I was packed into the intersection at Fairfax and Third today with my adult daughter. And I didn’t feel any of this reported aggression.

A veteran of a fair number of protests, this rally was not like any other. It felt intense, powered by focused anger, but not aggressive. I never once felt unsafe or as if the crowd were out of control. People were mad but not hostile. It sounds like a pedantic distinction but there you have it, there was no feeling of impending violence. None at all. Collective fury but not belligerent:  coiled vigilance

But there was weird stuff afoot. By the time we arrived late for the call, a clutch of people were talking to the media and eliciting motorist support on the NE corner at Beverly/Gardner. PanPacific was emptied but a smooth river of people was flowing westward along Third St.  It was obvious this was not part of some planned event. There were no street barriers and some motorists were trapped by the crowd; traffic had not been stopped. But no one was seemingly angry about the delay, there was a solidarity to this anger that trivialized inconvenience.

The flow halted at 3rd and Fairfax as if the street were obstructed. The march may have been unplanned but a backend was in place. It was therefore with great surprise to me that after 15min milling in front of the Farmer’s Market, admiring lithe young adults shimmy up light poles to perch in the signals and less thoughtful observers brandish smudge pots atop Dupar’s roofed patio, the crowd started once again to move forward. If there had been a barricade erected, who had ordered it be moved and why? If the imperative was to prevent a roving crowd from encroaching on social-media-threatened Beverly Hills, then why move the barrier at all? And if it had moved then it must mean there were police present at the barrier to move it.

Until that time the march had been notable for the complete absence of police present in-person along the ground route. Ordinarily they are there, watchful and neutral or possibly monitoring and malevolent depending on your perspective (and the event). This time, thankfully, evidence of the police was absent altogether, shy of the airships circling and the drones buzzing. Some of the angry chants was personal and specifically directed at ‘police’. Without any personification of their force, the anger was safe ideation. It did feel that were there a physical presence this anger could coalesce around it and I was glad they were nowhere nearby.

For this reason I was surprised when the evident barrier was removed because it did imply a physical presence of police up ahead. And yet there was no feeling of fear or anticipation as we moved forward. Past the intersection the course clogged again and it seemed the barrier must have moved, not been removed.

It was then we decided to return to work and on the way out I asked a tall thin gentleman standing atop a van what he could see. Carefully enumerating he relayed that there were 13 police cars obstructing the march and that “we are trying to surround them”. He asked a partner standing on the ground next to me whether “it was a good idea to encourage this”. Following an equivocal response and the question repeated, the pair determined that “yes, we should encourage this”.

My feeling, unvoiced, was “NO!  ‘We’ should do nothing of the kind. Encircling a threatened entity is unlikely to end well.” I wish I had noted these individuals more carefully. Who is “we” that they could encourage; we were still a half block removed from the obstruction. What prerogative and capacity had they to encourage or discourage the crowd at all? Who empowered this manipulation? How could it be conveyed? Who made them “God” and how were they proposing to manifest their deity?

Instead we took the opportunity to encourage a hasty departure in the other direction. A stalled crowd seems a bad place to be trapped in the midst.

Sometime during the time it took us to walk a mile and a half back to our car, surrounded all the while by calm, satiated protesters, the scene at the barrier changed. We witnessed and felt nothing at all from fellow marchers that makes sense of the apparent violence which erupted subsequently. Every moment until the strange encounter with the pair on the van’s roof, had been free of malevolence. Anyone apparently engaged in the business of manipulating a crowd is not a good force to be near. I wonder what those two could have been up to pondering whether “we” should “encourage” that….

As my daughter and I drove south we passed the alarming black smoke plumes of two burning cars, we learned later. The streets were not teaming, pedestrians along the way were well-behaved meandering back to their starting point; there was no alarm or violence in the air. Whatever happened was intensely localized and presumably isolated to specific individuals. The atmosphere we witnessed the entire time was intense and peaceful. Period.

It is infuriating that spot-individuals, weaponized or otherwise, could leach legitimacy from this huge sea of principled, angry and peaceful protestors. We were very careful to be controlled, focused in our anger. Not destructive; expressive. Whatever is happening now is something different. It is not what we were. Whatever is going on out there now has no right to preempt the righteousness of our rally. I believe what I felt and I believe the accusations of agents provocateur in our midst.

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