Horses of Achilles – Steven Beaty

“In these difficult moments please accept my condolences for the unfair loss of your son. Like all Greeks I am deeply saddened. I know that nothing can relieve your pain. The state will see to it that such a tragedy does not happen again.”

– Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis

It was partly cloudy in Athens on December 9, 2008. The clouds were lazy in the sky, high above and far away from the smoke that hazed the air around a crowd of black dresses, black suits, black sweatshirts, and black sunglasses. Black dress shoes and charred tennis shoes stepped on flower stems, white flower petals, broken glass, and the rubble of masonry. White roses flew through the air into the middle of a crowd, where a white coffin with an arrangement of white flowers was carried. Three teenagers helped carry the coffin from the right, the front and back both in black sweatshirts, the middle one’s light gray or white. A woman following close behind the coffin was held by her arms and helped to walk, her body exhausted from the crying and wailing that she couldn’t stop. The man on her right was older, with a pasty-white and wrinkled face. The woman on her left was younger, with long, blond hair, and designer sunglasses. Younger children with teddy bears sticking out of the top of their backpacks stayed close to their parents, or were watched by the many teachers in the crowd, as they followed.

Some of the flowers were placed on top of the coffin by people close enough to reach it. Most were thrown from a distance, the flower heads breaking from the stems in midair and bouncing off of the coffin. One flower bounced off the pile of flowers and landed near the front, teetering before it fell. The teenager in front caught it and stopped to fix it on top of the coffin. Then they began to move again. Two men in front helped clear the crowd so the coffin could move. It made its way away from the church of whitewashed stone into the street. The six thousand guests of the funeral poured out of the church, following behind.

***

“Before his death, Alexandros was just a kid like all the others. But now he has become a symbol of the children of his generation.”

“He was shot in cold blood — all the eye witnesses say this.”

– Jina Tsalikian, Alexandros’ mother

***

A policeman, who would soon be followed by the others in his squad just behind him, began to back away from a group of protesters. One of the protesters held another firebomb, its fuse lit, ready to be thrown. An officer was already covered in flames, his body almost completely lost beneath the cloud of fire that was still rolling upwards. Some of the other officers watched him burn, still registering reality. Liquid fire flowed down the sidewalk, past a nearly destroyed bus stop, its fluorescent tubes snapped in half and hanging limp from the ceiling, the windows broken out, and graffiti marking it all over. It was December 12th, 64.4°F, with a windspeed of 11.5 mph SSW. There were scattered clouds.

***

“Everyone has let our children down … Every day I see that students are becoming more hostile toward us and figures of authority.”

– Christos Kittas, (resigned) Dean of Athens

***

It was late at night in Thessaloniki when a boy, eleven or twelve, was walking in an empty street. He wore a black sweatshirt with white sleeves and a white hood, which he had up covering his head. He carried a black backpack with light purple or white trim on his back, and had messy black hair.

He was silhouetted by the roaring fires behind him, barricades made of dumpsters, park benches, trash cans, wood scraps, and anything else flammable that had been thrown and set on fire. Nothing in the city was safe from the rioters – shops, banks, government buildings, police stations – and countless other barricades burned in the streets and intersections across the entire city.

***

“An effort is being made by the bourgeoisie state, the New Democracy government, to utilize the blind violence of the hooded people, which we are witnessing mainly through the television channels, to check the swelling wave of discontent and popular intervention that is developing.”

– statement released by Communist Party of Greece’s Central Committee

A line of policemen in forest green riot gear, with white helmets and foggy-clear riot shields that had AΣTYNOMIA and POLICE written across the front, stood in front of the rioters. Tear gas clouds spread across the street as canisters were launched from behind them. Rocks, bottles, and rubble continued to hit the shields, thrown by rioters in gas masks, or with bandanas covering their faces. One rock, shot by a slingshot, hit a shield hard enough to knock the scratch the shield. Down the line, three officers broke formation and chased after a rioter that had come at them with a wooden pole, a black and red flag attached to the end. Small, yellow flowers, oranges, water bottles, aluminum cans, and blocks of granite broken off from statues or marble steps lay at their feet. The line broke just enough for one officer to come forward with a flamethrower-like piece of equipment. His knees bent as he braced himself. A stream of foggy orange pierced the air as teargas sprayed from the canister. Orange clouds rolled along the ground and down the steps in front of the police line. The protesters at the bottom of the stairs scattered, those with their faces covered staying a few seconds longer to throw whatever was in their head. One of the policemen in the line swept the ground with his foot, knocking a water bottle and a flower away. The flower rolled next to another officer’s foot, the yellow petals bright against the black of his boot. It was December 12th, 59°F, with a windspeed of 6.9 mph SSE. It was Mostly Cloudy.

***

“The victim did not show the expected behavior and personality of a 15-year old adolescent… the deceased had been expelled from the school Moraitis and changed schools often.”

