A young punk who lives on the streets of Los Angeles tried to make his mark during the WTO protests in Seattle.
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By Bill Donahue
"Fuck!" Jackal said when he saw me. "I wish I had a fucking crowbar!"
His voice carried rage, certainly, but it was also convivial. Jackal was pleased, it seemed, to find someone intrigued by his labors, and me? I was quite curious. This gnarled, 25-year-old punk in baggy fatigues and a black hooded sweatshirt emblazoned "Profane Existence" seemed archetypal. Here was the angry soul of the anarchist horde that had, the night before, shattered windows and looted downtown Seattle, prompting the city's mayor, Paul Schell, to call in the National Guard. Jackal had helped trash both McDonald's and Starbucks. I stepped toward him, squinting in the shower of glass.
The car, it turned out, belonged to Jackal himself. Well, kind of: "My best friend gave it to me a couple days ago," he said. "It was having mechanical problems, so he wanted us to beat the shit out of it." Jackal pried the hood open and, with a screwdriver, tore a metal band off the carburetor. "Check it out!" he said. "No more VIN numbers." The vehicle was bereft of license plates too -- of any numbers that would make it identifiable to the police -- and now Jackal announced plans to "hop in and go flying right into downtown. I ain't gonna stop for any cop that comes near me," he said. "I'm gonna leave this car there in the road, blocking everything."
Jackal, who lives on the streets of Los Angeles, longed to become legendary. He wanted to become a hero back at "the squat," the abandoned Seattle warehouse that he and roughly 100 other young WTO protesters seized on Nov. 28. The squat, which the protesters vacated late last week, had 12 cavernous sleeping rooms, a makeshift kitchen, even an indoors "anarchist basketball court" featuring a hoop fashioned out of a milk crate.
Jackal had helped make the place habitable, hauling 5-gallon buckets of water up a long flight of stairs into a kitchen that lacked running water. Still, his co-tenants spurned him. He was a hard-bitten thug, a virtually illiterate ex-con, and the anarchists around him were naifs. They were college kids and suburban teen runaways who'd taken over the building peacefully, in order to secure housing for Seattle's homeless; they spent most of their time at the squat talking about things like veganism and animal rights. Jackal didn't fit in, and his solitude became painfully clear now in the parking lot as two fellow squatters approached. Jackal told them of his plans to drive the Valiant through police barricades, into downtown.
"Like that car's fucking bulletproof," said one of the kids.
Jackal stuffed his hands in his pockets and backpedaled a couple steps toward the car. Then the other kids left and together he and I meandered away to talk over lunch.
How much can you believe of what you are told by a guy who gives you a fake name -- a name that is typically used to describe wild dogs? I don't know. All I know is that, over chicken burritos that afternoon, Jackal delivered a colorful story.
"My parents were heroin addicts," he said. "I only met them once, when I was 16 and they'd just gotten out of prison. I was living in this abandoned building and they came by and chatted to me for 15 minutes and then left. They wanted nothing to do with me."
Jackal was raised in Dallas by devoutly Baptist foster parents -- a lawyer and a nurse, he claims -- and at times his childhood was idyllic. He remembered Lake Ray Hubbard, near Garland, Texas, where he angled for catfish with his foster dad, and remembered a certain foster grandmother he loved. Violence was a more prevalent motif, though. "Ever since I was a little kid," Jackal said, "I've had problems with having my space invaded. If I get put in a corner, I flip. I was the only white kid in an all-black [grade] school. Everybody hated me. They'd jump me, 15 people at once, and I'd try to tear their fucking heads off. I'd kick ribs. There'd be broken arms every once in a while, broken legs. I'd twist the body parts and listen to the bones snap."
At home, Jackal had nightmares -- "nightmares of dying by the government, of gunshot wounds. There'd be the sound of helicopters and of sirens, loud screaming fucking sirens. It scared me to death. I'd wake up shaking and crying. I'd hide under the bed. I didn't tell my foster parents. I didn't think they'd care, because whenever I told them about the fights at school, they were like, 'So?' They were cold."
They were also liars, Jackal said. "One day when I was 10, I broke into my foster grandmother's cedar chest, just to see what was in there, and I found my original birth certificate. I was disappointed. I was pissed off. I left my foster parents a note -- "Why must you lie?" -- and I escaped. I jumped out a second-story window with no plans of going back, ever."
