The explosions seemed to come without warning, scattering a crowd of protesters who had gathered outside Austin Police Department headquarters on Sunday evening.
Some protesters ran toward trees, others crunched behind cars like light poles. Lots more, screaming and panicking, sprinting down Interstate 35, desperate to get away from police officers who & # 39; a crowd shot from their neighborhood on top of the & # 39; highway.
Within seconds, it became clear that at least three protesters were shot by police, including one young woman who was & # 39; in the back of & # 39; a head was hit. As blood flowed over her neck, her white T-shirt stained dark red, protesters rushed the wounded woman to the only addition: a rough medical outpost under the freeway with first aid, water, and a loosely-knit team of about ten volunteers. Their name: "Street Medics Austin."
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When the woman crashed into a folding chair, Toby Heidel, a 46-year-old Austin firefighter who helped organize the team, worked to tie her head and keep her conscious and calm. Despite the fears of screaming protesters, fireworks, blood, and loud music that buzzed around him, Heidel looked completely at ease. Several minutes later, the woman, who was unable to walk, was placed in the back of the & # 39; loaded a friend's car and taken to the hospital.
"When you work in emergency services you always expect something," Heidel said calmly. "Our agenda is to help people, that's why we're here."
A woman is crying after she was hit in the abdomen Saturday with a non-lethal round while at the & # 39; s headquarters. an Austin Police Department protested. The woman, who said she was pregnant, yelled "My baby! My baby!" #GeorgeFloydProtests pic.twitter.com/tp4cbibaig
– Jay Janner (@jayjanner) May 31, 2020
As recently as Thursday, Street Medics Austin (SMA) did not exist. Several members of the & # 39; group are close friends such as & quot; Burners & quot; – people who do not identify themselves as & # 39; e Burning Man community. At regional Burning Man events in Austin (yes, that's a thing), group members have provided first aid and safety for the burner community. On Friday night, with protests in Austin scheduled the next day, Heidel and several others decided they would bring their services to downtown Austin. By Saturday morning, they arranged several cars, filled with medical supplies and folding chairs in a semi-circle under I-35 on the other side of & # 39; e APD headquarters. After she put on masks and laid bright red medical scrubs on her clothes with tape, SMA was born.
"Often in a chaotic protest situation, it's not easy for first responders to get people who don't need help, and so we decided to try that hole and fill that gap," Heidel said, noting that several thousand have received dollars worth of medical donations from the public. "Hopefully we can also take away some of the onus for emergency services so the system is not as burdened."
Within hours of the team being formed, members found themselves on the front of a series of dangerous confrontations between protesters and police. By & # 39; the end of & # 39; One day, they estimate, ambulances picked up eight protesters from their medical zone. Maredith Drake, a 44-year-old mother and volunteer, said injured people began to die in the medical area after protesters stopped traffic on I-35 and police responded with tear gas and a volley of rubber bullets. When she signed up to help out, Drake had expected her to deal with heat exhaustion and minor injuries. Instead, she found herself face-to-face with suffering that she previously associated with war zones and mass shootings.
"I just saw a young man who wiped his lower lip and his teeth were shattered," she said, accusing, like many others at the scene, the police of black protesters. & # 39; He kept saying, & # 39; I didn't even hold a sign, I just stood there! & # 39; Another child, maybe eighteen years old, was in & # 39; a back of his head hit and his skull was cracked and brain material leaked out. "
"People threw water bottles and they responded with bullets," she added. "I can't believe this is America."
Police did not immediately respond to a request for more information about their supposed use of rubber gloves and bean bags, or the allegations that they were targeting people of color, but video of officers shooting at protesters was posted on Twitter Sunday night. The area around APD headquarters is also forested with existing shells called "Drag Stabilized Bean Bag."
Steve Arawn, a 44-year-old delivery manager, volunteered to work with SMA alongside his twenty-year-old son, Jeremiah “Hoochi-Poo” Arawn. Steve Arawn, a longtime resident of Austin, had always assumed he could trust the police department in & # 39; a laid back town that & # 39; t he calls home. That changed Saturday, he said, when he saw officers fill a hill with protesters across the street from I-35 with projectiles. Arawn was at the scene trying to handle a protest, he said, when he was hit by someone in the wrist. Not long after that, he said, he was also hit in the thigh, where he still had a red-and-purple bruise 24 hours later.
"Police scoured the high hill with rubber bullets," he said, pointing to a grass area on East Seventh Street near a parking garage. & # 39; What stood out was just this disdain on their faces, followed by joy after & # 39; someone was hit. I can't forget it. Seeing that changed my life. "
By Sunday evening, SMA volunteers were emotionally exhausted. They have become accustomed to the bursts of police weapons and the excitement of panic-stricken protesters who carry injured friends who would immediately follow. But some scenes over the last 48 hours were hard to forget. Despite the treatment of hundreds of people over the weekend, most of them for pepper spray effects, contusions, heat exhaustion, and hematomas, multiple SMA volunteers agreed that the most difficult thing they witnessed was a pregnant black woman is shot with rubber bullets several times by police.
& # 39; They shot in & # 39; a stomach and when they hit the ground, they shot twice in the back and in the & # 39; e back, & # 39; Drake reminded her, crawling then & # 39; she spoke to the sound of another loud bang. & # 39; She kept crying, & # 39; They killed my baby! They killed my baby! & # 39; "