Having narrowly avoided the police raid on the Indymedia and Genoa Social Forum, Andy Robertson escaped from Italy and sent this report back to SQUALL.
23rd July 2001
I am currently in the sanctuary of the Swiss Alps having got away from the cauldron of paranoia existing in many parts of Italy. Video footage secured, I am for the first time able to relax and gather my thoughts on what occurred in the school on the Saturday night.
The tensions were high as everyone moved around the ancient north west port of Genoa in an attempt to disrupt the G8 conference for a second day. The previous day had been the hardest and most frightening of my life. One dead, Carlo Giuliani, shot in the head and run over twice, 2 in a coma, and mass gassings and beatings by the Italian authorities had made for a sombre mood.
Despite the ugly scenes, protesters remained determined, and continued to make their voice heard, deciding to hold their unified pre-planned legal march on the Saturday. Old people led the way as approximately 150,000 people in every imaginable colour and voice made their way towards the designated Piazza, G.Ferraris. The Carabinieri - the paramilitary arm of the police force - had different ideas. Having reached Piazza Kennedy, the demonstrators were confronted and attacked by mass volleys of tear gas; used to split the group.
Standing on a high vantage point at the top of some stairs which led down to the promenade, I was able to view the battle below as smoke from a vehicle floated into the air. It was here I was nearly arrested as I was showing a couple of fellow protesters my gas mask. And then, having been asked to put it on, I was approached by five officers who strode menacingly towards me. I was saved, thank God, by three Italians who stepped in front of them and managed to calm them down.
This was not zero tolerance, this was minus tolerance. We decided, in our small group of four, to head up towards the north side of the red zone to see if it could be breached this time. We stopped half way as we received a call saying the Indymedia Centre, (IMC) - where I had been helping out - was about to be raided. We rushed back to defend the space, which also contained the Genoa Social Forum (GSF) (an umbrella organisation for a number of participating groups), lawyers, first aid and even corporate media. But this time we didn't see any cops. Thankfully a false alarm. There had been several already. There were many things to do such as dispatching news coming in and giving it to the radio who were going out live. Videos needed to be organised for a global mix of contributions.......a video of the event. Tension remained high as further horror stories of beatings came in, although nothing could prepare me for what was to happen next.............
We went out after a few hours to join the remnants of the protest but we were blocked at every turn by the riot police, who now had individuals who would run towards protesters targeting those who had the audacity to wear a gas mask. I hid mine in my bag. Broken shops, burnt out cars and several other non-political damage littered the streets, which I for one found to be suspicious. Time moved on and we decided it would be safer to go back to the IMC building.
Feeling very hungry I walked down to the Pizzeria around the corner but saw two Carabineiri vans and 10 people lined up against the wall being searched. It just didn't stop, so I took a photo then ran back to inform the dispatch, who already knew. Everybody was on edge, adrenalin being the only source of food. As time approached 10.30pm I received a call from my friend saying he was in the same pizzeria and eating with 30 other activists and it was all clear. I left and was sitting comfortably. I started to sup on a well earned beer.
Then, 20 minutes later, about five separate phones were ringing and, although I didn't understand the language, it was clear something was wrong. Police vans started tearing past our eating place, towards our space. We soon realised we were not going to be able to get out and arranged with everyone to sit and try and remain calm. The owner of the restaurant agreed to let us stay and keep safe a couple of DVD videos. We were, at this stage, scared shitless as to what was happening to our fellow people.
One policeman came to the door of the pizzeria and the owner spoke to him, he left. For now we were OK. The TV was switched on and a live report was being conducted by Berlusconi news reporters but only pointed at the police vans' flashing lights. As we all either stood, sat, paced and fidgeted, ambulances came past at regular intervals. The TV was now showing people coming out of the school building opposite ours which was used for resting and, like ours, had been granted by the mayor of Genoa for use. We rang our media centre and someone picked up saying, "Can I help you". In the background someone said: "It's the cops". Reports were coming through on the phones and translated to us that the school had been attacked and people had been bludgeoned. This situation was surreal. Frustration and anger were high and, after a time when the cops had gone, we made our way back. On arrival the stories came out in various languages.
The police had arrived in a force of about 200, dressed in riot outfits. The crowd shouted Assini (Assassins) and ran for the relative sanctuary of the GSF building and the school opposite. Many already in the school had come there because they didn't feel safe on the camp-site where they were staying. First the cops immobilised the media, turned the radio off, smashed up some computers, took hard drives, cameras, video footage (most had already been put in a safe house).
Meanwhile, in the school opposite, this sinister political action was getting worse. As people still slept in their sleeping bags, civilian-dressed police armed with batons went into the school building and battered people in the head. Others cowering in the corners of rooms were also smashed. A few lucky ones were able to escape but the majority were trapped. Screams could be heard in the building opposite. One person was hit in the head by a four by two with nails in it.
Someone described how one IMC reporter [Mark 'Sky' Covell], who couldn't make it into either building in time, was surrounded by police, battered unconscious and then picked up by the scruff of the neck, dragged to the pavement where four officers (animals) beat the shit out of him. He was critical with two broken ribs, a punctured lung and head injuries.
Having heard all these peoples' stories, I braced myself and went into the school to look at the damage. In a word, carnage. The scene was horrific, at least 12 pools of congealed blood were splattered either on the wall, floor or just smeared on the wall of the stairways. The four by two had hair attached to the nails, and the sleeping bags had blood on them. One person told me how at one stage a body bag had been brought out by the police but there wasn't anybody confirmed dead, maybe just another twisted joke.
This appeared to have all the markings of a dictatorship in the making. Later on we learned that Berlusconi TV had announced that the reason why police had come to this area was to search for weapons, as the GSF were supposedly hiding the so called 'Black Bloc'. This conveniently meant they did not need to have a warrant.
The GSF spokesperson, Victorio Agnoletto, announced in the third press conference in two days how they are now going to sue the government for this accusation. After two hours of the press meeting he looked up and said, 'I have just heard the Carabinieri were celebrating by dancing on their vans'. This was confirmed by two people who saw this but no-one knew why.
The day after the attack journalists were invited to a photo shoot by the police showing a table full of knifes, most of them kitchen blades, gas masks and various building equipment including sledge hammers. (I can't really see anyone wandering around a protest lugging that around). The reason this equipment was found was because the school was in a state of repair and builders had left their equipment in there.
The following day journalists were swarming around to hear the stories. They were shown around the school to get a feel of what it must have been like. Scores of people were injured in the raid, 97 detained and everyone of us shocked. 300 people remain missing somewhere in Italy.
A statement issued by Norman Blair, one of the UK activists assaulted, arrested and detained in appalling conditions following the infamous raid on the Genoa Social Forum building can be read on the SQUALL resources page. Be prepared for some graphic reality and uncomfortable truths.
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