Those Niggling Questions

I have some practical observations and a few reasonable guesses about the death of Carlo Giuliani in Genoa on July 20, amidst the anti-G8 riots. From looking at the Reuters photos, it’s obvious to see that the caribinieri vehicle was cornered, its front grill slammed against a concrete barrier, a large plank shoved into the passenger-side window by a demonstrator. Other protesters were throwing rocks through the back and right-side windows of the vehicle.

It was a bad situation. My martial arts training has taught me that in a fight, one should always give the opponent a way to retreat, or else expect him or her to use the deadliest force he or she can manage. That’s basic fight psychology. If one of the passengers hadn’t shot at Giuliani out the back window and therefore cleared an escape route, the driver certainly would have backed into three, four, five, or six protesters behind him, possibly killing more than one person.

On the other hand, Carlo Giuliani was a local guy who was there with other local friends. These folks probably had no experience of the street battles in Prague, Quebec, or Goteburg, and very likely hadn’t discussed tactics much beforehand. Did they know that Genoa’s police force hadn’t bothered to stock up on rubber bullets, relying exclusively on lethal lead ones? Did they know when to back off in the name of self-preservation? Did they understand that the police themselves weren’t the real target? Or did the police become the target after a morning of cops turning water cannons and truncheons on otherwise peaceful demonstrators? Carlo and his friends certainly saw scores of peaceful people (including photographers and journalists) led or carried away with bleeding head wounds from police batons.

In addition, there’s a type of psychological and physical call-and-response on the street in these situations. Even in Seattle, we saw it: police firing tear gas canisters and protesters picking up those canisters and throwing them back. In an earlier photo of the caribinieri vehicle–taken just before the Reuters sequence–it looks as if the fire extinguisher was hurled out of the back of the jeep at the demonstrators to try and make them move away from the back of the jeep. This is disturbing and tragic: how much of Carlo’s actions in picking up the fire extinguisher and trying to throw it into the rear window of the jeep were because of simple, unthinking call-and-response?