SEATTLE—As demonstrations swept America last month in response to prosecutors failing to charge police for killing Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, hundreds of protesters here mobilized for their latest confrontation with cops. Around 1 a.m. on Sept. 24, a team of officers, many riding bicycles, advanced on activists in the freewheeling area of this city once known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) or Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ). The crowd slowly retreated, some with their arms raised.
But Camillo Massagli, known to local activists and admirers as “Trumpet Man,” decided he wasn’t moving. The 26-year-old told The Daily Beast he sat down in front of a line of cops, and then, as they advanced, lay on his stomach, arms pinned under his body.
Massagli said this type of civil disobedience was meant to show he doesn’t respect the authority of the Seattle Police Department. He expected them to simply arrest him, and as a result, be forced to divert a few officers away from the rest of the protesters.
But the police didn’t stop. Instead, in a now viral video, an officer can be seen rolling his bike over Massagli’s head, knocking his helmet off and leaving a bruise across his temple.
“There’s so much adrenaline. I’m laying down and they finally did their rush and I see bikes coming around me,” he told The Daily Beast. “I didn’t really feel it. I just notice getting hit. ‘Oh shit,’ my helmet flew off, but I didn’t really know what happened.”
Massagli said several other officers then grabbed him and one put him in a neck submission hold, as they arrested him.
“I could’ve been unconscious. I could’ve been injured,” he said. “If they’re here protecting and serving, you’d think the first one who made contact with me would be like, ‘Hey, are you OK?’”
The seconds-long saga that many are calling a deliberate act of police brutality has since resulted in the officer with the bike being placed on administrative leave, an investigation, and a fresh wave of outrage over law enforcement’s handling of protests. But it was also a sort of climax for what Massagli described as his own “beautiful process of radicalization” amid a resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests after growing up in a right-wing, pro-cop household.
For Massagli, who said he didn’t grasp the full extent of the bicycle incident until he was released hours later from jail, the experience and overwhelming response was just the latest in a series of remarkable encounters he’s had with law enforcement in recent weeks.
He was never an obvious candidate for police-reform activism. In fact, just five months ago, Massagli had never been to a protest. After all, his father and uncle both worked in law enforcement.
But after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis in May and Seattle declared a last-minute curfew following turbulent protests, Massagli stepped out onto the street one day to see what was going on, he recalled.
“I went outside, almost as an impartial observer, and a rubber bullet flew and hit a girl right next to me; I saw her start bleeding,” he said. “I got gassed for the first time in my life.”
He added: “This is indiscriminate; I wasn’t even protesting.”
From that moment, he started consistently going out to protests, learning about systemic racism and other elements of the movement he said he hadn’t truly understood.
As BLM demonstrations continued in Seattle and across the nation, Massagli got into the habit of bringing the trumpet his great-grandfather had given him, and serenading the crowd.
One evening in June, he stood in front of a line of police at Seattle’s East Precinct, not near any protesters, and started playing the theme song to Bad Boys while standing on a bucket.
In a widely viewed video from that evening, six officers suddenly surround Massagli as he’s playing, and handcuff him.
Later in June, he lived at “CHOP,” a six-block protest area and self-proclaimed police-free zone that for weeks was filled with free food and supplies, tents, and even a collection of couches dubbed the “Decolonization Conversation Cafe.” It was later shut down by the city following multiple shootings that left a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old dead. Massagli helped to found its garden.
When protest action began to heat up in Portland this summer, he traveled a few hours south to join the fray. He once again found himself in police crosshairs.
Massagli said a man dressed in camouflage, who he described as a federal officer, shot him in the face with a pepper ball, and the projectile penetrated his skin right below his eye. Photos of the right side of his face covered in blood, which he then used to scrawl the word “FEDS” with on the ground, were circulated widely by the media.
But after this latest run-in with police in Seattle, Massagli said he won’t be rushing back out to join the protests. Instead, he’s working to start a group called Abolitionists For Peace, which will focus on peaceful civil disobedience and is meant to function in parallel with racial-justice movements.
He said he’s noticed that the attention he receives after incidents like the one with the bicycle can distract from the racial justice movements and their message.
“I’m really being made into a martyr,” said Massagli. “I don’t feel like a martyr at all. I’m not even that hurt. I’m alive. Breonna Taylor’s dead. George Floyd’s dead. Summer is dead.”