This communal grief spills over and it’s almost beautiful

I didn’t know we were already this far down the path already

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Also be sure to read this recent piece on systemic abuse of protestors by the NYPD.

And this one where service workers around the country explain how they feel about opening things back up.

On Friday May 29 journalist Linda Tirado was covering the uprising in Minneapolis when she was shot in the eye by law enforcement despite clearly identifying herself as press. She was rushed to surgery soon after but doctors were unable to save her vision. I spoke with Tirado — the author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America — about what happened that night, the lawsuit she’s bringing against the police, and where she goes from here.

What were the circumstances of you being shot? 

I had gotten into Minneapolis on Thursday evening and did some work on location. That was the first night the National Guard was there. Friday was the first night of curfew, which press were meant to be exempted from. I was maybe a block or two from the 3rd precinct at a Wells Fargo watching a car burning at the drive through. We saw protesters coming from the direction of the precinct and they said they had been gassed. I asked if they heard any warning and they said no. 

I put on my mask and respirator and I went to take photos. I was lining up my establishing shot when I got hit in the face. 

With a rubber bullet?

We believe it was a 40mm compressed foam bullet. The Minneapolis PD is very staunchly on record with the New York Times saying they haven’t used rubber bullets in twenty years. So depending on what we’re calling our rounds that blind people these days…

This is kind of a stupid question, but what was your reaction? Did you know something really bad had happened right away?

Yeah, my first reaction was, oh fuck, this isn’t good. My goggles came off. I was wearing protective eye gear. Any photographer working in tear gas is gonna need that. I had a laceration on my eyebrow that was bleeding freely, and the gas started hitting me. So I squeezed my eyes shut and started screaming that I’m press. I remember somebody came and took my arm and said we’re going to take you to the medics. Then we ran for a little while. I don’t know how long. Somebody patched up my eye, and they tossed me in a janky old van and drove me to the hospital. 

Was there any hope of trying to save your eye or was it too late?

It was pretty far gone. I remember I tweeted from the hospital that I was going into surgery and they were going to try to save the eye. I didn’t really have a good conception if that meant the vision or the organ. I woke up the next day and they were like, well, the good news is you don’t have covid, we had to test you before surgery. The bad news is you’re blind. I was like, alright, cool. I remember thinking all you have to do to get basic medical care is get shot in the face. 

Do you have insurance?

No!

Are you fucked?

Oh completely. I’m in for $58,000 so far between two surgeries. And those are just the ones I know about. I’ve got a few more surgeries coming up, so… The hospital called me yesterday for the first time since emergency surgery, and it was some lady who wanted to sign me up for Minnesota Medicaid. I’m not a resident so she said call these other people. I called them and they said we can’t help you you’re not a resident, call these other people. All of them had a different number that I owed them. I finally got through to the business office and they said we can set you up on a payment plan. We gave you an uninsured discount, so you only owe us $29,000. You can pay us $2,900 a month for the next ten months and you’re good to go. 

Very simply!

I laughed so hard the lady started laughing. I explained to her there’s no fuck off way that’s going to happen. So they’ve got me on $100 a month. It will take me just under twenty five years to pay off the first surgery.

It’s like paying off a fucking mortgage on losing your eye. This is a total confluence of everything that’s wrong right now: police violence, the healthcare industry, the press being under attack. Have you thought about it like that, this sort of convergence of history happening on your body?

As a writer, and a memoirist particularly, yes, and it’s fucking overwhelming. I haven’t been able to wrap my brain around all of that happening at once or how useful it could be made. The one thing I don’t want to have happen is this happens and then nothing happens. Then what was the fucking point? I’ve been turning it over in my mind, what do we do with this. If I’m a character in my own story now, what’s the arc there? What does the story need for it to be worthwhile somehow. 

I’m surprised from when we talked yesterday, and some of you tweets -- I think you joked right away about at least it wasn’t your camera eye -- you seem to be in surprisingly decent spirits.

I worked minimum wage for twenty years. It’s really hard for something shitty to happen and for me not to joke about it. I worked in too many bars. I deployed a marine to Fallujah. It’s not been the easiest life. I think the thing you learn when you work in service for near two decades is how to make other people comfortable with how much shit they’re putting on you. 

