Surprised and disappointed (A few reflections on the General Strike in Barcelona)

First off let me say that I was surprised to see the police controlling the protest in such a good way during most of the day, yesterday in Barcelona.  As you may know a General Strike was held throughout Spain and Europe and in my experience, Barcelona does a horrible job of controlling these situations. I expected violent clashes and police brutality like I saw during the 29M General Strikes. (See http://edwintoonephotography.posterous.com/29m-a-few-more-photos and http://edwintoonephotography.posterous.com/shot-by-shot-of-the-bad-dog-walkers) But, wow!, bravo!, most  of the morning and day seemed very calm.  Yes, there were some clashes but what I saw was quickly quelled and brought under control without bystanders being hurt.  This may have been because there were police on every corner and the large protest did not start until 6pm.  But, even after the start of the real protest things seemed fairly calm. 

It was not until around 9:30 that things really got out of hand and this is where, again, I was truly disappointed in the way the police handled the situation.  I do not want to say that the police did not have reason for action but the action that they took was completely counterproductive. 

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Protesters had been marching from Diagonal and Paseig de Gracia towards the sea from around 8pm.  During this time there had been a few acts of vandalism but from what I could tell, no burning of garbage containers or violent confrontations.  At around 9:25pm I was preparing to leave when I noticed that some protesters had set some fires on Via Laietana. It turns out that they had even started to burn an empty police car and were vandalizing other buildings.  The police rushed in to get things under control.

At this point I would think that the focus of the police force would be on chasing down on foot and catching the small groups that had set fires and were being violent.  But, this was not the tactic used.  Instead the police drive their vans at high speeds to corral any and all of the people including random bystanders.  Once they have people headed in one direction they jump out swinging sticks and shooting rubber bullets.  This sends the people scattering in all directions, so the police jump back into the vans race around again until have a nice little group they can attack again.

This technique is almost comical from a distance but it truly puts everyone in danger and creates more of a sense of chaos than calm.  The danger comes from two specific areas, high-speed vans racing at crowds of people and stampedes of people running over each other.  I witnessed an old man injured in the street after one of these stampedes and a police officer was actually hit by a van and later rushed to the hospital.

The escape from this comes from walking in a single file line with your hands up as close to the wall as you can get while the riot police yell at you and swing their sticks.  If you are lucky you do not get a swat from the stick and they don’t decide to do another high-speed corral.   

See more pictures from the protest at: http://www.demotix.com/news/1599049/general-strike-barcelona-ends-violently#m…

 

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About edwintoonephotography

I am a U.S. born professional photographer living in Barcelona, Spain.

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