES FUCKING MATTER!!!!!

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Anonymous:

I saw protestors pick up trash in the street while they marched. I saw them pick up scooters that had been knocked down (not sure who knocked them down). I saw people crying tears of anguish. I also saw white people (non protestors) angrily yelling out of their cars at protestors. I saw police protect the 408 and I-4 fiercely, more than they protected protestors.

Tito:

“As I walked through the crowd of people there was a weird sense of two seemingly contradictory emotions, anger and hope.”

Although I was late to the event I met with some comrades who where in front of city hall on saturday. As I walked through the crowd of people there was a weird sense of two seemingly contradictory emotions, anger and hope. I stood on the steps with my comrades, between the line of OPD officers and the crowd, as the community voiced there thoughts and shared their frustrations. After about 45 mins we marched down church street to the OPD headquarters off of Orange blossom trail wherein, after letting a few cars pass, we blocked the whole street. I was witness to an officer drive up to one of the protesters and push him with his patrol vehicle. Thankfully no one was injured, but in that a I felt a message was sent that they weren’t playing games. I stood along side members of the community as they stood in front of the police demanding accountability and action. I left early but some of my comrades stayed and joined the group in the march to 408. From what I was told the police fired tear gas and pepper spray without warning. Water bottles were thrown as a response.

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On day two, more people came to join in the protests. We joined in with the march on orange Ave and marched to the OPD headquarters. On my way I saw a woman having a hard time pulling a cart full of water bottles that she was handing out as well as a few gallons of milk just in case. When we arrived it was clear at this point that more people indeed had joined in. After about 10 mins in everyone took a knee and that’s where that viral photo came out of. After the PR stunt, we continued our march down OBT towards 408. Both ramps were blocked by bicycle cops and a few attempts were made to get on the 408 which is where OPD first used mace. At this point two groups separated and I continued down Carter st towards paramore ave. Me and another protester blocked the traffic from getting through on Westmoreland ave as the crowd had turned left to head back towards downtown.

“As the righteous mob marched through the local community we were embraced with cheers, fists up, children laughing and waving and a sense of solidarity.”

As the righteous mob marched through the local community we were embraced with cheers, fists up, children laughing and waving and a sense of solidarity. We took a right on south street towards downtown when we got news of OPD spraying mace at peaceful protesters that had gotten separated. A few of our comrades had stayed with that group so we directed them to where we were at after they got away from the chaos of 408. We continued down to orange Avenue and took a left towards the orange county courthouse. As we marched down Orange Avenue more regular pedestrians raised there fists in solidarity or had there cellphones out recording our historic march. After a few twists and turns a few groups formed and splintered off from each other. Somehow we ended up going towards the i4 on ramps. We took a side street that had a tractor trailer where I was able to climb up on to get a view. Me and a comrade were and high enough to see where protesters were making an attempt to get onto i4. We watched as the line of police made themselves into barricades. The protesters held a line until the last second when I first saw the police shoot tear gas into the crowd. Water bottles and fireworks were thrown in retaliation but it didnt take long for the crowd to disperse. I ran back up the side street towards the ironically named “vanguard” nightclub when I got a call from one of my comrades that he made it out but wasn’t feeling well. I met up him in front of the closed nightclub and made sure his ride came. I continued back southbound on orange ave, towards where I parked my vehicle.

“We were tired and some of us were in pain, but we found strength in each other. That to me was the real lesson, realizing the true power of solidarity. It really is a beautiful thing.”

Although people had just gotten tear gassed and pepper sprayed they continued the chance with a resolve even stronger than before. We were tired and some of us were in pain, but we found strength in each other. That to me was the real lesson, realizing the true power of solidarity. It really is a beautiful thing. I made it back to my vehicle and started calling everyone that I knew who was out there and confirm they were out. With the exception of two I was able to immediately confirm everyone’s whereabouts. I left downtown and took the side streets which I dont remember to obt. As I was headed home I was at the light of obt and colonial drive, when I saw a small caravan consisting of one paddywaggon with multiple patrol escorts, headed back towards downtown. I immediately knew what was up. I called some comrades from different orgs and let them know to put the word out of what I had just seen and posted it on fb. I like to think that I helped keep people out of jail. Even with everything that had happened I still know more needs to be done. But I do have a sense of optimism. As a father of Puerto Rican decent and Puerto Rican kids, theres an extra sense of duty to continue to fight for them. At the end of the day that’s what we all want is a better world.



Categories: Interview, U.S. News

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