The video is from Twitter user Khun Ann, showing the police beating down protestors.
These photos are from the Twitter account of Human Rights Watch’s Khun Sunai Phasuk showing three reporters shot by rubber bullets. The reporters are from Chanel 8, Prachatai, and Khao Sod.
What was thought to be a peaceful protest ended up as a violent crackdown.
What was fixing to be the biggest protest this year ended up as the most violent crackdown since the pro-democracy protests began in February last year.
According to the latest reports, over 30 people have been arrested. Many more suffered from injuries.
The confrontation between the protestors and the police started before 7pm. The violence did not end until before midnight.
The story I’m about to tell is based on what I saw.
We got to Sanam Luang around 5:30pm, the protest was scheduled to start at 6pm.
Two decks of containers stood in the middle of Sanam Luang. The police weren’t going to allow the protestors near the Grand Palace.
Just imagine, what would happen to the police if they let the protestors near the Grand Palace. This is Thailand. We know what we know. Right?
Even before the protest was to officially start, there were, by my estimation, well over a thousand people there already.
It was fixing to become the largest protest this year. And why not?
Pro-democracy leaders are imprisoned without bail or a guilty verdict. Palang Pracarat MPs and senators voted down the third motion for constitutional redraft.
Great injustices are happening, and for the first time in months, the people may actually come out by the thousands, if not tens of thousands.
There were many families with children. Food vendors were everywhere.
Skateboarders put on a show.
Kites with faces of the jailed pro-democracy activists were passed around.
Parents and children were flying those kites.
People sat around on the ground of Sanam Luang, talking, eating, and mingling.
The goal of the protest, as announced by the organizer, was to fly kites and paper planes into the Grand Palace as a symbolic act of protest.
Then on the far side, next to the Justice Court Building, a group of protestors were pulling down a container.
Reporters flocked to the area. The protestors succeeded in removing two containers, opening up a gap.
What they found behind the containers were a police water cannon truck and riot police. And no one was surprised at what they found.
The police commander announced for the protestors to not come through the gap, as the path leads to the Grand Palace. The protestors did not cross the gap.
Instead, they tried to pull down another container. The police demanded them to stop.
Every time the protestors tried to pull down another container, the police fired water cannon laced with tear gas. The protestors returned fire with bottles and rocks.
Still, no protestors crossed the gap.
The situation of trying to pull down another container, water cannon fired, and plastic bottles thrown rinsed and repeated itself for perhaps 20 or 30 minutes.
Then, a loud explosion was heard from some distance behind the protestors.
It was then that the riot police moved up and poured through the gap.
For the next hour or so, the police methodically took over the street while the protestors retreated and regrouped.
Tear gas and water cannons were used. The police shot rubber bullets.
The protestors returned fire with bottles, rocks, slingshots, and firecrackers.
The police commander kept announcing for everyone to go home otherwise everyone would be arrested.
Needless to say, the families and children have long since left the scene. Over a thousand people were reduced to perhaps a hundred or so.
With the police seemingly having secured the Sanam Luang area, we decided to leave, heading for Khao San Road. There were still protestors in the area of Ratchadamneon Klang Road, just next to Khao San.
On Khao San, it was complete alternate reality from Sanam Luang earlier. It seemed like just another party night. Music, food, drinks, and party-goers were everywhere.
But as we walked down Khao San, smoke and tear gas filled the air. People grabbed water bottles to watch out their eyes. Many rushed inside.
They didn’t know what’s happening.
The police have made their way down Ratchadammeon. It was like a scene from some monster or horror movie. First came the smoke or fog, then followed the monsters.
We then found ourselves on Ratchadamneoen Klang.
Protestors tore up the streets, pots and plants were everywhere. A small fire was set in the middle of the street.
The police were marching down, firing rubber bullets and water cannons laced in tear gas. Protestors returned fire with rocks and slingshots.
When the shooting of rubber bullets became too intense, the protestors ran and regrouped.
The safest place to be was inside Khao San Road.
Bright light. Music. Shopkeepers. Innocent bystanders everywhere.
But it wasn’t safe.
The police eventually moved down the street and dispersed everyone.
Hours of violence. Scores of injuries.
So what can we take away from last night?
Police overreaction? Check.
Police brutality? Check.
Containers should have never been there? Check.
But also, anyone who understands the ground situation knows, the police weren’t going to let the protestors pull-down containers that block the path to the Grand Palace.
Therefore, the crackdown – unjust though it was – was not a surprise. It was to be expected. Every reporter on the ground knew it was coming. The protestors knew it was coming.
Anyone who says they didn’t know is either naive or lying.
Similar to in February, when the protestors marched to the First Infantry Army Base, which houses the residence of General Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Should the containers and barbwires have been there? No. But when protestors removed the containers and climbed the wall of the army base to cut barbwires, we knew the police would not have allowed it.
Remember the march to the Grand Palace last year when protestors wanted to deliver letters to the king?
Same situation. The police weren’t going to allow the protestors near the Grand Palace. The situation was tense. But there were protest leaders to negotiate a peaceful solution.
The truth about last night is this.
The police are what they are, the instrument of General Prayut, and we know what to expect. But what about the protestors?
There were two groups of protestors. One group was families and, let’s call them, ordinary civilians. Parents who did not plan to bring their young children out to a scene of tear gas, slingshots, and rubber bullets.
Then there’s another group of protestors, a much smaller one, who knew exactly what would happen if they pulled-down the containers.
Thailand’s pro-democracy movement is caught in a trap. The situation rinses and repeats itself. Breach the containers. Crackdown. Breach the containers. Crackdown.
But, to what end?
There are two ways a protest can achieve its goal.
One is through peaceful civil disobedience. That’s why Penguin Parit kept reminding the protestors, “We must remain peaceful, no matter what.”
But for a peaceful protest to put enough pressure on the government that will lead to change, it requires a large number of demonstrators.
That’s why Anon Nampa said, “We want a million people in the streets.” That’s why Rung Panusaya said, “We want two million people in the streets.”
In reality, they don’t need a million or two. But they do need tens of thousands, if not a hundred thousand.
Remember, last year? General Prayut first agreed to a constitutional amendment because there were tens of thousands of people in the street. Now, he longer cares.
Another way for a protest to achieve its goal is for the violence to be on such scale that the government has no choice but to give in to at least some demands. So as to prevent further chaos and anarchy.
But that also requires tens of thousands of people in the streets.
It comes down to the number game.
The question then becomes, with the crackdown and violence that have become a normal routine at these protests, how many people will come out for the next one?