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On the evening of December 6, 2008, two members of the Special Guards of the Hellenic Police confronted a group of youngsters in the Exarcheia neighborhood of Athens. The initial police report claimed that the youths had thrown bottles and rocks at the policemen; eyewitness reports claimed that the policemen had approached the youths and instigated a confrontation.

What we know for sure is that one policeman fired his weapon; 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos was fatally wounded by gunfire; and a few hours later, Athens and other cities in Greece were in flames.

I was serving a term of conscription in the Greek army at the time, at a base near Patras in western Greece, and I remember that for several days after, anyone going into town on liberty was warned: don't wear your uniform. Change into civilian clothes. Don't be a target.

I'm restricting my intro to what I know for sure; my opinions, musings, and ramblings are below the orange fiddly bit.

I've seen a number of incidents of civil unrest since I started working in Athens. When I first got here, organized marches would roll past my office building at a rate of more than once a week, and broken windows and shattered marble steps near Syntagma Square were more common than not. More than once, I got out of work or stepped out of the metro and got slammed by hours-old clouds of tear gas that had saturated the atmosphere. The cops' overuse of gas grenades got noticed internationally. On the flip side, though, there's no doubt that among the protesters there were people trying to ignite confrontations (I've heard people insist that they were false-flag instigators seeded by the cops to give an excuse for police reactions), and it wasn't just stones that flew at police, but fire bombs.

And from my observations, the most prominent part of an Athens riot cop's kit is not his firearm, but his shield. Guards around embassies and government buildings will carry slung submachine guns, but when the riot cops come out, they're generally just wearing pistols (along with truncheons, stun grenades, gas grenades, gas masks, and visible body armor). I've seen confrontations from seven stories up, and when the protesters are throwing rocks and fire bombs, the cops generally don't draw their firearms, but rather turtle up behind their shields.

Six years later, I see the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and I'm struck by both similarities and differences.

The Ferguson police had much less reason to be confrontational than the Athens police; it's not like Ferguson had a history before the shooting of riots and residents attacking cops. And the police reaction to the marches and protests in Ferguson is much more disturbing. Put simply, the police in Ferguson are leading with their guns, not their shields.

And isn't a fundamental rule of firearms that you don't point your gun at a target unless and until you're ready to shoot it?


This is what it must be like when my friends back in the USA read reports of unrest in Athens and send me messages asking if I'm okay. All I know is what I've seen from the news feeds, and I know it's not a complete picture, but what I see is scary.

The picture of a young man, hands in the air, body language screaming "I am not a threat", with what looks like a dozen armed submachine guns bearing down on him? That's going to stay with me for a long, long time.

The pictures of throngs of people, with their hands up, facing lines of police who are leading with their guns? That's going to become part of the USA's collective memory, and collective shame.


I'm also reminded of a bit from a Tom Clancy novel, set in the occupied territories in the West Bank, in which a group of Palestinian protesters take a page from Martin Luther King's book, and in their protest, offer no violence or active resistance to the Israeli military, but begin singing "We Shall Overcome".

Back in the States, a CIA analyst notes that "they just figured out how to destroy Israel."

The protesters in Ferguson might just have figured out how to turn back the tide of racism and violence.


As a historical note: the policeman who shot Alexandros Grigoropoulos to death was sentenced to life imprisonment for homicide with deliberate intent to injure. His partner was convicted as an accomplice, and is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence.


Edit: I'm surprised to learn that the Rescue Rangers made note of this diary. I hope my ramblings are worthy.

Originally posted to BruceK on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 02:26 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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