Sunday, October 09, 2005

Jaxfest: Hunted in Florida

Two reviewers recently questioned whether the stories in JUNK were truly adapted from actual events. I suppose the idea of a war on junk food sounded so absurd to them, it was difficult for them to believe the plot had basis in reality.

The stories in JUNK are based on six years of independent academic and media archive research, and a lifetime of personal experience with drug policy. A few of those personal experiences become archived reports themselves, in fact. "Jaxfest" was among them, a nightmarish account that originally appeared in the internationally distributed magazine, Cannabis Culture, in 2004. A fictionalized version of this segment appears in JUNK. Here's the real deal. Enjoy...

Jaxfest: Hunted in Florida by Christopher Largen

I sit on a beachside bench next to my friend George McMahon, one of five US citizens granted the right to smoke federal marijuana. He uses it to provide relief from pain, spasms, and nausea. McMahon and I have just driven from Texas to Jacksonville, Florida. We've passed through plains and swamps, but we haven't left Bush country.

We're attending the Sixth Annual Jacksonville Hempfest at the Seawalk Pavilion in Jacksonville Beach. We're scheduled to speak along with Fat Freddy, Kevin Aplin and Jodi James of the Florida Cannabis Action Network (CAN), Heath Wintz of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Doug Klippel of the Libertarian Party, Ken Hurley of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and The Reverend Roland A Duby. Organizers expect a crowd of 10,000.

Fat Freddy sits across from us. He has turned himself into the living embodiment of the famous Freak Brother cartoon. Freddy claims to take marching orders directly from God. I believe he means it.The Reverend Roland A Duby (a comedian and Libertarian sheriff candidate) sits in a booth near us. The Reverend is shiny bald. A gentle giant with a razor intellect, his huge belly is matched only by the size of his heart. He's been trucking with Freddy for months.

It feels good to be with friends. We have unique paths, but the same goal to educate and liberate. Gentle winds temper the sun, a perfect day for teaching.

A young well-dressed lady asks if I can obtain LSD. She claims she's been homeless for three weeks, but her hair, fingernails and clothes are perfectly clean. I tell her I'm traveling with a federal marijuana patient, so I can't help her. She moves on, disappointed but not deterred.

* * *

Sometimes when things go wrong you never see it coming. A bald man with earrings and a Tasmanian devil tattoo approaches Roland A Duby's booth and points at him several times. A few moments later a male and female uniformed officer approach Duby, who sits behind a table.

The female cop asks what he's holding.

Duby says it's a tobacco box.

She asks to look inside.

Duby states that he won't consent to searches without a warrant.

The male officer claims they don't need one.

The female officer threatens to arrest Duby if he won't open the tin.

Duby asks to think about it for a moment.

The male officer reaches for his cuffs.

Duby is trembling and sweating profusely as he rocks back and forth. He looks into my eyes, and I see his mind working. Then he stands up and throws his box in a nearby trash can.

All hell breaks loose.

The officers move in on Duby without stating he's under arrest. Duby backs up slowly but the cops tackle him with a chokehold. He sputters and tries to restore his airflow. He is thrown to the ground and screams, "Oh my God! You've broken my leg!"

The tattooed bald man steps forward and reaches to Duby's face, holding a device that looks like a digital camera. The device makes a hissing noise as mace is sprayed at Duby's face. Duby's glasses block the first shot, but then the cop lifts them and directly blasts his eyes with mace.

A patient named Patty who survived six stomach surgeries stands behind Duby and receives chemical burns on her arms. She doesn't cry out. Pain is already an intimate part of her life.

A young girl watches transfixed as Duby shrieks. I'm grateful my children aren't witnessing this.
Random citizens in the crowd call for help. Randy Cheatham of Florida CAN approaches the tattooed man, taps him and pleads, "What are you doing? Who are you? Leave him alone."

The man responds like a Sumo wrestler on amphetamines. He spins around and yells, "I'M A COP!"

Randy says, "I don't see a badge."

The man frantically whips out a badge from his shirt and spits in Randy's face, screaming "GET BACK! I'M A COP!"

I scoot around to find Duby grimacing, his face inflamed, covered with tears and mucous. He cries out, "I want my mommy!"

I feel like sobbing and vomiting simultaneously.

A guy behind me barks, "Move!"I snap, "I'm not moving. He's my friend!" Then I turn to see the guy is clutching a camera. Right now this man is probably one of Duby's best friends. I pull away quickly.

I squat down to ask Duby the obvious. "Are you okay?"

True to his comedic instinct, he states, "No, I'm not. My eyes are burning and snot is running down my nose."

I look directly at the bald undercover officer and yell, "He's not an animal! He's a human being!"

The female officer tilts her head, shrugs her arms, and says, "Why do you think we've activated a medical response team?"