You wrote a book about that.

It’s called Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America. It’s basically 288 pages of It sucks to be poor. It surprised me that it was really well received, because for years now I’ve heard all these upper middle class people saying they never really thought about it. I literally had a paragraph where I said $7.25 x 40 x 52 = fuck you. I did the math, and people were like, I’ve never stopped to do that before. I’m talking about masters of the fucking economy over here. How did you not know? How did you never stop to think about what it’s like for millions of people when you run this bitch? 

I think the only reason I’m dealing with this so well is I think poverty and low wage work is just as brutal and visceral as losing an eye to a police bullet. It’s just that people don’t think of it that way because it happens to more people. 

I write in here a lot about how we’re subjecting people to violence constantly. Not just the overt type of violence like shootings, but trying to survive in a hostile fucking country. It’s a warzone for so many people just trying to live. 

I think that’s true. When you work manual labor, and I’ve worked on pig farms, and on factory floors, all of the shit jobs that nobody wants to do because they maybe at least pay $10 an hour. When that’s your job you kind of know that you’re going to be permanently disabled at some point, and it’s a crapshoot for how many good years you’re going to get. I think that’s helping me deal with this too. I’m thirty seven. I got thirty seven good years. I’ve got friends who came back from the war. I graduated high school in 1999 and a lot of dudes I knew enlisted and came back real fucked. I know a ton of kids that lost shit in farming accidents or factory accidents. I know a kid who put his hand in the deep fryer at a Wendy’s. I made it to thirty seven man. I did ok. And how fucking bleak is that?

Where did you grow up?

Utah. I live outside Nashville now. I moved around a lot in the last five years since the book happened. I went to Australia for some time. I spent a lot of time in the UK. I embedded in Ferguson. I embedded in Malheur when the Bundys took over for three weeks. Finally my kids are old enough they were like, mom, we can’t move anymore. We need friends. So we settled. And that turned out to be a good decision because soon after we settled I got shot in the fucking face! 

So you’re suing now? 

We’re suing the departments that were there and the people in charge of those departments. We’re not 100% sure which agencies would have fired. We know based on the orientation of my body and the shot that I was lining up that it came from the police line. And we have no reports of protesters using projectiles that could cause this type of injury. They were throwing bottles. It wouldn’t have been a ballistic projectile like this. So we’re suing for damages, and further, for injunctive relief. It’s unfortunate that we have to have the courts declare that you can’t shoot a working member of the press in the face. But it seems like that might be an important declaration to underscore at this point. 

Have any of the things you already knew about how bad things have always been been reinforced for you the past couple weeks? 

No, I think the thing that’s come over me in the last couple weeks is holy shit I didn’t know we were already this far down the path already. I was in Ferguson for six weeks initially, and have been back over the years. I thought St Louis cops were going to be the worst I ever saw. Then I got to Minneapolis and I was like, holy fuck, it’s next level up here. Which is something you have heard. People had told me you’re going to Minneapolis, be careful, those guys don’t fuck around. But to this level, of blinding multiple people. I keep going back and forth. I’m not sure whether it would be more morally upsetting if they targeted and intentionally shot people, or whether they were just firing indiscriminately at head level into a crowd. That’s the thing that keeps trapping my mind. Which would I be more angry at? Neither of those are acceptable strategies. 

Right. One is purposefully malevolent and one is indifferently….

Homicidal. If I hadn’t been wearing my goggles, the fact that it was a soft part of my face… god knows….

It could’ve been much worse. Has it hardened your resolve to get back to work? 

I was back at work five hours after they let me out of the damn surgery. I was in my hospital bed running down leads. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to cover as a frontline observer anymore. Largely because you don’t want to be a danger to everyone around you. They say monocular vision is very specific and kind of a little whimsical even with what you’ll be able to see, your depth perception and things like that. So it’s a question of waiting to see if I’m going to be a hazard to other people. Will I be tripping over curbs if I have to run. So we don’t know if I’ll be able to get back to that particular beat, but it’s not going to stop me from reporting out these stories. It might just mean I can’t take my own photos. 

