restricted access 9. Arrested Development
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~ 9 ~ Arrested Development Freedom is not a gift, but freedom is a merit that is acquired only through determination and sacrifice. —CORE flier distributed in baton rouge, december 1961 I t is impossible to describe what it feels like to be shot with tear gas. I could say it makes your skin sting and burn so badly you think it is peeling off your hands and face. I could say it makes your eyes feel as if they have been set on fire, and then it makes your eyes water so steadily you cannot see. I could say that when the harsh, pungent gas fills your lungs, it is as if two great hands have reached up and squeezed your diaphragm and then placed a bag over your head so you cannot breathe. But these descriptions , while accurate, don’t convey the full effect of the experience. Even more difficult to explain is that the anger I felt that December afternoon , as the tear gas canisters exploded throughout the streets of downtown Baton Rouge was of an intensity I had never before known. All the hellish years, all the indignity and injustice, all the times a white person had refused to acknowledge me, all the times I had been insulted welled up inside me. All those feelings and memories broke through the walls of restraint I had built around them and came together in one hard mass of anger, and some part of me said, “No more.” Some part of me said, “I will not live my life in the back alleyways of the world.” And I hardened myself to the fact that, though my purpose was good, if I stood by it, anything could happen. * mob (mäb) n. 1. a disorderly and lawless crowd, rabble —Webster’s New World Dictionary The instant Sheriff Clemmons hollered “move ’em out!” one of the depu- arrested development 85 ties threw a tear gas canister that struck Reverend Cox on the ankle as it exploded , knocking him to the ground. As several students rushed to carry Cox to safety, canisters exploded in quick succession up and down St. Louis Street. Confused and hysterical, we all began running, blindly trying to escape the swirling gas. Shoes, umbrellas, and purses littered the streets. I could hear the unmistakable barking of police dogs and the whining of the sirens mixing with the almost overwhelming noise of students’ screams, scattered singing, and the sharp explosions of the tear gas canisters. Of course, there was nothing to do but run, to run as fast as you could, and to try not to wipe your eyes because—as I found out too late—that made it worse. As I ducked down the nearest alley, I reminded myself that I had known this was a possibility before I had agreed to come. I reminded myself that the police could and would get away with whatever they decided to do. I tried to convince myself that I had known and expected these things, but I hadn’t—not really. I hadn’t known I would be so afraid. I hadn’t known about the dogs, or about not being able to breathe. I hadn’t known what it would feel like to wonder, as I ran with the police at my back, if they might use those shotguns, and if the bullets might hit me. But I ran anyway. I ran down alleys and tried to catch my breath in the doorways of buildings; when a cloud of gas overwhelmed me, I closed my eyes and groped my way along the nearest wall. I ran looking for safety and fresh air, and I felt that, though I might eventually find some air to breathe, I would never be safe anywhere. I hated that feeling, but I hated the white police more. When I was nearer to the old State Capitol, in an alley just off Third Street, I met up with Pat Tate and a large group of students she was leading. “D’Army! Are you okay?” “Yeah, I’m all right. A little shook up, but I’m making it. I wasn’t really expecting the gas.” “None of us were. Or at least not so much of it. And the goddamn dogs. I guess we’re all dangerous criminals now, huh?” We looked at each other. “I feel dangerous,” said another student menacingly. He had lost his shoes but still carried an umbrella. “I’d just like to...


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