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A reporter’s view: ‘the expressions on people’s faces was that of pure disbelief’

Sarah Lagan, senior reporter for The Royal Gazette, reports from the scene of the protest on December 2, 2016 (File photograph)

Reporter Sarah Lagan covered the December 2 protest for The Royal Gazette. Five years later, she looks back on the chaotic and frightening events of that day.

Chaotic, frightening and heartbreaking are just a few words that sum up the events of the December 2, 2016 protest for me.

When I arrived on assignment in the early afternoon, about five hours after protesters first began gathering outside the House of Assembly, the atmosphere was tense but controlled.

I struggled to secure a tiny spot up on the wall in front of the Government Administration Building on Parliament Street so I could see over the shoulder-to-shoulder protesters assembled there.

Once I managed to get up I was taken aback by the sight before me – a solid human chain formed around the parliament building – a physical display of political resistance.

There were several senior citizens, women included, in the line-up in front of the main gate on the western side of the perimeter wall. I wondered how many protests they had staged in their lifetimes and was moved by their will to continue to fight for what they believe in – in this case, to block an airport deal they believed was flawed and went against the will of the people.

Waiting around, it felt like the calm before the storm. A bullish looking Chris Furbert, president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, is no unfamiliar sight but there was a certain intensity in his gaze that hinted that this protest would be no pushover.

Soon after, helmeted police officers dressed in what appeared to be riot gear – minus the shields – turned up and began to clear a path through the crowd on Parliament Street. It was at this point tensions quickly escalated.

The protesters around the building linked arms and began to chant “we shall not be moved”, while those in the street stood their ground. There was shouting, pushing, pulling … someone brought down a closed umbrella with force into the crowd and screams broke out while officers filmed the events unfolding around them.

Before long, the police and protesters were pressed against each other and it was clear that the officers could no longer advance.

A group took off and police chased them down the street. I made my way through the crowd to follow them while taking notes and texting live updates to the newsroom.

I found myself stood next to Derrick Burgess, a veteran Progressive Labour Party MP, who was telling police “there are people with ammunition … they will come”.

The tensions descended into near chaos as reports emerged of people, including seniors, being pepper-sprayed.

The reports were confirmed when I saw protesters, young and old, frantically running around, tears streaming from their stinging eyes, while others poured water and milk over their faces to try to relieve their pain.

The expressions on people’s faces was that of pure disbelief.

Over at the Reid Street gate, I saw a woman being placed on a stretcher and taken off in an ambulance. People were saying a senior had been pulled over the perimeter wall and was injured in the process.

Protesters were infuriated.

Images of seniors frightened, crying and in pain will for ever be etched in to my memory.

With Mr Burgess comparing events to the 1977 riots, it felt like things could spill over into tragedy.

I turned around to Christopher Famous, now a PLP MP, and told him I had not reported on anything as bad as this in my career.

It felt like it would never end, but eventually the crowd did start to disperse.

However, having heard the many reactions to that day’s events, it was clear that the police would be damned for their actions and that the death knell had been sounded for the ruling One Bermuda Alliance government.