I've worked on a few daily papers over the last five years, but I've never before written or edited the phrase "the dead officer is understood to have been disemboweled."
That was one of the early reports from the riot that knocked the head off Jakarta yesterday. A few hundred protestors who were convinced that the city was out to demolish a sacred tomb near Koja port in Tanjung Priok assembled at about 6.00 AM to stand guard against 2,000 or so public order officers (a security force kind of like police, but who work for a different city administration) who poured into the area, accompanied by two excavators.
It's not clear which side swung the first club, but by seven-ish the scene was a full-fledged battle. Protestors came prepared with machetes and sickles, which they used on the officers and later the cops with total abandon. Molotov cocktails flew, turning about 60 emergency vehicles into smoking piles of rubber and metal, including the massive water-cannon police used to try to disperse the crowd.
By afternoon, the ranks of protestors had swollen into the thousands, and the four televisions in my newsroom were broadcasting live footage of limp, uniformed bodies on the ground surrounded by clusters of men dropping stones on their heads.
As a copy editor on one of the English-language daily papers in the city, I churned through accounts of an officer's arm cut off and a demonstrator attacked by vengeful cops who tied his hands, stripped him naked, and beat his head in. Later in the afternoon, groups of people wielding sticks stormed the hospital, looking to take revenge on any public order officers who might be there getting treatment. Hospital staff evacuated those officers by sea right out of the port.
Holed up in my city-center newsroom, the televised chaos might as well have been across the world in New York, but occasional shrieks from the Indonesian staff members huddled around the tvs reminded me that what I was seeing was happening, right at that moment, as far away from me as Canal Street is from McCarren Park.
Probably because I'm still an outsider here, it's hard to understand why such ferocious animosity exists between the government and its citizens. Indonesia has a long history of religious clashes but this isn't really one of them. The people who run the city and country pray to Mecca five times a day just like those they were fighting.
There's some pent up rage here that must go beyond a simple monument. Hell, the body of Mbah Priok--the stiff that's supposed to make the tomb sacred in first place--was moved elsewhere in 1997. Perhaps it's pent-up rage at the incredible wealth disparity here—half the country lives on $2 a day. Perhaps people are tired of being bossed around by a police force that from all reports is for sale to anyone with $5. Perhaps Indonesians just enjoy a good riot.
At the end of the day, we reported two dead and 144 injured, with both counts expected to rise. Night fell on still-burning vehicles in a section of town that has been cordoned off and evacuated of all law enforcement. I'll let you know how things are looking tomorrow.