“They can smell the Catholic in your blood!” OR The time I accidentally ended up in a violent protest

Every year when I was in high school, my godparents organized a trip to DC for the massive pro-life rally that happens in January marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and this year the rally happened to coincide with the re-inauguration of President Bush.

We arrived in DC the day of the inauguration, and our spirits were high as we advanced merrily toward the event. An extraordinary amount of snow descended from the heavens, coating the world in colorless chill. Crisp snowflakes wafted elegantly through the air, alighting delicately upon my eyelashes. When we arrived at the grounds, we were incapable of seeing the president, a vast expanse of lawn separating us. Unable to view the screens, I surveyed my surroundings instead. A flash of obsidian caught my eye in the midst of the alabaster inundation; I snapped a picture of the inconspicuous sniper mounted on the top of the National Museum of the American Indian.

The speakers and announcements continued on for hours; I stomped my feet to keep warm. The wind bit at my slender form; my meager body fat was barely enough to regulate my temperature in this arctic freeze. My godparents noted the discomfort of our group, and they determined that we should make our way back to the hotel as quickly as possible.

We slogged southward through the slush of the fallen precipitation. Lost in the momentum of our rapid departure, we did not notice the attitude of the swarm we had inadvertently found ourselves in. Unexpectedly, we became caught up in an irate protest which was making its way down the boulevard, trailing chaos behind it as it went.

I glanced behind me at the rabble. A man with a gas mask was holding a large handwritten sign which angrily proclaimed, “BUSH IS POISONING THE NATION!” complete with the international symbol for toxins. The woman to his left was screaming in a high-pitched voice with a fervor I had never witnessed before.

This was no commonplace protest. The crowd surged forward without any semblance of shape or order, causing me to stumble over a crack in the pavement in my haste to escape. The acrid smell of exhaust filled my nostrils as I watched a banner of smoke trail into the clouds. The protest had turned into a full-fledged riot. We fled before the protesters, seeking egress down one of the side streets, but unable to find a secure outlet.

“Run! The protesters can smell the Catholic in your blood!” Suki (name changed) yelled as another car was flipped upside down, glass crunching and splattering across the pavement in a translucent wave of peril. We sped up our pace, blindly running before the heaving throng. Abruptly, we ran smack into a large congregation of officers in riot gear, loosely aligned in formation in the avenue. The officers’ Kevlar shone mutely in the dim light of the street. Their absolute silence was unsettling when contrasted with the ragged chanting behind us. My feet slid forward in the snow, two gray streaks of rubber betraying my balance.

Suddenly, six ebony minivans swerved into the street from a side alley. Barely stopping, the vans unloaded their shipments in a seemingly unending inundation of human cargo. The sliding doors of the minivans opened swiftly, and more police in riot gear poured forth in a deluge of plastic and metal. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. My godfather looked at the riot behind us, then back to the police before us.

“We need to get to a place of safety.”

An officer barked an indecipherable order heard over the raucous cries of the rioters. In unison, the troops slid their face masks down into position. The noise reverberated off the shops and offices lining the street. Another command was given, and the officers squared up, marching steadily toward the protesters. The sound of their boots hitting the pavement at the exact same time formed an unnatural rhythm. Trapped between the police and the riot, we darted into a café shop, seeking cover as law enforcement began to throw tear gas into the uncontrolled mob.

We watched from the security of the café as the police forced the crowd to disperse through the means of tear gas and brute force. The screams of the rioters penetrated the glass windows as our hearts finally began to beat at a normal pace; for us the danger was over. After twenty minutes, the riot had been suppressed. We cautiously left the café and proceeded to the metro unscathed if a bit shaken.

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