The fourth Occupy New England regional convergence was held this past weekend at the University of New Hampshire’s main campus in Durham. The gathering brought together dedicated activists from around the Northeast to spend time workshopping, networking, and strategizing. In a twist of fate, riot police would descend upon the surrounding area as outdoor presentations on street medic effectiveness and bullhorn mastery occurred on the campus green.
Presidential candidate Vermin Supreme was about midway through a session on de-escalating tense situations when chants of ‘UNH, UNH’ were audible from down the street directly across from the audience. Moments later, riot police appeared to be blocking the road off as students poured out of the area, many bearing cell phones in a manner suggesting that they were video recording. I wandered down for a closer look, and was surprised to see multiple officers carrying paintball guns, and others holding large canisters of pepper spray, most wearing helmets with face shields, gloves, and other protective gear (short of physical riot shields). Students were compliant with requests to stay out of the area, but were clearly agitated by what had previously occurred, several students reporting to have been hit and bruised by rubber bullets (likely pepperballs). From across the road, Vermin’s voice amplified through his bullhorn, reminding everyone to stay calm, that this was only a test, and to ignore the man with the megaphone. The mood lightened lightly as the police froze momentarily and onlookers responded with laughter and applause.
Some students were disturbed by the actions of some police, who were holding pepper spray aerosols in one hand and snapping cell phone photos with the other. One officer, Thomas Kilroy of the Durham police, responded curt and defensively when asked about his documenting of a peaceful and physically cooperative crowd.
Student: Why are you taking video of us?
Kilroy: (Shrugs) Why are you, why is he taking a video of me?
Student: Because you guys are doing something wrong.
Others: For our rights…
Kilroy: (Shrugs) I can do whatever I want.
Foot traffic piled up at the area police were holding. It appeared that people were allowed to pass into the ‘secured area’ from across the street, but when asked why the sidewalk was closed, the vague response was that there is statutory authorization to do so. “We can’t go that way, even if we live that way?,” one young woman asked. “No, they might shoot you,” one person responded. A young man whose questions were not being fully answered began to walk past the police. Thomas Kilroy grabbed a hold of his backpack, but fortunately did not arrest him. He was turned around pushed back the other way. Some friends posed for pictures with the unusual riot police backdrop. Within about five minutes, the street was opened again.
Wading into the cleared area, I discovered more police, more students filming police, and a collective sense of tranquilized excitement and curiosity. Some people seeing the camera yelled out in support. “Keep it rolling!” I kept the lens fixed on near a dozen state police occupying a corner near the epicenter of the incident. Waiting there, I was able to get bits of info from passing partygoers about what had happened. I met some young men who had seen the alleged riotous behavior and were willing to speak on camera. They informed me that a standard patrol of uniformed police had come to talk to a property owner about a growing party when somebody threw “a beer bottle or beer cans”, which apparently caused police to retreat. By the young men’s account, it was between an hour and ninety minutes later that a team of about thirty riot police descended on the property and began firing rubber balls at the large crowd, and deploying pepper spray, the clouds of mist from which can be seen floating in the air from cell phone videos capturing the scene. There were multiple periods of pepperball fire as the crowd was pushed away from the area.
One of the most revealing videos of the raid was captured by a young woman on her cell phone. She captured numerous instances of pepperball fire and also the arrest of Jordan Mahar, a Wolfeboro resident who was detained for allegedly inciting riot. After a male officer who appears to be in charge tells her to move following the sole reported arrest of the day, the videographer takes consistent steps backward. Then, an unidentified female officer forcefully shoves her, screaming in her face to move. Her shoe comes off in the action, and she gently pleads, “My shoe, my shoe!” The officer responds by raising her voice even higher to scream, “I don’t give a FUCK!” The officer who had been previously delivering orders threw the shoe in the direction that she had been shoved. The nameplate of the unprofessional officer is barely visible as she pushes the person holding the camera.
As shocked as many students were, it seems that there were no serious injuries despite all of the projectiles fired. There are at least two recorded fatalities in US history as a result of reckless use of these weapons by police. In 2004, Boston police killed 21 year old Victoria Snelgrove with a pepperball shot to the eye during celebrations after a Red Sox victory.
Coverage of the UNH ruckus was run in the Union Leader the following day. According to their report, police were delivering orders to flee certain areas of the campus and surrounding properties until 7:30pm. Numerous students’ video have since emerged online, some of the most revealing posted to the ShireLeaks youtube channel. The 14-minute Free Concord video embedded above features numerous angles of the action.