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Thanks Heather November 25, 2014

Posted by Fritz in Yachts and other things that float.
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Last night’s riot in Ferguson, MO was an event I won’t soon forget for a multitude of reasons.

I began watching the news coverage on Fox during Greta Van Susteren’s show at 7pm. The crowds were building and her show focused on the ‘what ifs’ surrounding the Grand Jury’s decision on whether to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on murder charges surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown back in August. That decision was to be announced at 9pm eastern.

heather and cat

photo from the internet labeled – Flickr: Heather De Mian’s Photostream

At 8pm Bill O’Reilly’s show came on and he switched to just cut-ins regarding the Wilson/Brown issue. Since I wanted more coverage of the events going on right then in Ferguson, I turned on my laptop and started searching for local feeds. I found a live stream video on UStream* from someone called Heather De Mian.

She was set up in front of the Ferguson police department in the front row at a line of barricades. I was first struck by her voice, uniquely gravelly with excellent diction. I surmised her camera/phone must have been mounted in a stick as the vantage point was from above most everyone around her. The audio was excellent as it picked up everything as well as what would become her riveting commentary on the events unfolding before her.

What really made her live stream fascinating was when I began to see Fox and CNN broadcasting from the same area she was in, just from a different vantage point. The lag time of the live stream was just a few seconds behind the live video from the cable TV operations.

With the verdict due to be announced at 9pm eastern both sides were ramping it up. The tension was really building. Protesters were hurling profanity laced insults at the line of uniformed police who stood some 50 feet away. Heather’s audio and video put me smack in the middle of ground zero.

The cable broadcasts were either aerial views or wide shots of the crowd. You heard nothing of the interaction between the two factions.

As the vitriol increased from the protesters, the line of officers was replaced by a fresh squad, now in riot gear. They formed a tighter mass and moved closer to the wall of protesters. It was then I saw the first object thrown by protesters.

Heather’s next comments were stunning. At first she actually called for restraint but after a few more objects were hurled towards the cops she announced the deeds were being done by plainclothes police, “hiding amongst the protesters”.

I was disappointed to hear her messed up evaluation of the situation. While it was clear she was a sympathetic supporter, she was advocating for a peaceful protest. Her conspiratorial take on the events however lessened my sympathy for her. But that would change.

The Grand Jury’s verdict was announced at 9:30pm eastern. I watched it live on Fox and kept wondering how long it would take for news to get to Heather and the protesters. I was surprised that it took as long as it did. It must have been at least 10 minutes before the shit started to hit the fan.

The first confrontation began several blocks away from the police station. Protesters started to throw things at the police and the action quickly escalated. Tear gas was deployed and it all went downhill from there.

With the action happening several blocks away many of the protesters staged at the police department started moving in that direction. Heather continued her live-stream with reassuring commentary that the police wouldn’t gas people this close to their ‘own home’.

As most of the protesters around Heather had moved to the action down the street, she decided to join them and headed toward the growing maelstrom.

It was then Heather surprised me once again.

The protesters were being pushed slowly back up the street by a phalanx of armored vehicles followed by heavily armed riot police. Canister after canister of tear gas was being shot into the mob. Mother nature cooperated with a favorable wind direction for the police as the gas swept toward the protesters and away from the advancing cops.

Unfortunately for Heather she was about to be engulfed by the whole thing. Her livestream showed the chaos from inside the riot—people running by her, coughing, choking. Fox’s aerial footage gave me the big picture and I was able to determine where Heather was based on what I was seeing from her.

The tear gas hit her as the mob was in full retreat. Her video stayed amazingly steady under the circumstances but the panic and urgency was obvious. She started choking and called out for help several times. She pleaded for someone to keep pushing her. I assumed she was with friends who were helping each other flee. It was then I realized she was in a wheelchair.

For a brief moment her video caught herself in shadow from a streetlight. I could clearly see she was in a wheelchair. Unbelievable.

Now it all made sense. I had been amazed at the quality of her video and the smoothness of her pans and zooms. Having a stable, mobile platform provided that.

The police had ordered everyone to disperse and now there was a steady stream of cars heading away from the main protest group. Heather was forced to take to the sidewalk and now faced the challenge of all the broken glass.

Looters had starting breaking windows and total anarchy was upon Ferguson.

Once again I found myself conflicted for Heather. In her retreat she was witnessing and documenting the unruly protesting she had hoped would not happen. But she blamed it on the police and called it “the riot porn CNN and all the mainstream media so desperately wanted to see”.

Heather has made her way to a major intersection and is now witness to the first major looting being broadcast anywhere. Both Fox and CNN are way behind Heather in reporting what is happening on the ground.

Her video captures looters smashing windows and thugs making off with stolen merchandise from an Aaron Rents store. She denounces the acts. Seconds later she turns her camera on a Walgreen’s that is on fire across the street.

It’s obvious Heather knows these actions have hurt her and all those who want to make a peaceful statement regarding the injustices they perceive in America.

This citizen journalist has me mesmerized and it just gets more surreal. Heather has now joined up with her mother who has arrived in the family van. It takes me a bit to get my head around a mother-daughter tandem social activist act.

The two decide to look for more action and head out via the van making their way to Canfield Dr., the place Michael Brown was killed. Heather is videotaping the entire journey and what a journey.

For the next hour I witness just how brutal and scary anarchy is.

The closer they get to the area on Canfield Drive, where the memorial to Michael Brown has been erected, the more trouble they encounter. At several stop lights they are met by masked thugs, swearing and aping and on one occasion challenged as to “who side you on?” As they pull away, several gunshots can be heard.

A few blocks further down the road another flurry of gunshots freaks out everyone in the van. They wisely decide to not venture any further and head off towards an ominous orange glow in the sky. By now, multiple fires are raging. They pass an Auto Zone fully engulfed in flames with no police or fire present. Listening to CNN it’s clear why. Without police back-up, firefighters are letting buildings burn rather than risk getting shot.

It’s nearly midnight in Ferguson and the rage continues. Heather and Mom decide to head back to where it all started tonight—in front of the police station. It’s clear that there has been a concerted effort among an organized group to coordinate their actions and activity. Several times I heard Heather responding to either text messages or phone calls informing people where to meet.

Heather has continued to broadcast now for more than 4 hours. She briefly paused her live stream for about 20 minutes…probably to use some facilities.

When she comes back she’s live, across from the police station with about two dozen other protesters. The two sides are staring each other down from their respective sidewalks. It’s as benign a scene as I have seen all night. CNN has a live feed set up amongst them and seeing the same scene from two vantage points simultaneously is fascinating. What was once a mighty throng has been reduced to the truest of believers. Heather and the handful of protesters left in front of the police station represent peaceful, non-violent protest. While I do not support their issue I support their right to voice their opinion in a peaceful manner.

I’m tired and I know Heather is tired. Her voice is raspier than when she started her documentary tonight. Her words have less energy than before.

But she outlasted me and for that I am thankful. I witnessed the power of the new form of journalism tonight. When the major video media see this they’ll be making changes as to how they bring us the news. This was real, raw and riveting. Thanks Heather.

Protest at the Ferguson (Mo.) Police Department

Photo taken from internet. Caption names Heather De Mian as a protester in Ferguson, MO picking up trash after a protest.

*Note:  The video I link to is the second half of Heather’s live stream after she joined her mother. At some point last night I remember her asking whether she would lose recorded video if she received a call on her phone. I hope that didn’t happen as the most dramatic stuff was in the first two hours.

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