Like most Americans, I was horrified when two unarmed black men were shot to death by police last week in Baton Rouge, LA and Falcon Heights, MN. Then five police officers were murdered by a sniper in Dallas, confirming that at long last we need to have a frank and honest national conversation on reducing the violence and racial tension in our society.
It’s no secret that black Americans are killed by the police at a higher rate than any other racial group. The problem is structural, deeply rooted in America’s long and shameful history of slavery, segregation, and partisanship. Much like how those institutions were dismantled by direct action — abolitionism, the Civil Rights Movement, the Gang of 14 — the social media-driven #BlackLivesMatter movement is taking to the streets to demand police reform. And I welcome their activism.
#BLM activists have been Tweeting, Snapchatting, Periscoping, and LiveJasmining the struggle to end police brutality all across the country. Led in part by DeRay McKesson, a positive and app-savvy young man, these protesters have held countless non-violent rallies, marches, and sit-ins everywhere from Ferguson to Baltimore.
The Dig supports the right of every American to peacefully make their voice heard. But there’s one thing I don’t support: diarrhea.
There’s one #BLM tactic that’s counterproductive, hurts their cause, and exacerbates the medical problems of thousands of motorists. I’m talking about bridge and freeway closures.
It’s a frightening tactic that rears its ugly head time and time again. Just last night, #BLM protesters shut down the I-40 bridge in Memphis, causing countless journalists to stew in their hot vehicles for hours, hungry, scared, and possibly suffering from a Bathroom Event.
In my 30+ years as a reporter, I’ve been on the scene of several major protests, and I have been personally victimized, trapped by harrowing bridge, street, and park closures, too many times to count. In the interest of public debate, here are just a few of those incidents:
Ferguson protests, 2014
After the tragic death of Michael Brown, my editor sent me to Ferguson, Missouri to write a career-defining piece about how communities whose budgets rely on fines levied on their poorest residents need to get serious about entitlement reform. While massive protests unfolded around me, I took a pit stop at a McDonald’s, where I ran into two colleagues of mine, Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly. Wes and Ryan were arguing with the police about something or other, so I waded through the chaos to order a little something I like to call the “McDig.” As we VIPs know, every McDonald’s is legally obligated to offer a special, secret menu for people with dietary restrictions, such as my Siamese appendix. So I used that menu to craft a special sandwich called the McDig: a Fish Filet patty served ultra-rare between two beef patties, slathered with barbeque sauce and nestled in a bed of hash browns. I wolfed down three of those bad boys and immediately made my way to the bathroom (McDigs roll right through your digestive system, like a bowling ball on a waterslide). To my dismay, it was out of order.
So I hopped in my rental car and made haste to the Econo Lodge across town. Time was off the essence, and I figured taking the interstate would get me there fastest. That turned out to be my greatest mistake.
Right after I got on the on-ramp I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. A mile ahead there was a massive Black Lives Matter sit-in bringing the whole highway to a standstill. I started sweating profusely, both from the broken air conditioning in my rental car and the stress of the McDigs rapidly wending their way through my large intestine. To make matters worse, the car radio was stuck on Pacifica Radio, and I had to suffer through Amy Goodman and Cornel West taunting me through my digestive trauma.
I was losing a lot of body fluid due to the sweating, so I flagged down a SWAT team officer and explained that I’m a journalist, I am having a bathroom emergency, and I need to use the official police bathroom immediately. He ordered me, very rudely I should add, to stay in my vehicle, and said he didn’t care about my “toilet issues.”
I passed out from dehydration and sphincter pressure minutes after I was verbally brutalized by that officer. I awoke hours later to the sound of honking and the smell of tragedy.
The rental car was basically totaled by this bathroom incident. The dealership said the McDig feces had embedded itself into the car’s machinery, and that based on the rental contract I was legally obligated to buy it. How, I ask you, does Black Lives Matter prosper when folks like me, the very influential pundits they are trying to persuade, are being financially harmed by their actions?
NYC Republican National Convention protest, 2004
In 2004, America was more divided than it even is now. On one side were those of Bush country. They saw evil all throughout the world and wanted to confront it. At home they confronted their failing marriages by listening to Staind and punching walls. On the other side, thermos-sipping NPR lifetime members decried the Iraq War, commiserating in the intellectual blogosphere of JibJab and $hrub’s Lie Count.
The Republican Convention in New York was where all these tensions came to head. Liberals amassed in large numbers, reciting chants such as “Hey Monkey W. Bush, How About Oil For Bananas?”
While I soundly disagreed with the brutality of these barbs (the president is a person too), I was entranced by the spirit of this protest. But then things got bad.
Bloggers from Ashcroft’s Curtain (number 33 on Rolling Stone’s Top Blogs You Gotta Read 2003) cordoned off 23rd street as the NYPD’s 85th Teargas And Teen Defense Unit was making its entrance. Another thing was making its entrance as well: Carl Allison Diggler’s Habsburg Diarrhea.
I was in town on official business (I got a hot tip about Ambassador Joe Wilson’s college bisexuality from a Brooklyn-based source). Having done my duty, it was time to relax. I was trying to make my way to an early showing of Les Miserables (I’ve always felt a personal connection to Jean Valjean) when the rumbling struck. Having memorized the bathroom situation for Midtown, I was carving an efficient route to the now-defunct Caribou Coffee on 23rd.
Despite my internal map and natural toughness, I just couldn’t make it. The bloggers had a complete lock on the street, and the NYPD wasn’t budging either. My stomach was bubbling almost sympathetically with the boiling over tensions of the union. Except my trauma wasn’t resolved electorally. We may have not gotten a new president that November, but I definitely got a new pair of pleated chinos.
Occupy Wall Street Brooklyn Bridge protest, 2011
It was populist fervor the likes of which had never been seen in our lifetimes. With our banking system run wild and trillions of dollars wiped out, young people were finally engaged with the process. Thousands camped out in Zuccotti Park to agitate for balanced budgets and social security means testing.
Unfortunately, Zuccotti Park also housed few bathrooms, and a certain gastrointestinally-afflicted reporter who was sent to cover the event was once again confronted by his lifelong affliction. A group of young men in terrifying “Joker” t-shirts were crowded around a concrete oasis of relief, possibly as some sort of statement on how the banksters had blocked out their future. The character affixed to their clothing told me that I could not negotiate with them, however.
That day, another enormous collapse occurred. And the “anti stain” technology advertised by Dockers proved to be as fraudulent as Standard and Poor’s credit default swap ratings.
Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years and is the host of the Digcast, a weekly podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at [email protected] or Tweet to @carl_diggler.