Thursday, June 28, 2007

Some Not-So-Civil Disobedience

I said on Monday that I doubted I'd be posting much about Fry Street again anytime soon. The buildings were coming down, and there was nothing more that could be done. But nothing prepared me for the events of last night.

There had been protests and candlelight vigils all week. The Save Fry Street site had an admonition to those who would be attending:
We also ask that you refrain from vandalism. These buildings belong to the community more than they do United Equities. Defacing them is wrong and is stealing from the community.
Well, so much for that idea...
(Rough language advisory for those who care.)

Yes, some of the protesters evidently decided to take matters into their own hands:
Before the wrecking crew could push down the walls of The Tomato, the Fry Street icon died by fire Wednesday night at the hands of men seen running from the building just before flames burst out from the windows.

While hundreds of young people milled behind yellow crime scene tape in the rain watching and recording the scene with everything from professional cameras to cellphones, University of North Texas and Denton police detained three young men at the scene but later released them after intensive questioning.

[...]Police saw flames shooting from the roof amid a heavy smoke cloud about 11 p.m. and called for the fire department. Battalion Chief Cort Higgins said the building was fully in flames when firefighters arrived.

“The building was going down anyway,” Higgins said. “But we were worried about extension to some of the adjoining buildings that are going to remain, and we had power lines down and burning.”
I got an IM from a friend in Denton saying that someone had evidently tossed a Molotov cocktail into the building, and people stood around and watched firefighters battle the blaze for several hours--a festive atmosphere, almost, except for those involved in containing the fire.

I can't begin to describe my sense of shock when I heard the news and saw the above video. My friend who was there said that the general mood of the bystanders was that the place "went out in a blaze of glory" instead of falling victim to the developers' wrecking ball, but when civil disobedience crosses the line into criminal activity, there's something wrong. Did the perpetrators think that this act would somehow scare United Equities into not building the development anymore? That's not likely, but even if that were to happen, it's pointless; the historic buildings are gone now.

The only thought that keeps running through my head is, "what a waste." That, and the nagging feeling that something like this only bolsters some people's claims that Fry Street was a rundown area that was badly in need of "sanitizing." So while I appreciate the "poetry" (to quote one bystander in the DRC article) of what happened, it still strikes me as just wrong. In the words of one of the owners in a MySpace bulletin about the fire, "What a waste of taxpayers' money on something that was being torn down anyway. All I can say for now is use your voice and the passion in your heart and you can make a difference."

See a slideshow of the fire (and the gutted buildings a few days beforehand) here. And now we can truly say R.I.P. to the original Tomato; may your soul reemerge in a new body very soon.

Light amongst the darkness: I did get a smile out of the poster being held by one of the peaceful protesters earlier in the week: "Do you want a Culturally Void Society?"--a clever dig at the drugstore company that's likely to be locating on the Tomato's footprint. And visitors to the Tomato's MySpace this morning are greeted by the Bloodhound Gang's song whose chorus goes "The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire..." Just a bit of gallows humor after an unfortunate incident.

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