Bersih 3.0, a medical field report (II)
Another field report, this time from Jonathan Hwa via Facebook
I heard someone shout ‘medical, medical’ and ran over. An old man had collapsed, but a few other medics got there before me. I still set up shop next to them to deal with other cases that were coming in. Almost all cases were tear gas related, a few had serious exposure, some had been hit by the canisters and were bruised / cut by them, a few more had been burnt when they tried to pick up the canisters to throw back. Note: The canisters are HOT, DO NOT touch them unless you’re wearing thick gloves. If you plan to handle canisters, you WILL be heavily exposed to the gas. It was the burn victims that worried me the most, their skin had turned white but hadn’t start to blister. I didn’t have any ice with me, and they sighed with relief when I sprayed ethyl chloride on their hands. The nozzles of my cans also decided to malfunction right then, refusing to spray. I sent a few people to the nearby Burger King to get ice, but all the shops had locked their doors after the police opened fire and refused to give them ice. All I could do was to advice them to ice their burns as quickly as they could. The old man next to me looked in pretty bad shape, but the other medics were working on him, and was trying to figure out how to get an ambulance over through the crowd. There was nothing else I could do, so I moved on.
I managed to persuade macD along Jalan Tun Perak to unlock their door and give me a bag of ice by pointing to my armband, but true to murphy’s law, I didn’t need ice again till it was long melted.
It was an interesting experience being part of the rally as a medic. I was always moving in the opposite direction of the crowd. When the police advanced with tear gas and water cannons, and everyone starts running, I would hold my ground to make sure no one was hurt and left behind before running myself. When the police retreated, and the crowd pushed forward, I would move back, to look for people who were nursing wounds. There was one moment were I hung around for too long when the water cannon was advancing, and the cannon started to track me. As I braced myself for the worst, a malay guy grabbed me and pulled me behind a wall before I got hit.
The water from the cannon was laced with chemicals. I think it was some form of pepper spray, skin felt like it was burning upon contact, and the water vapours caused my eyes to tear badly.
After another round of tear gassing, I heard shouts for a Medic and ran in to the alley where it originated from. Two guys were sitting against a wall, and when I asked what happened, the victim pointed to his leg. He was wearing a pair of long pants, but his white sock was soaked with blood. His friend looked at me and said ‘kena tembak, peluru besi’ (got shot, steel bullet). I immediately thought ‘Oh dear, please don’t give me a bullet wound. I’m not confident of dealing with one’. After cleaning some of the blood away, I saw that the gash was not caused by a bullet, but because he had been hit by a tear gas canister. I sighed with relief, this one I’m able to treat. While applying pressure to stop the bleeding, I learnt something. When you’re helping a victim, and the police decide to gas the area, you can’t run, nether can your victim.
The home minister might praise the police for acting in a professional manner, but from my perspective, they were anything but professional. Firstly, they kept taunting the crowd. Sure the crowd was shouting insults and taunting the police too (my malay is so bad, I could not really make out most of what either side was yelling at each other), but the police kept signaling to the crowd with the unmistakable ‘if you want us, come and get us’ signals.
Secondly, a lot of the police actions made no tactical sense. It wasn’t to hold a line, or secure a perimeter. They would push forward, chasing the crowd back, then retreat back to their original place, or even further back. When they retreated, the crowd would jeer them as they retreated, regroup, and push forward again. To me, it looked like the police were taunting the crowd, trying to get people to act in a rash manner, just to give an excuse for them to justify arrests. If arrests were what they wanted, they sure got it, because everytime the police retreated, the people felt like they had ‘won’ that round and got bold, increasing jeering and sometimes throwing stones and bottles after the police. At this, the police at times turn around chase and try to arrest people. However, each time someone threw something at the police, he would get reprimanded by another rakyat, telling him to chill or that throwing things at the police isn’t helping the Bersih cause.
Third was police brutality, you might see videos of police beating people up, I saw this happen the whole afternoon. It wasn’t violent protesters that were arrested, it was anybody the police could get their hands on. People sitting by the side of the road doing nothing were pounced on by the police. Police were chasing down two guys, both stumbled, the police pounced on one, kicked the other away from behind so he fell headfirst to the ground. Police arrested people, held them down while others rained blows on them before taking them away. I met another medic who told me he saw police beating a man, he ran forward to stop them and give aid to the man, but was chased away by the police with threats of arrest. At one point, a wave of police ran up to the group I was with and one tried to grab me in a headlock. I ducked under his arm, and when he turned back to come at me again, I pointed at my armband. He apologized to me, but other police behind him started yelling at me. I took the hint and quickly walked away. This happened around the Jalan Raja – Jalan Tun Perak intersection