I know why. They are activating a medical response team because a police officer sprayed chemicals on an unarmed, nonviolent performer at a permit-approved public festival, in full view of beachgoers, tourists, attorneys, politicians, journalists, artists, authors, and patients.

Scott Bledsoe, chief organizer of the Jacksonville Hemp Festival, ascends the stage and announces the arrest. Agitated patrons move toward Duby's tent. The crowd swells. Random shouts fill the hot, humid air.

I try to hold my tongue. I don't want a riot – I've seen enough violence. Traveling with George McMahon, I've learned to stay calm in desperate situations, but I can't remain silent in the face of barbarism. Like McMahon always says, one breath – one choice.

My lips tremble as I rise and shout, "This is America? Congratulations! You just made the press!"

I move through the crowd, weaving like a snake. I can't distinguish my voice from others in the throng. "Go after the terrorists! This was a peaceful event! We just went from cannabis to pepper spray? I feel safer already!"

I approach the female officer and say, "Did you know a federally-authorized marijuana patient was scheduled to speak?"

The officer's face turns white as she points at Duby and asks, "Is that him?"

I say, "Did you bother to ask him his medical status before swarming him? We've got sick and disabled citizens here today. If they smoke a hand-rolled cigarette, will you target and tackle them? What if a diabetic needs to inject insulin? Should patients be afraid to attend this festival?"

The emergency medical team pushes a stretcher to the booth, and I head for the stage. I'm supposed to speak in a few minutes, if I can pull my heavy heart together.

* * *

Fat Freddy stands poised on stage grasping a microphone. He shakes his finger and spits as he denounces the injustice. He counts down to 4:20, then lights up in disrespect of the officers who brutalized his friend and ignored his human rights.

I walk onstage and grab the mike. In spite of my shock and rage, I keep my cool.

"Aside from the pepper spray, it sure looks beautiful out there... but seriously, war is hell. Our casualty list is diverse. We are dying patients denied access to medical cannabis. We are children caught in the crossfire of mobsters and police. We are innocent citizens shot in our own homes during botched drug raids. We are police officers tortured and murdered over illegal drug profits. We are Christian missionaries shot down from the sky in 'suspected' drug planes. We are addicts who die incarcerated because our government spends more on prison than treatment. After 30 years of escalating penalties, we've lost more of our citizens (and civil liberties) than we did in Iraq. Despite this carnage, illegal drugs are readily available. When will our government implement policies that heal rather than destroying lives? We hold the answer in our voices and ballots."

I walk offstage to cheers.

A uniformed officer moves forward, looks me in the eye, nods his head, shakes my hand, and walks away without a single word. I think I just converted a cop. I can't stop grinning.

* * *

I stroll to the beach to meditate and notice two officers following 30 feet behind me. I stop walking to watch the seagulls. The cops stop and gaze at me. I turn from the sand and walk back to the festival. The officers march right behind me like baby ducks.

I'm slightly worried. I know innocence won't protect me from harassment, assault, or arrest. Do these officers just intend to track me... or set me up?

I walk around the perimeter of the festival, the officers almost stepping on my heels. I stop – they stop. I walk – they walk. I consider asking them to dance the congo. My adrenaline is rising. A few minutes later, the cops are gone. Like they were never there.

* * *

McMahon and I enter our motel room. McMahon immediately lights a joint and says, "Those officers were looking for trouble. I sat in pain for six hours. I feared smoking my legal medicine. My health is fragile. One good push could kill me – let alone a police assault. The other patients couldn't take their medicine, so I wasn't alone."

We hear a knock. McMahon opens the door. It's the "homeless" lady from the beach. I never told her where we were staying, but she found us.

She says, "You couldn't get acid, but how about some pot?"I wasn't sure before. Now I'm fairly certain this lady is a cop.

"This motel doesn't allow visitors."

She says, "I wasn't trying to get you in trouble."

I think, "Yes you were. I just wouldn't let you." I close the door and try to rest without further harassment.

* * *

McMahon and I pull over at a Florida rest stop, almost out of the woods. As we return from the restroom we notice a man step out of a sedan. We both recognize him from Jaxfest. He pulls out a camera and videotapes us driving off. Let him. McMahon lights a joint as we cross the state line, and I inhale a deep breath of sweet-scented air.


Blogger defjef from the far left said...

dude thats fukken crazy.. what year was this because i was at the jax beach hemp fest 2 yrs ago i lived in jax beach for about 4 months, that area is not only in the bible belt its the bible belt buckle. ive walked that beach many times. i worked at the seawalk pavillion setting up for festivals i also worked across the street at the seawalk hotel/bar. thats crazy. ive seen many many acts of violence by the cops but it was usually a drunk guy getting kicked out of a niteclub he gets rowdy and they beat him down. wow i was there

5:49 PM  

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