– Alexis Kougias, counsel for the defendants

One of them wore a pair of black pants that sagged low on his hips, a white tank top, a black beanie, and a red bandana covering his face. Another, next to him, wore a black hoodie with the hood up, a pair of black pants, a sea foam green shirt, and a patterned scarf around his face and neck. The man in the tank top was throwing computer monitor, while the other worked dismantling a gray trashcan. All around them, destroyed plants and dirt, along with the broken remains of pottery the plants had been in, littered the bank. Trash, desks, office chairs, lights, and tables were crippled and broken on the floor. The bulletproof glass of the tellers’ boxes was cracked, with one bullethole in a weakened area and the entire upper-right edge missing. One man grabbed a plant as he walked by and through it across the bank, soil spreading all over the floor and shards of pottery sliding as the pot broke. A bottle broke, and an explosion shook the bank, flames covering one of the bank walls. The group ran as the flames began to spread, quickly reaching the ceiling and spreading along the floor by the broken furniture and plants.

***

“Is this our youth? Who needs youth like this? Why don’t they go and burn the prime minister’s house? What fault was it of these people (who lost their store)?”

– an elderly woman as she picked her way past the rubble of a burned out shop

***

A woman stood in the middle of an empty store, a red dustpan still in her hand as she looked around for any trash she might have missed. The shatterproof glass of the store’s window display was fractured, with one large hole in the middle, and several spots with cracks that spread like spider webs from where smaller bricks had hit. The store was empty, the royal blue paint with chestnut paneling bold and lonely against the cleaned store floor. She wore a thick coat, a scarf, and boots. Behind her was the reception counter, and in front of her, against the wall, was an office chair. Only two colorful signs and a potted Ficus tree remained of what had been a travel agency days before. It was December 9th, 51.8°F, with a windspeed of 12.7 mph NW. It was Partly Cloudy.

***

“Alexander had excellent relations with classmates and schoolmates, he was very dear to teachers, had very good behavior and conduct … (and was) always excellent.”

– Moraitis School

***

The funeral procession filled the road, thousands crowding from one burnt, broken-window storefront to the other. News helicopters hovered overhead. The procession bottlenecked at the whitewashed cemetery entrance, where a loose group of mourners in sweatshirts were waiting for the burial. Sweet-smelling cloud wafted over headstones, people clapping as the coffin made its way inside. A crack in the distance rang out over the noise of the crowd as another black cloud rose from a fire in the distance. A priest in a black robe made his way to the grave as the coffin was set down to be lowered in. The cemetery was filled as the burial ceremony began.

Markos, along with thousands of other people, waited outside the cemetery for his turn to visit the grave. Another crack rang out as a firebomb exploded in the distance. Near the black cloud that rose up from the street, white clouds of teargas rose and mixed with it in the air. His clothes smelled like that, both smoky and sweet. A news helicopter hung in the hazy air, filming him and the rest of the massive crowd.

***

“This trage”This tragedy cannot be resolved by burning and destroying the property of people who themselves have problems,” dy cannot be resolved by burning and destroying the property of people who themselves have problems.”

– Greece’s Orthodox Church Leader, Archbishop Ieronymos.

***

A lone policeman stood in the middle of the road, trash and debris littering the street. Paper bags, broken bottles, rocks. Behind him a dumpster was overturned. The smoke in the air was glowing from the streetlights, a fire burned down the road from an overturned car. He stood with his riot shield, still secured to his arm, down at his side, alone in the street. He used his free arm to adjust his gas mask. He looked down the street, lined on both sides with looted shops, their windows broken out. It was December 7th, 55.4°F, with variable winds of 3.5 mph. The sky was Mostly Cloudy.

***

“There will be no leniency to whoever is responsible for the boy’s death – but no one has the right to use it as an excuse for raw violence.”

– Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis

***

Eight policemen crowded together in the middle of the street, two pools of fire on both sides of them. Behind them was the police station, its windows smashed. In front of them, pressing them backwards, was an angry mob, throwing rocks and shouting. The streetlights were broken, and only the flames lit up the street, the clouds of smoke glowing and angry. One officer held a small fire extinguisher to put out the flames of any firebombs that landed too close, or in case one hit a fellow officer. They were outnumbered by at least three-to-one. Reinforcements moved from behind them as they ducked behind their shields, fighting just to hold their ground. The bottle of another firebomb broke on the ground, the roar of the explosion pressing them back even further. The tires of a police car, to their right, caught fire. The man with the extinguisher tried to get close enough to put them out, but another explosion sent him running back.

***

“The government cannot handle this crisis and has lost the trust of the Greek people. The best thing it can do is resign and let the people find a solution … we will protect the public.”

– George Papandreou, Socialist opposition leader.

