THREE DAYS OF STREET WAR IN BANGKOK
On 15th, 16th, and 17th May for around one and half hours I filmed and interviewed people who had gathered along Rama IV Road from the Rachadapiesek or Klong Toey intersection to Soi Ngam Dupli. As the authorities tightened the noose around Rachadaprasong, a second front opened along Rama IV, including a makeshift stage and speakers, microphones, and sound system.
I am not a professional photographer. Indeed I am not even a very good amateur photographer. What I’ve tried to do is capture the mood of people who have gathered around one of the main sites where Reds and the Security Forces have clashed. People in the outside world can glimpse for themselves some of the faces in the crowd—in other words what do the people on the scene look like—and the chaos surrounding the street barricades. Each day a community of onlookers have gathered drawn by the spectacle of violence, fire, and explosions.
Bangkok Rama IV 15 May 2010 Smoke from barricade. Shot from Expressway entrance area on Rama IV looking toward Lumpini
The photographs are taken behind the Red lines. To be balanced, you also need to look at photographs taken by others from behind the Security Forces lines. Thais confronting Thais doesn’t make anyone on either side less human, less deserving of life.
Bangkok Rama IV 15 May 2010 People near Expressway entrance on Rama IV
The crowd included people from the neighborhood, Red sympathizers, onlookers who’d come to have a look, and hardcore Reds who built and manned the barricades. The press tends to lump the entire crowd as having a single mind, motivation, and determination. In reality, at ground level, people gather in tight knots, talking, watching, and eating. The moth to the flame attraction of violence pulls people closer. Nothing like hearing gunfire to make you feel closer to the people around you.
During this time, I saw only one person who apparently had been shot. There were lots of explosions. As dramatic as that seems, most of these were firecrackers thrown by Red shirt supporters. I personally saw no one in the Red ranks who had firearms or explosives. That doesn’t mean they weren’t around. I just didn’t see any. I did see people with sticks, one guy with a five foot length of metal pole, and slingshots hanging from a couple of men’s back pockets. At front line barricades, I saw the slingshots used. Most of the men at the barricades kept their heads down, staying low as well.
Bangkok Rama IV 15 May 2010 near burning tire barricade on Rama IV
There was also the periodic sound of gunfire. A distinctive, nasty crack, an ugly sudden bullwhip snaps. Some of it was close. It was difficult to tell the location of the shooter or who was shooting. It might be presumed that the shooter was either a very bad shot or was seeking to keep people pinned down. Building barricades while being shot at is a slow process. I suspect if the shooter had intended to kill lots of people, he could have easily done so. The fact that the casualty rate was low suggests some kind of restraint is being exercised. A sniper could easily have been off dozens and dozens of people. That didn’t happen. But having said that said, people shot on Rama IV on 17th May. I can’t draw any conclusion for where the shooters were, who they were, or whether their purpose was to suppress the demonstrators without inflicting a large number of casualties.
Bangkok Rama IV 15 May 2010. Appears to be a bloodied fireman’s helmet with bullet hole through the front visor. Shot under Expressway overpass on Rama IV
The Rama IV Expressway entrance, the one to Bang Nah and the Port, was closed to traffic. A young Thai man took me up to the top of the ramp—about 200 meters from Rama IV—where there was a mountain of tires. Just under a dozen men worked to move tires (rolling them mostly) from one part of the ramp to a lower area, where other men loaded them on a waiting pickup. The pickup, after being fully loaded, shot down the ramp, into Rama IV, made a sharp left and headed to the front line. The crowd cheered as the gray pickup shot down the deserted stretch of Rama IV toward Soi Ngam Dupli. Once the pickup had delivered its load of tires near the barricades, it sped back through no man’s land to the Expressway entrance, back up the ramp, where more tires were loaded. This activity went on for the entire time I was in the area. The men were well organized, efficient, and determined.
I will start with the photographs from 15th May 2010. The photographs above were taken from 4.30 p.m. to around 6.30 p.m. on that Saturday. Over the next few days, I will post photos from 16th and 17th May. I will continue to return to Rama IV for additional coverage.
Bangkok Rama IV 15 May 2010. No man’s land on Rama IV