April 4th, 2013 DAY 5 OF SPILL
We rode into town towards Lake Conway. When Exxon’s Pegasus line broke, the twenty-two foot gash spilled tar-sands intended for refineries in the gulf where it would be exported overseas. Instead, it ran like a river through the subdivision, down the storm drains, through a creek under the interstate and settled into any body of water in its’ path. The tar-sands mixture moved quickly with the help of a hard rain that came and went before we arrived. We’d soon find evidence of just how far it had spread.
As we came down the interstate we crossed a land-bridge dividing the lake. This had been just a bridge before the spill, which Exxon filled in with gravel in a sorry attempt to save the larger part of Lake Conway. The cove was to our right. For the many residents with lake front views, the cove had been a beautiful site just a week ago. Now they saw death; lifeless lily pads stained brown with sickness and murky waters hiding the rest of the failing vegetation.
To the left was the rest of Lake Conway, which still had a blue hue. It was a sign that made it easy to assume the oil had not reached this portion. The media and Exxon stuck to the denial story the entire week, insisting that they had and I quote, “stopped the oil just in the nick of time”. Unfortunately, that was far from the truth.
Jak was taking pictures of the cove when an American flag flying over a private dock caught his eye. We parked and headed there to ask permission to film from the backyard. Minutes after receiving permission the Mayflower police arrive. The officers were polite and left quickly after confirming our right to be there.
The residents had come out (probably because the cops showed up) so I went to make conversation with them. (A follow-up interview I did with these residents will appear under “testimonies”) Once again, within minutes, more cops show up. This time it was the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff walks up to me and the residents. “Are you with them?” he asks, motioning at the group by the dock. “Yes sir” I said. He turns to the residents. “Do they have your permission to be here?”
“Yes, is there a problem? Y’all told us there was nothing out there.”
“Well,” he retorts, “They’re too close to the scene so I’m going to ask them to leave”. He turns to relay his order to the rest of our team. “Can I have your name sir?” I ask. He spins around, barks “Deputy Sweeney” at me and walks away.
He confronts Jak and the others, asking the question he already had an answer to. “Y’all have permission to be here?” “Yes we do” Jak replied. “Not from me you don’t. I own this property now and you’re gonna leave.” We leave the yard and the baffled residents to obey our “order”. Well, almost. Two of our group go across the street with a camera to film the cove but Sweeney stops them in their tracks. I watch from across the road as he grabs the arm of one, grabs the camera with his free hand and physically forces them off the street and back to us. We accept that we’ve worn out our welcome and drive back up the interstate.
We are not the type to be deterred by cops. Everyone on our team has been arrested more than once, and we didn’t come here expecting anything less, so we pressed on and picked another target; the woods directly across the cove and one step closer to the spill site.
We parked in a random lot cornered by the on and off ramps to the highway. From there we ran into the woods like a team of spies having just deployed to ambush the enemy. We slowly made our way, snagging thorns as we stalked our prey; the mysterious yellow men who crept along the shoreline in their gurgling vessels.
Right away we caught footage of an oiled duck near the bank. It was a triggering moment for me. I instantly decided that I, with no net, would rescue this poor creature. I dropped all my belongings and tried. (I ended up forgetting my stuff there, having to go back through the woods and past the workers to find it.) I was to wrap it in my shawl when the oily bird had another jolt of energy and vanished from site. The rest of the time was mostly spent trying not to be spotted by the yellow men. The workers surrounded us as we ducked and weaved between the trees. We crawled around under their noses, taking pictures of oil slicks in the cove-fed creeks on the wrong side of the booms. It was a clear indication that booms were not working to contain anything out here.
I couldn’t tell if the others felt discouraged by our attempt at “breaching enemy lines”, but we were all anxious to get out of there and go somewhere else. We’d accepted that we could get arrested, but I think all of us would’ve preferred it not be on day two. We scouted for a while, assessing how the hell we might get closer. We tried driving right through the police check point. We pass with no problems.
From there we could see a majority of the work force lit up like a football field with their machines roaring. Hoses sprayed so high into the trees you’d have thought there was a forest fire. Every time we drove by ( a total of three times that day) we slowed down and took pictures. It was not until the third time, which we had already decided would be our last, that we got pulled over.
I swear I felt it coming. I had a bad feeling for most of the day and with good reason. Once again a Faulkner County Sheriff came over to us. Our story would be we were lost, just trying to get back to the highway. I tried not to crack a smile when the officer said, “Y’all lost? We’ve seen y’all drivin’ around all day.” He takes our drivers’ id then tells them to step out of the car. After a bit he comes back for our id’s and runs them for warrants. We start broadcasting live while we wait. Our driver comes back after what felt like an eternity. It always feels like an eternity when you’re pulled over, doesn’t it? The driver tells us what that the sheriff had strict orders to arrest us on site and charge us with criminal trespassing and obstruction of a government operation. But, if our id’s
came back clean he would let us go. Then came the all to revealing quote.
Sheriff to driver: ” I am getting a lot of money to keep people like you out of these workers’ way.” It is a weird feeling when your suspicion is unapologetically confirmed to your face by the state. We drove away shook up but relieved. We cracked jokes and laughed about the experience on the road back to Little Rock. Sometimes, laughing is all you can do.
To Be Continued…
In Solidarity Forever,