***

Two women leaned out of a window, one with a wet towel in her hands, as smoke billowed out from the room behind them. One’s white shirt was dirtied black by the soot, a necklace around her neck swinging as she coughed, choking on the smoke. Firefighters below were overwhelmed, unable to get into the diplomatic school’s lobby because of the flames. They were trying, unsuccessfully, to balance the rescue effort with controlling the blaze, not at all helped by how thin the departments were spread across the city. Black streaks ran down both womens’ faces, a mixture of runny mascara and smoke particles that had collected in their sweat and tears. The woman that was choking sunk down
When someone threw the plastic bottle, the police, both of them if I am not mistaken, took their weapons out of their holsters, aimed in front of them, that is towards the place where I, Alexandros and the other person were, and three continuous shots were heard. I forgot to tell you that I am sure that one of the two police officers held his weapon with both hands. I saw then – and I am absolutely sure – that the police weren’t shooting either towards the sky or towards the ground. They aimed towards our location and fired!against the window sill, gasping for air. It was December 8, 57.2°F, with a windspeed of 6.9 mph, WNW. It was Partly Cloudy.

***

“It’s very simple – we want the government to fall. This boy’s death was the last straw for us. This government wants the poor to pay for all the country’s problems – never the rich – and they keep those who protest in line with police oppression.”

– Petros Constantinou, an organizer with the Socialist Workers Party

***

Three stood on the stairs of Syntagma Square while the rest of the group stood at the top of them, watching the Christmas tree, a yearly tradition of Athens, burn. One teen began up the stairs, a black backpack on his back. The smoke was a sickly black. The paint of the red plastic balls that decorated the tree peeled in the flames, crackling with the tree timber as the balls turned black from the smoke and heat. The star at the top was lost in the billowing smoke. The fluorescent blue letters of the Hotel Grande Bretagne pale against the bonfire. All the teens watching wore black hoodies and jeans.

To the immediate east, directly across Amalias Avenue, from only two hundred feet away, the Greek Parliament building overlooked Syntagma Square.

***

“He was a very good child. He would always greet me and was always very polite … he was never any trouble.”

– Josef Gavlinsky, apartment block janitor in the Athens suburb of Palio Faliro

***

Pepe420 was sprayprainted on the front of a burning building, flames rolling uncontrolled out of the second floor windows, licking at the nearby electrical wires and tree branches. It was dark in the night, smoke and electrical outage working together to sink the neighborhood into darkness. Only streetlights – with their underground wires – and the flames of burning buildings gave any light at all, though even the streetlights proved ineffective against the thickness of the black smoke. An officer walked by the building, his protective visor up, for what little good it did, patrolling the area. The flames behind the riot shield showed the many scuffs and scratches it had taken from the days before.

***

“Friends and acquaintances said Grigoropoulos was a reserved boy who spent a lot of time reading. His musical tastes ranged from punk to hip hop and he loved to skateboard.”

– Associated Press

***

A candle and a rose were shielded from the wind by a cupped hand. Other than hundreds of other candles, and the lights in the windows of the Parliament building, it was completely dark. There was no moon in the sky, nor were there stars, nor were there even the outlines the outlines of dark clouds to hide the sky. It was completely black behind the orange-of dark clouds to hide the sky. It was completely black behind the orange-beige face of the building, white trim and columns highlighting it against the sky. A single tear of wax ran down the side of the candle, while the rose slowly withered from the heat of the flame. Loose singing and some chanting were all the only sounds that the demonstration made, an eerie silence compared to the roaring of protests earlier in the day. It was a sea of darkness, with tiny candles making shadows dance all across the crowd, below the building where the emperor played his fiddle, the rest of the city up in flames.

***

“Alexandros was in my class in school. He was a quiet kid, never got into trouble.”

– Markos

***

Riots near the cemetery had already begun by the time Markos had managed to squeeze his way through the crowd and get near the grave. White flowers covered the ground all around the grave, the hole almost halfway full. Beneath them was the casket, just barely visible. The wind blew white teargas clouds into the cemetery, his eyes burning a familiar sting. He grabbed one of the trampled flowers lying on the ground and tossed it into the grave, watching it bounce on the pile before settling. He looked up and watched a woman with long, black hair sob as she held a white flower in her hands, squeezing it. She wore big sunglasses with a purplish tint that faded at the bottom of the lens. A woman on her left with red hair hugged her, while a man on her right had his arm around her shoulders. Markos looked down at the grave again, remembering Alexandros from some of the classes they’d had together. He, of everyone Markos had gone to school with, seemed like the last person that would have had anything to do with the police. But now he was dead, lowered into the ground, covered in flowers. Markos shook his head as he walked away, squeezing through the crowd to get to the cemetery exit. Another crack rang out in the distance, more clouds of black and white rising into the sky. It was December 9th, 53.6°F, with a windspeed of 10.4 mph NW. It was Partly Cloudy.

