Ferguson protests: Tear gas is meant to disperse. It worked on me... eventually

David Usborne thought that all a self-respecting journalist really needed was a biro and a dog-eared note book... until he was caught up in the protests in Ferguson, Missouri

Share

I confess to quietly scoffing to myself at the few reporters who had showed up on West Florissant Avenue on Monday night wearing gas masks. I just had my Bic biro and a dog-eared note book. That’s all a self-respecting journalist really needs, I reasoned to myself. These boys were wearing gas masks to take selfies of themselves.

Then the shelling began. It wasn’t mortars flying through the air like fireworks towards us from the police line close to the Quik Trip forecourt where a particularly belligerent knot of men had gathered, refusing to heed instructions to disperse. Rather these were small metal canisters landing at my feet, popping on impact and releasing white clouds that at first I took just to be smoke. Some of the men were even picking them up and throwing them back again.

But the purpose of the assault was not to befuddle or distract but to disperse. And that is what tear gas is meant for. Yet, at first I was slow to respond. A bridge with a narrow pedestrian pathway separated me from an escape route south. It was jammed with fleeing people, but I took my time. Twitter demanded my attention, so did the photo function on my phone. I’ll get out of harm’s way soon enough.

This was foolish. It had been gunshots nearby that had prompted the police action and I wasn’t wearing a bullet-proof vest either. No one was firing at me, but soon the gas was all around.  It was time to move because I was starting to feel its effects. Mine has already been a long career, but this was my first tear gas encounter.

 

Certainly, I could tell it was unpleasant. Past the bridge, I tacked right and back into a deep car park away from the avenue. By now my eyes were stinging severely and the gas was getting into my nose. The need for fresh air was becoming urgent. Once clear, I took deep breaths, blinked madly, wiped my suddenly running nose and quite quickly reasoned the worse was over and turned back towards the avenue and the fleeing protestors.

That was foolish too. The gas had become thinner, or at least less visible, but that is when it hit me with all its force. My eyes and nose were now running furiously, blurring my vision and scrambling my senses. Much worse, it was reaching deep down into my lungs. It sent me literally staggering. The pain in my chest was intense, a violent stinging and a tightening vice. The instinct is to gasp and at the same time not to, for fear than any breathing at all will bring more gas and pain into the lungs. For a moment I felt serious panic, as if on the brink of some kind of seizure.

I went back into the car park, almost in shock at how debilitated I had become. That’s when I heard a woman’s voice, urgently beckoning me to her car. “Let me help you, let me help you,” she cried, handing me a damp cloth and lifting my head to spray water into my eyes and face.  Whoever you were, thank you. Soon I can breathe again. A colleague is texting me to see if I am alright and I return to the main media staging area. Yes, I am all fine.

I may not have a gas mask with me tonight. But I will have damp scarf on me. And if canisters fly I am out of there.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The demise of a Sixties monster

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A CCTV camera is seen in front of a large poster opposite in central London  

Home Office is creating more powers to turn everyone into suspects – but leave us no safer

Shami Chakrabarti
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?