I was born on the prairies, where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures. [GERONIMO]
Sunday, July 10, 2011
The Day I Was Tear-gassed by Vernon Kedit
FOR MY JULY 9 POSTINGS, PLEASE REFER TO THE ARCHIVES
Even as I write this, the after-effects of being exposed to tear gas earlier today are still lingering; a throbbing headache and slight nausea. Yes, I sucked on rock salts to neutralise the tear gas, I covered my face with a wet towel and I wore a mask. But being a 'virgin activist', it was all a very real shock for me and more so to my system.
We began the day by assembling at the entrance to Petaling Street around 11.30am. Huge crowds were already gathering and soon enough, the signal came for us to begin marching.
The Sarawak contingent was led by YB Baru Bian and YB See Chew How. The pictures below were taken at the start of the march, around 1pm.
We marched peacefully and chanted "Bersih! Bersih! Hidup Bersih!". We reached the junction in front of Menara Maybank, where we were joined by throngs of people coming from Bukit Bintang on the right.
As these pictures incontrovertibly reveal, the streets of KL were NOT quiet as suggested by the state-controlled mainstream media. In our vicinity at Puduraya alone, I estimate at least 10,000 people. Nevertheless, the mood was joyous yet orderly. Marshals were posted at various points to keep the crowd moving at a steady pace. It really was very safe and almost carnival-like. There were even tourists joining us and cheering us along. It also began to drizzle lightly.
Minutes after I took these pictures, the horror began.
The police began shooting water cannons. People began to move away from the police line, but it was still orderly as the marshals began re-routing us. And then suddenly canisters of tear gas began flying through the air. That was when all hell broke loose. People began running. As the canisters were shot from way up front, I didn't think they would reach us. So we stood our ground and tried to take pictures of the flying canisters. Then suddenly one canister flew right over our heads and landed just a few feet from where we were standing. That was when we began to run. But it was too late.
Paul Bian had already taken out his towel and soaked it in water and wrapped it around his face. Lynette and I were just too shell-shocked by the whole spectacle. Baru was busy trying to organise everyone. So we just ran! The gas got into our eyes and into our noses. We made a mad dash for the ramp leading down to the basement of Puduraya Station, the closest escape route we could see. It was frightening! I reached for my left pocket and fumbled for the packet of rock salts Lynette had distributed earlier in the day and popped a few stubs into my mouth. Big mistake! More gas got into my lungs. Panic had set in and all we could think of was just getting away from the tear gas. I managed to cover my face with a towel. All this while running! As we reached the ramp, another canister fell right in front of us! We just ran right through the toxic smog which was thick and horrible. Just horrible! I kept pouring water over my face with one hand while the other hand was desperately trying to shield my nose from the noxious fumes as I put on and adjusted my face mask.
When we finally got to the safety of the basement, we were coughing our lungs out! Breathing was difficult and for a moment there I thought I was going to suffocate to death! Our eyes were stinging and it felt like someone was spraying acid into our eyes! My nose was runny and my mind was racing! What if they shot more canisters down the ramp into the basement? What if the exit was blocked and more canisters were on their way from the other side?
Finally, after about 15 minutes, the panic had dissipated and we settled down to take stock of the situation. YB See Chee How and several others had been separated from us in the chaos. Now the Sarawak contingent was well and truly dispersed all over the place.
All around us, people were helping one another and offering rock salts and mineral water bottles. It was amazing and heartening to see various races united in one cause and looking out for each other. I tried to tweet but apparently there was no internet connection.
We began to move along with the crowd, and found refuge across the street at Tung Shin Hospital.
Internet connection was restored and so I began tweeting again, and sending bbms. We took more pictures as we rested and planned our next move on how to get to Stadium Merdeka, the rallying point.
I began updating my facebook, and then...
The police began firing tear gas canisters into the grounds of the Tung Shin Hospital! So we ran again!
We came to a dead end, and had to climb over a 12-foot fence into the ground of the Nan Kai Chinese School. Amazingly, no one pushed or shoved. People were orderly and many offered to help others over the high fence. It really was touching to see how a Chinese aunty held out her hand to a Malay boy while an old Malay uncle offered his salts and water to Baru Bian. The rakyat truly came together and showed unity in adversity.
And then my blackberry battery died on me. So I couldn't take pictures or tweet or update facebook or keep track of what was happening elsewhere. We were told that the police had cut off all routes to Stadium Merdeka. Undeterred, we moved with the crowd. We were determined to get to Stadium Merdeka no matter what. So we just followed the flow of the crowd as the marshals directed.
Shortly after 4pm, we were told that the crowd at the Stadium had begun to disperse. We heard of more horror stories at KL Sentral. The marshals said to call it a day. So we decided to return to our hotel.
[Vernon Kedit is the political secretary for PKR Sarawak chief Baru Bian]
FOR MY JULY 9 POSTINGS, PLEASE REFER TO THE ARCHIVES