Companion Interview

Nikos: I am a first year high school student at Psychiko Public High School. I knew Alexandros, or Gregory (the pet name which we used for him, derived from his last name) since the fourth grade in elementary school. We attended the same school. Until the first year of middle school we were not close friends. From the first year of middle school, however, until yesterday when they killed him, we were close friends.

Interviewer: Yesterday, on 6 December 2008, were you with Alexandros?

Nikos: Yesterday, around 5:50 p.m., I went with a friend to Larisis Station. Before I arrived, however, I had spoken with Alexandros. He told me that he was going to go to a polo match … I told him to call me when the match was over so that we could meet at Mesolongi St., in Exarcheia. He was going to go to the match with his friends Nikos F. and P. Ch. We used to meet there regularly. We planned to go to Faros Psychikou, to find our friends from our old schools and go do something together, because yesterday I celebrated my name day.

Interviewer: In the end, Alexandros called you when the match ended. Where was he going to go?

Nikos: Yes, he called me and told me to come and he would set out as well from the athletic field … From what I see on my cell phone, the call from Alexandros happened at 7:10 p.m.

Interviewer: When did you meet with Alexandros on Mesolongi St. in Exarcheia?

Nikos: I don’t remember exactly. About 45 minutes before the incident. From my friend’s house, I walked. I went up Ipeirou St. (if I am not mistaken), then directly to the Museum, left up on Stournari St., up to the square on the right, and 10 meters afterwards is Mesolongi St. I waited for him for 3 to 4 minutes.

Interviewer: When he came what did you do?

Nikos: When he came we went to a convenience store ten meters further up and we bought something to eat and two soft drinks … We went back again to the sidewalk on Mesologgiou St. to eat and talk.

Interviewer: Where exactly did you sit?

Nikos: We sat there by the entrance of an apartment building at the intersection of Mesolongi and Tzavella, on the left side where we could see Zoodochou Pigis St. There they have three railings on the walkway where you can sit. We sat there. (At this point they show the witness a printed map of the area.) We ate the things we had bought and suddenly, as we were talking, we heard a somewhat loud bang. Near enough to us that we could hear it, but far enough away that we couldn’t figured out what had happened. We didn’t pay any attention …

Interviewer: Did you see light accompany the bang that you described to me?

Nikos: No, because from the direction where we heard the bang, we didn’t have visual contact, because there was a wall in front of us … In order to see what happens on Navarinou St., you have to leave down the middle of the walkway of Tzavella St. After a minute and a half we heard about four or five passersby say “the cops are coming, something happened…”. So out of curiosity, Alexandros and I went to the middle of Tzavella St. to see what had happened. A distance of two to three meters away …

When we went out into the middle of the walkway, we saw from a distance of 15 to 20 meters two police officers. They were right at the intersection of Zoodochou Pigis and Tzavella. One was taller than the other. Next they stopped at the intersection of the two streets … In front of us, there was no one else. Alexandros was in front of me and I was behind and to the right of them. When the police stopped at Zoodochou Pigis and Tzavella, they had their hands, left or right I don’t remember, on their weapons which were in their holsters, which hang from the belt. Someone from behind me tossed an empty plastic bottle and naturally it did not reach the police.

I forgot to tell you that when I saw the police, they started to curse at me and Alexandros, saying “We will f… the Virgin Mary, come here and I’ll show you who is the tough guy” and things like that. The guys behind us were yelling “get back” and “go to hell…” at the police …

When someone threw the plastic bottle, the police, both of them if I am not mistaken, took their weapons out of their holsters, aimed in front of them, that is towards the place where I, Alexandros and the other person were, and three continuous shots were heard. I forgot to tell you that I am sure that one of the two police officers held his weapon with both hands. I saw then – and I am absolutely sure – that the police weren’t shooting either towards the sky or towards the ground. They aimed towards our location and fired!

Alexandros fell down, if I am not mistaken on the first or second gunshot, surely anyways before the third … Afterwards, I didn’t know what was going on. People were yelling and some people lifted up Alexandros’ shirt. I saw that he had a hole in the middle of the chest and a little towards the heart. There was blood from the wound … Let me tell you also that the police who fired, when they saw Alexandros fall, they left. I don’t remember in which direction … Then the ambulance came and took Alexandros, dead. I say this because he didn’t have a pulse and there was blood coming from his mouth …

Interviewer: What light was there in the place where you described the incident?

Nikos: Even though night had fallen, there was light from the street lamps on the poles which shines and also from the shops … Only one lamp wasn’t working, to the left of Alexandros …

Interviewer: Do you want to tell us something else from everything you know?

Nikos: The only thing I want to tell you is that they didn’t kill Alexandros. They murdered him in cold blood…

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