The big thing people are talking about in the media this past week, the “free speech” shit heads, with the Tom Cotton thing, and the Matt Taibbi post everyone’s posting about today… 

What did Taibbi say?

Ah, he just wrote one of those standard “the woke Twitter lynch mobs are coming for free thought” pieces that you see every other day now. Doesn’t it seem absurd that that sort of thing is an obsession for a lot of people when the police are out here actively brutalizing people over their first amendment rights? It’s insulting. 

I think it’s absurd on the face of it, but in another way it makes absolute perfect sense. You’ve got a whole lot of people that are invested in not knowing that this is what it’s like. And a whole lot of people who would have to take a good hard look at themselves and what they’re willing to sacrifice. It turns out it’s nothing. They wouldn’t give up… 5% of their salary to bend things toward justice. 

They live in their places and they want to keep them and in order to they have to go along with this fantasy of “a few bad apples.” I’ve seen this going around Twitter: You do realize the entire point of that whole metaphor is that it spoils the entire bunch? That’s how the oxygenation works you asshole. 

You mentioned you’ve been getting a lot of attention online now, both good and bad. Are people giving you a really hard time?

It seems to be two pronged on the negative stuff. Any woman writer, or any woman of any public note, is going to have her DMs full of dudes that are like, hi, hi, hi, hey sexy. Now it seems to have turned over into You shouldn’t have been there. It’s your own fault you got shot in the face. Just all these dudes like why did you put yourself in front of soldiers? Well it’s my fucking job dude. Do you not like the idea of knowing what your country is doing?

Then there’s a ton of people who are super well meaning and lovely, and they all have advice on what I should do. It’s been really interesting, because a good portion of my public work since I got hit has been saying don't infantilize me. I’m a writer. I can find my own words for this. You don’t have to tell me how to define this. You don’t have to tell me what my legal strategy should be. I got one of the best law firms in the country. I’m perfectly capable. If I could hold my own as a low wage worker speaking up to Stanley McChrystal I think I can manage this. 

People love to tell people what to do! Are you heartened by what we’re seeing? Do you think this is a serious moment of change?

I think it’s a shift for some people. I’ve been using the fascism word openly since 2015. I’ve been writing about it, because I was raised by rightwing western conservaties, people who worship Rush Limbaugh. So when Trump came up it spiked this nativist part of my brain and I thought oh, this is going to be bad. I think what’s happening is we’re finally seeing a lot of people understanding how bad it is. They couldn’t see it coming, they had to wait until it was enacted on their friends’ bodies. The fact that so many of these protests are white, which you didn’t see for Ferguson, which was supposed to be a change everything flashpoint, and you didn’t see this kind of response. I don’t know that it changes anything but I think that it changes the game board. I don’t know that it changes the outcome yet, I don’t think we’ve hit that level, but I think the landscape has changed. That is going to be interesting to see. You know, that kid up in Fort Wayne lost his eye. I’m two years younger than his mom. He’s just out of school. Those things radicalize you when it’s your son or daughter. The suburban moms who are out there like Fuck you Donald Trump. You wouldn't have seen that three months ago. 

What are you working on now?

I’m not putting too much pressure on myself to create, which is hard for a freelancer. I don’t have very much time I can keep my eyes open at a stretch right now, as my right eye gets used to taking the whole weight. I sat down yesterday and said I’m going to play this bullshit video game from 1999, but in the back of my head I was like I should really be pitching right now. I had a whole argument with myself. You just got shot in the face you’re allowed to not pitch for an hour. 

I think you can take a few days off. 

Yeah but you know, your brain just won’t let you. 

Well did you at least get any good photos out of the deal?

Dude I got some amazing shots. I was there for the days Minneapolis was burning. It’s an unfortunate part of our work that the worse shit is the better the photos are. I got some incredible pictures of rainbows and structure fires and rainbows and tear gas. People with clenched fists outlined against the chaos. And the joy of it. I picked up some of the joy in these photos. That’s the part you can never explain to anybody. They think it’s all pillaging and burning and looting. But it’s the first time that this rage… this communal grief. It spills over and it’s almost beautiful. 

Find more from Linda Tirado here on her Patreon.