"Tear gas sucks"

I was minding my own business when the Seattle cops gassed me.

Published December 2, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

I came back from Thanksgiving and found all hell had broken loose. This World Trade Organization thing is just crazy. I took a bus from the airport on Monday and wound up in the middle of a protest. There were a couple of hundred protesters but it was all pretty civil. The cops looked nervous, but they kept their cool.

Tuesday was a different story altogether. My office is on the 37th floor and we could watch all the protests from above. You could see the masses of people moving through the streets and running into the lines of riot police. Around 10 a.m., we started hearing the muffled "THUMP, THUMP" of tear-gas canisters being fired into the crowds of protesters. Downtown was covered in the stuff.

Everyone was sent home from work at 5 p.m., but it was impossible to get home. All the buses stopped running downtown, so you had to walk to Denny Way to catch one. I tried getting through downtown, but I kept running into crowds of protesters running the other way. When I tried going up Third Avenue, I was just in time for another round of tear-gas canisters.

Tear gas sucks. It tastes like you just swallowed a box of used fireworks. Your eyes sting and you want to rub them, but rubbing them just makes them sting worse. You start coughing and don't feel like you can breathe right. This brings on panic, and you just want to get away from the gas. I saw one guy who was almost trampled when he collapsed after taking a couple of lungfuls of the gas.

And these weren't just protesters getting gassed. Shit, I was just trying to get home from work. Breaking the law was the furthest thing from my mind. There were families with children downtown last night. I saw a little boy who couldn't have been more than 7 getting gassed.

Things were a lot calmer in town Wednesday. The curfew and near-martial law last night settled down the protesters. The mayor declared a 50-block zone downtown where all protesters would be arrested automatically. The National Guard is helping Seattle police enforce the rule. This is the closest thing to a police state I have ever seen. Blackhawk helicopters -- probably being used for security observation -- fly by my window every 10 minutes. Riot cops are everywhere.

By Zach Works

Zach Works is a freelance writer in Seattle.

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