We were sitting at the counter beside the coffee lids and the cream and Jackal was slugging the cream, drinking whole glasses full. I watched him. Each of the four fingers on his left hand was tattooed with a letter. "F-U-C-K," read his fist. Jackal had done the needlework himself. In fact, Jackal had also wrought the tattoos coating his arms -- the black skull, the indigo dragon, the logo of a punk band called the Misfits. He once inked skin for a living. Now he makes drawings that tattoo shops buy from him to use as templates. He earns about $200 a month -- enough, he says, to get by.
"The Drunk Punks," he explained, "they showed me how to survive. They showed me how to take a crowbar and bust open a building, and how to get food for free." Jackal subsists mainly on stuff scavenged from dumpsters; sometimes he robs supermarkets. And sometimes he gets in serious trouble. "A few years ago," he said, "I was in Florida with my road dog, David Owens, and I was on a bad acid trip. I went into this convenience store, and the guy told me he wouldn't sell me milk, so I put a bayonet to his neck and I told him I was going to kill him. I didn't, but they caught me. I got nine months in jail."
We finished our lunch. We went outside, onto the sidewalk. It was drizzling now, and several teen protesters were huddled beneath a store awning. One was slender and pretty, with a single cheap handcuff inexplicably attached to her wrist. Jackal approached her, then toyed with the dangling cuff. The girl was too naive to be frightened. She smiled. Jackal related his war story.
"I'm not a peaceful protester," he said. "Me and my friends, we tipped over some dumpsters last night. We broke the windows at Starbucks and looted the place. We got McDonald's real good. It's cool. People are standing up and fighting for what they believe in. They're tearing down the corporations and battling the WTO because it's screwing over the world."
The girl, perched on a metal railing, said nothing. Jackal latched himself into her spare handcuff. "I want to kidnap you," he said with coarse affection. "I want to take you so deep into the underworld that you won't know where you're at. How old are you?"
"Oooo," Jackal said, still teasing. "Now, that made me scared."
He unlocked himself and the girl bolted and then, a few minutes later, Jackal and I were alone in the rain.
"I'm too ugly to have a girlfriend," he said.
I tried to shrug the comment away. I laughed.
"Really," Jackal persisted, "It's true. I'm too ugly. Put that in your story."
I didn't see Jackal again until quite late that evening. He was hunched in the stairwell at the squat then, about to embark on what he cryptically called "a mission." Outside, an emergency curfew was in effect: Black-clad anarchists were not likely to get a warm reception. Still, Jackal rounded up a couple of underlings -- teenagers named Pixie and Real -- and the squat's self-appointed security guard, surmising there were no cops in sight, gave us clearance to exit. "Go! Go! Go!" he implored. We surged out the door and then, for roughly five minutes, kicked around, aimless, at a bus shelter.
"What are you guys going to do?" I asked Pixie finally.
Pixie had to think a moment. "If people are acting out against corporate greed," he said, "well, then we'll assist them."
Soon a passerby told us of mayhem up on Capitol Hill, a mile away. We hurried off and found ourselves, eventually, in a thick cloud of tear gas in the parking lot of a gas station surrounded by police. The cops stepped toward us. One got down on his knee and aimed his gun at our heads. I could see his face behind his helmet visor. "Get back!" he said.
I retreated, hands up, but Jackal did not and, as I rushed down the hill, I heard gunfire. It occurred to me that maybe Jackal was dead, and that I could do nothing to help him. I took refuge in a bar, got a drink, made some calls. Then, as I left, I saw Jackal again. He was standing on the corner, holding a liter of water and salving the burning eyes of anyone who'd been stung by the tear gas. "Water?" he asked over and over. "Want some water?" The people who needed it took the bottle from Jackal and dripped it onto their eyes and groaned in relief and handed the bottle back and told Jackal, "Thank you. Thank you." Jackal stood there until the bottle was dry. Then he walked home to the squat, perhaps happy that, for once, what he'd done mattered to someone.
- - - - - - - - - - - -About the writer
Bill Donahue has written for the New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, DoubleTake and Outside.