The first gunshot is preceded by a warning that no one hears. The shots come, not from the semi-automatics hoisted nervously at shoulder height by those struggling closest to the doors, but from a police officer’s standard handgun. It has been wrestled from his hands and is in possession by one of the black-clad figures swarming the building. The face behind the bandana is young but unidentifiable. Their eyes are wide–the kickback is more than they expected–and their hands nearly slip down the butt of the gun with sweat.
The gun, for its part, has fired on its owner. Once in the leg, once in the stomach. The cop is on the ground, clutching at his belly, his mouth moving. If he speaks or screams it is lost in the clatter, the wall of noise a perpetual crescendo. The PVC pipe the youth dropped to grab the gun has been kicked further into the melee, and they let it go, let it all go, hoist the gun up in both hands and cover the backs of their contingent as they descend on the front doors.
From an aerial view, the scene can be divided by color. The outer ring of religious organizations and secular non-violent protesters form a half-circle all the way around the face of the building. They’re at least three- deep, in some places as thick as ten, carrying signs and dressed in street clothes. A few are faith leaders in the robes of their office. A line of priests, pastors, and nuns shoulder to shoulder with imams, side by side with a whole group of rabbis. A rainbow swath of the group has come with pride flags draped around their shoulders, their only armor tin buttons and plastic flower crowns. Their ring is closed to the figures in riot gear, clear plastic shields pressed into their faces. They do not yield. Only the black-bloc slips through them in ones and twos, forming en masse on the other side.
A Jewish girl named Jolena begins to sing, her voice a lonely strain in cacophony for a moment before it is picked up by the crowd. The words are translated from Hebrew, into English, into Spanish, into Arabic, Punjabi, Mandarin.
The black-bloc forming within the outer-defense can’t hear the singing. It’s all white noise, all of it: The chants, the bellows, the static of the walkie-talkies, the alarms blaring from the building and the sirens whitling from a world away.
The security on the inside of the ring hadn’t been dressed for a riot when the amoeba-like arms of the black-bloc began to slip around and in-between the solid wall of protestors. They coalesced into faceless masks and black bandanas above bats wrapped with barbed wire, staffs of PVC pipe, and maces of chunks of timber with nails poking through the wood. The nozzles of the AK-47-style rifles appeared, home-made range weapons of crossbows and slingshots joining them. Most of the guards scattered into the building then, closing those impenetrable doors behind them. But some stayed.
After the first gunshot, all hell breaks loose. Street-medics in red and white arm-bands dash between the police and the black-bloc, pulling the wounded back into the outering.
The riot police on the outside of the semi-circle begin to throw flash-bombs.
It is all white noise.
A boy named Kev blinks blood out of his eye. There’s a gash in his temple, through his beautiful brown curls. Mama will be so upset, he thinks, lying on the ground, somehow untrampled. She loves those curls. He can feel his heart beating beneath the now crushing constriction of his binder. Somehow, he never thought he’d die with it on.
The unified front line has reached the doors. Four of them rush forward with a SWAT-style battering ram. They grip the metal handholds tightly and rush forward with all their might. The shock of the collision reverberates in their collarbones–and they are one in that moment, all four of them feel the lancing pain in their arms, all pull back in the same motion. The second hit makes a dent. On the third the right door begins to shutter.
The riot police are spraying tear-gas. Jolena does not stop singing, not even when everyone around her is screaming, all her friends, the people from her temple. Not even when it hits her and it is the worst pain of her life and oh god her eyes must be bleeding her nose and throat and even her skin is on fire aleinu shachar od ya’ir tiz’rach hashemesh beyom bahir ulai machar. She screams her pain into the song. It is more white noise.
The door falls in and suddenly there is gunfire again and the four-bodied individual holding onto the battering ram becomes four people again. In seconds they are only three as the woman on the front right falls down with a 9mm bullet ripping a hole in her throat.
The AK-47s are ripping more holes above her body. More of the black-bloc falls in the doorway, but they are indistinguishable, imperturbable, one and many. The mixture of police and private security are not. They turn and run when the first two of their number fall across the linoleum floors and the black-bloc presses inside.
It smells of piss and shit. Even in the abandoned lobby the desperate wash of bleach is not enough to overpower it. The black-bloc presses on. Through the metal-detectors are the first set of cages, young men in standing room only behind several layers of wire mesh. Out come the wire-cutters, the bolt-cutters. The smell is worse here. The men speak in rapid sentences, eager to join, but emaciated, weak with hunger and the poisoning of weeks spent in human waste. The black-bloc absorbs them, sends them back through its ranks where a second-wave of religious leaders wait to take them to the sanctuaries in their places of worship.
The building is only one floor, but its fluorescent-washed hallways stretch out for what feels like miles. Several members of the black-bloc become individuals again as they gag into their bandanas. The smell is even worse here.
The next door is passed and there is no time for the words to describe what they find there. They have to lift many of the children, carrying them in arms and a few on stretches. Many of them are shocked silent, but a baby is screaming. In the muffled sound of footsteps it is more than white noise.
“Mija, somos aqui ayudarte,” croons 60-year-old tia Rosalina, pushing down her black bandana so that the crying baby can see her kind, wrinkled face. “Estas salvado, estas salvado.”
The crying doesn’t stop. All the way through the halls, back out into the surge of bodies where it is absorbed into the sea of sound like any other drop of water. It does not stop in the unmarked van that brings her to the local mosque. It will not stop, not throughout the night, not when her abuerta finally finds her and takes her home, not when she has been issued a certificate proving, in fact ,that she belongs here, that she did all along. It will go on and on, the cry from that day, that life, that pace. It will be the white noise of her life.
And this is terrorism.