American in Spain

Spanish Current Events: Peaceful Unarmed Protesters Beaten By Police

May 27, 2011

Spanish Current Events: Peaceful Unarmed Protesters Beaten By PoliceIn the protest of the British salt tax in colonial India in 1930, the leader of the protest at the Dharasana Salt Works, Sarojini Naidu, told his followers, "You must not use any violence under any circumstances. You will be beaten, but you must not resist: you must not even raise a hand to ward off blows." When the protesters began pulling away the barbed wire protecting the salt pens, the police began beating them with steel-tipped lathis (an Indian martial arts fighting cane). American journalist, Webb Miller, described what he saw that day:

Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins. From where I stood I heard the sickening whacks of the clubs on unprotected skulls. The waiting crowd of watchers groaned and sucked in their breaths in sympathetic pain at every blow.

Those struck down fell sprawling, unconscious or writhing in pain with fractured skulls or broken shoulders. In two or three minutes the ground was quilted with bodies. Great patches of blood widened on their white clothes. The survivors without breaking ranks silently and doggedly marched on until struck down. When every one of the first column was knocked down stretcher bearers rushed up unmolested by the police and carried off the injured to a thatched hut which had been arranged as a temporary hospital.

There were not enough stretcher-bearers to carry off the wounded; I saw eighteen injured being carried off simultaneously, while forty-two still lay bleeding on the ground awaiting stretcher-bearers. The blankets used as stretchers were sodden with blood.

At times the spectacle of unresisting men being methodically bashed into a bloody pulp sickened me so much I had to turn away....I felt an indefinable sense of helpless rage and loathing, almost as much against the men who were submitting unresistingly to being beaten as against the police wielding the clubs...

Bodies toppled over in threes and fours, bleeding from great gashes on their scalps. Group after group walked forward, sat down, and submitted to being beaten into insensibility without raising an arm to fend off the blows. Finally the police became enraged by the non-resistance....They commenced savagely kicking the seated men in the abdomen and testicles. The injured men writhed and squealed in agony, which seemed to inflame the fury of the police....The police then began dragging the sitting men by the arms or feet, sometimes for a hundred yards, and throwing them into ditches.

While not nearly as violent, it should be obvious why what happened in Barcelona, an important city in a free western democracy, reminded me of the revolution in India.

A few observations:

  1. The sitting protest is genius. As the parent of a small child, I can confirm that when a human doesn't want to be moved, sitting down and refusing to stand is the most effective measure.
  2. I don't know about you, but the constant sirens really raised my adrenaline as I watched it.
  3. Trying to look at all sides, I almost feel sorry for the cops, who have been told by their boss to clear the street so a car can pass, and they are stuck in a terrible situation: either refuse to do your job and possibly get fired (which sucks, especially in this economy!) or be brutal. Both terrible options.
  4. I really love that technology has made it to the point where news – and video evidence! – of any authoritarian brutality is zoomed right to hundreds of thousands of people so quickly. This can only be a good thing for our global society.