“Police brutality? It’s the other way around, they have been massacred and are holding back.”
“Police brutality is the main fuel of the conflict lived through in the streets of Barcelona. The aggressions of the National Police and the Mossos against protesters, neighbors and journalists are intolerable. We demand political responsibilities”. The tweet was sent at 1:17 p.m. on Saturday from the Barcelona en Comú account. The mayor’s party, Ada Colau, adhered to the thesis that has been feeding a sector of independence for several days: the responsibility of the violent confrontations lies with the police.
The argument is repeated again and again, reinforced by a handful of videos of a few seconds distributed through social networks and in which you can see beatings against protesters, arrests and situations of tension. Some are launched from official accounts or from those of politicians such as Albano Dante Fachin, reaching thousands of views in minutes. In the communication war, the signs of rejection do not fall on those who throw cobblestones or steel balls with slingshot, but against the security forces that face them.
“Actually, the agents are very, very restrained”, says an Interior source. “They endure the unspeakable even if they are hard-fighters people in protests by miners and stevedores. But they had never seen anything like that. A stone burst an agent’s helmet. It seems that they used a device like the jai alai to throw the cobblestones”. From the Unified Police Union (SUP), he insists on the same”. They are throwing bottles with acid, steel balls … We are not even responding proportionally…”.
The balance leaves more than 288 police officers injured, one of them very serious, to whom “they crossed the helmet with a bearing, thrown with a modified high-range slingshot, prohibited weapon that can be deadly”, according to his companions. “The levels of adrenaline and stress”, they stress, “are enormous when you are under a rain of rubble, surrounded by fire … The situation is very difficult to imagine for those who are not in that situation. They are doing 18 and 17 hour shifts”.
Progression of tools employed
The riot police work with the so-called “progression of tools employed”, a protocol that is designed to minimize the number of injured. “It’s about dispersing people by giving many notices”, explains another police source. The gunpoint with rubber balls is the last resort. After that there is only the melee or the service weapon.
“The rubber projectiles come out with a very low load, the balls do not have the consistency they had before and direct shooting is not allowed, but we bounce off walls or floor. When someone then watches a 20-second video on Twitter, they have to understand that many things have happened before. These people have been warning for a long time that they have to leave the area and the only thing that is seen later is the outcome. In addition, we constantly meet people who are looking for that image and just forcing it”.
Gonzalo Boye, a lawyer for Puigdemont, insists that the use of force is being “excessive” these days. “Amnesty International also says so. They have charged against kids who were on the street. I do not deny that there have been acts of vandalism by the protesters, to which the current legislation must be applied, but my opinion is that things will not be resolved like this”. Boye emphasizes that he does not want to distinguish between the actions of the Mossos and the National Police.
Ramón Cosío, spokesman for the SUP, argues in the same line: “They are holding back. There are riot police that are not being used, there are people from the unit who have not gone to the front row. I find it very frivolous after seeing how Barcelona has been seen afterwards that someone says there has been hardness when there are more than 288 police officers injured and very few protesters arrested. It seems obscene to me that a party that governs the city does so. They endured the siege. Their vehicles, shop windows, containers, were burned; they have thrown cobblestones, they have damaged vans. There is no forgiveness to their statement that there is police violence”.
The CDR manual
The radicals also do not march blindly in their confrontations with the riot teams and many are clear about what to do at all times. When, on Wednesday night, several pyrotechnic charges were directed against a Mossos helicopter that flew over the area, it was not intended to bring it down but rather to facilitate the escape of the radicals and that it could not identify the groups in their withdrawal.
“To dissuade the ’birds’ for a few minutes it would be advisable to launch fireworks so that the helicopter moves away momentarily in the face of surprise to make the withdrawal easier”, literally explains the urban guerrilla manual ‘Black Bloc’, which, according to what has transpired in the last hours, was confiscated from one of the detained activists.
The document, of more than 70 pages, contains a series of demonstration táctics inspired by the Germany of the 80s but updated to the current Spanish situation – the version that circulates is from 2014 – and where the composition of the squads and the equipment of the Police Intervention Units are described in detail.
The name of the self-titled ‘pamphlet’ is not a poetic license. The idea is to form a column of protesters all dressed in black to make identification difficult for the police. “Today, the biggest enemy of the protesters are these identifications” is one of the aphorisms contained in the manual, along with “before releasing the identity card, drop a stone”.
They have obtained from police manuals the information on the most daily formations and exercises of the riot police. They know that the squad carrying the shields, “the first group to face the situation”, is composed of the highest men in the section to “create a psychological impact”, they know that the troops behind “must carry shackles, small fire extinguishers, first aid kits and grenades”, or that gassers are usually the most veteran policemen and, therefore, the slowest.
During the disturbances of this last week in Barcelona it has been possible to demonstrate that the pro-independence radicals have followed step by step the recommendations of the ‘Black bloc’ on how to deal with the deployments of the U.I.P.
Once the confrontation begins, the first tactic of the CDR is to maintain the position, for which it is used the throw of stones, pavers or rubble; then bottles follow (“a glass container provides ‘ammunition’ to dozens of demonstrators for about a quarter of an hour”) and Molotov cocktails and, once the area has been secured, several troops set up the barricades with work fences or burning containers.
“Another of our assets is to create different autonomous centers of resistance, overflowing the repressive scheme of riot police. If we often move in small groups, police helicopters have a harder time locating the ‘hot’ spots, which hinders communication and coordination of the agents on foot”, the manual abounds.
The strategies obviously depend on the moment of the fight but begin trying to block the police in some streets to find the right time and ambush them as it happened in Urquinaona Square on Friday night.
First they focus on harassing those who shoot the rubber balls “at all times, so that they cannot reload their weapon” and those who, by touching a partner’s shoulder, set the pace and control that the formation is not lost.
A local fact: in Barcelona, this week, there were also pointed basket gloves, those used to play the ball in Basque country . This type of tool cannot be used by anyone, but must be an expert. In fact, gloves like that were used in the ‘kale borroka’ Basque. The effect they have is very damaging: a stone or a ball thrown with these gloves reaches an enormous speed.
They also have strategies to disable the various riot police depending on the weapon they carry: if they carry a baton they try to grab their armpits while another member tries to strip him of the weapon; if they wear a shield they try to turn them from below to twist their arm. Finally, the manual also includes recommendations on how to deal with an attack with tear gas, how to receive the blows of the police or how to act if they are captured.