From left, Neil O'Grady, Identity withheld*, Steve Rai From left: Photograph by Jaren Robinson for Bloomberg Businessweek; AP Photo; Photograph by Grant Harder for Bloomberg Businessweek
Constable, London Metropolitan Police
O’Grady, 31, was called in to work on Aug. 8 when unrest that began in North London spread to other parts of the city.
I was in the middle of my rest days when I got a phone call around half past 1 in the afternoon asking if I could come to work at full level-2 dress—so all the pads and the flameproof overalls.
I’d only been a level-2 officer for about a month at that stage. This is one of my first tours of duty. So I was really anxious about what was expected of us.
There was a large mob in the Lewisham high street. As soon as we got there, we took over from the officers who were on the cordon trying to keep this mob away from the high street. There were about 60 or 70 of them. They all had face coverings on. As soon as we took over, they moved back a bit. When they realized we weren’t chasing them, they started throwing everything they could possibly lay their hands on at us—bricks off garden walls, flower pots. I got hit by various bits of masonry, on my helmet and then on the shield.
I’ve never experienced so much hatred. There’s so much noise and commotion. They are trying to egg us on forward to them, but they’ve got their faces covered.
Normally we don’t really get anything like that round here. To actually be part of it is just so scary, to be honest. All the time I was growing up, I always thought if a police officer stops you, always be polite. But on this day it just seemed like everything went out the window.
Lieutenant, Hellenic Police
The 27-year-old was leading a 20-man riot police unit monitoring a demonstration in Athens that turned violent on Oct. 19.
Small groups of rioters insinuated themselves into the masses of peaceful demonstrators and started clashing with other groups of demonstrators. When we managed to reach them, the rioters attacked us with stones, hammers, Molotov bombs, and other items. They would then retreat and get lost in the crowd. The rioters, who were dressed the same as the other demonstrators, put on hoods and helmets as soon as the clashes started in order to conceal their identity.
We responded to the attacks as they escalated. Initially we lined up and covered ourselves with the protection shields. Then we proceeded with coordinated moves. I suffered minor injuries from stones and pieces of broken marble, but I did not need any hospital care. Four police officers from my unit were injured and were taken to the hospital with fractures and lesions.
Under those extreme circumstances, I naturally felt fear, and perhaps some emotional stress. However, I have been trained to be able to control such feelings and handle such situations. I cannot say it was something new or shocking. Still, every time we are faced with such situations, we are disappointed by the way certain small groups take advantage of the peaceful rallies to manifest their rage against us. [*Because of security concerns, the Hellenic Police wouldn’t allow the officer to identify himself.]
Inspector, Vancouver Police Dept.
Rai, 45, was on duty on June 15 as a riot erupted after the Canucks lost the deciding game of the Stanley Cup Final.
About five minutes before the game was going to end, you just sensed a boil starting to simmer. People were walking a little bit faster. I hear that the game’s over, and then within a flash, I hear on the radio, “We’ve got fights in the crowd.” You could sense the tension in the voice. At about the fourth or fifth broadcast, it was a 1033—that’s the code for police officer in trouble. And about a minute after that, they’re rocking a car. They’ve tipped a car, and the car is now on fire. I thought, “O.K., we’re going to have a riot here.”
We heard that we’re going to go to level 3, which is full-scale riot gear—helmets and shields and padding. Now I see a guy running toward us. His girlfriend’s crying, his head’s bleeding. Now you’ve got elderly people asking, “How do we get out of here?” You’re looking at these people, and you’re thinking, “Are these the same people that I live next to?”
I arrive at the first flash point, and it’s just surreal. There are three walls of crowds, two blocks thick in each direction, and we’ve got police lines holding each side. Rocks and spit and pop bottles and beer cans, and everything’s being thrown. People frothing at the mouth. I thought, “Man, it’s going to go all night.” And then as we started marching toward the main flank, [the crowd] started to move as we moved. I thought, “O.K., we’re going to get this under control.”
—As told to Ira Boudway