Rubber Bullet Democracy
by Jeremy Nelson

Itís about half a foot long, two inches wide and when you bang it on a table it makes the sounds of a hammer. Like most Ďcrowd-controlí weapons, it has the power to cause excruciating pain, but unlike pepper spray it can also kill. And Friday, in Quebec City, it was fired at demonstrators. The cold cops' eyes held no promise that they realized, before they pulled the trigger, what they were doing could erase a humanís life.

The rubber bullet I am holding now still smells of gunpowder. It is heavy enough to hurt if you threw it at someone. I canít imagine what would happen if it was fired point blank into your chest. The breath pounded from your lungs. The crackling of your ribcage as it shatters. Someone had that happen to them on Friday.

This bullet was given to me from someone who had it skip off the sidewalk and slam into his leg. He escaped with a welt. Some would say thatís a relief. I find it frightening. The non-aerodynamic shape of these plastic bullets makes it easy for them to fly off course. Itís horrible to be shot with one of these when you are charging a police line. Itís sick to have it come out of nowhere and hit you in the leg óif you are lucky ó or, if youíre not, the temple of your head.

After seeing images of demonstrators hurling chunks of the sidewalk at police some might say it was warranted. The police were defending themselves. But I saw the rock throwers ó a few hundred in a crowd of 20,000. Those rocks bounced off the cops' body-armor; their shields; their helmets. These bullets slam into you like a linebackerís helmet. And they donít bounce. You drop.

They had batons that could have easily taken care of the Ďtroublemakers.í Instead, they used these instruments of death. They used them because they had them. They shouldnít have them. Not because they have other instruments ó worthy as that point is ó but because they can fly off course and because they can kill.

Tear-gas hurts like hell. Pepper spray is about as bad. Water cannons are one of the most ominous things Iíve ever seen. But none of them are very likely to kill. That they have these plastic bullets and are allowed to use them at their discretion, means only one thing: protesting is now an act that carries with it the risk of not just injury, but death.

Exercising your legal rights is now something that can kill you.

Next time someone tells you that these trade agreements will not crush our democracy, remind them about the plastic bullet: Because if public assembly and expression at these summits carries with it the risk of death we canít really be moving anywhere close to a democracy.


Jeremy Nelson survived the FTAA protests, but he has scars. You can find more of his work  here.









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