“The Bloody Face of Wall Street” is just a street kid with a dog and some crazy stories.
A self-described anarchist, he was one of the first to pitch a tent in Zuccotti Park at the original Occupy Wall Street protests in New York. Watts is a mouthy, natural provocateur and managed to rouse enough rabble to catch the ire of the NYPD. After a violent clash, images of his bloody visage became an international flashpoint for supporters and detractors of the movement alike as it was plastered over the New York Times and around international social media. Some saw him as a victim of police brutality and a rallying point around which to further the cause of those who were about to coin themselves ‘The 99%’. Others saw him as a troublemaking thug exposing the lack of depth within the movement. The truth, as it always does, lays somewhere in between.
He describes the events of November 17th, 2011 as “chaos,” and recalls “climbing on top of lampposts, street lights, buildings,” but maintains that he didn’t “take a police officer’s hat or throw batteries or anything” else that he was accused of doing. Either way, he was singled out and downed by a group of officers. After what was quite a severe beating, his head was stapled up at a hospital and he was bailed out of jail by Occupy members. By that time he had become a symbol. His spilled blood added a carnal gravity to a protest that went on to become a worldwide phenomenon and the snapshot of his wincing, blood-soaked face remains one of the lasting images from that noble but ultimately doomed campaign.
As the movement petered out, Watts returned to a life of general obscurity in transience. He sleeps on the streets of downtown Los Angeles now. He’s been here for over a year. You wouldn’t recognize him if you saw him - the California sun has darkened his skin and lightened his hair, but he still has that edgy glare from the photos. He’s a youthful, lithe and rangy livewire that rolls through his words with a swerving cadence and has something to say to everyone. I met him on 5th and Broadway as he was exchanging a passing nicety with a transient girl I’ve seen around the area sometimes. “She’s a junkie,” he says, “I tried to help her but she don’t want it. She says she loves it.”
And as for getting the shit beat out of him by the cops? Brandon doesn’t hold any bones. Of it, he says, “I was just exercising my right to go down there and get my ass kicked.”
“After that,” he says, “I put my mask on and walk around. All day, normally. All day.” Brandon wears the iconic Guy Fawkes mask, the same kind he was seen in at the Occupy protests. I asked him why he wears it. He explained, “It’s intimidation with the police…It shows that you’re gonna be violent and aggressive.” That spiky attitude towards authority wears off quickly, though. In L.A, he says he knows a lot of the cops on a first name basis and has called a truce. They take it a little easier on him now. And as for getting the shit beat out of him by the cops? Brandon doesn’t hold any bones. Of it, he says, “I was just exercising my right to go down there and get my ass kicked.”
In many ways his lifestyle is one of choice. “There’s opportunities to get housed but I turn them all down. It’s not my time to go into a house yet…being off the street, having money and all that. I can survive just like this for now.” He’s been avoiding assisted living on skid row due to fears of the recent tuberculosis outbreak. “If I hear there’s a dangerous virus anywhere in the missions,” he says, “I don’t go. Skid row is like going into hell. You think hell is bad? burning all the time? Shyeah! Go down there and smell…your nose is about to fall the fuck off. It smells like nothing but shit and piss down there. And there are so many drugs…crack, meth, heroin.”
He’s had problems avoiding those drugs himself, “I’m actually three months of being clean from meth. From doing it for two years.” I asked him how he got sober and he responded, “I got stoned every day for a week straight on weed!” We both stopped to laugh. He went on, “Since I got Spot it’s been easier. When he got taken I had so much urge to do it again. When he came back it all went away.” His dog is a constant companion and they seem to have as loving of a bond as two young and wild alpha creatures are capable of having.
“He’s not so much concerned with laws as he is consumed by an empathy that many homeless have, one that comes from living life in such a vulnerable and exposed way.”
I asked him what his own sex life was like. He sighed, “I don’t get laid much. I try but no luck. But I do have a girl’s number and I do go to her apartment building that has five roommates and they’re all bisexual women.” He then went on to explain that the majority of his sexual encounters are a product of older women he encounters, struck by his boyish charm seemingly engaging a maternal instinct to clean him up, only to proceed by plying him with booze and having their way with him. “How does that work out?” I asked. “It works out perfectly,” he smiled, “until the next morning.”
Brandon follows a humanistic moral code of sorts. In the short time I spent with him he offered to share the last few drags of a donated cigarette with a grizzled looking hobo on the street and he later intimated to me, “I protect women. I don’t even have to know the lady or the girl. I get up and protect them.” He’s not so much concerned with laws as he is consumed by an empathy that many homeless have, one that comes from living life in such a vulnerable and exposed way.
Watts still considers himself as an active member of the Occupy Movement, although, in his words, it is “slow, it’s died down, there are less actions.” His view on anarchism is distilled — he explained it as “Having all freedom to do whatever I want within common sense.” He could be painted as an example of why the movement was so derided when it was in full swing. Many claimed it was a magnet for social detritus and ne’er-do-wells with little understanding of the sociopolitical elements at play and nothing better to do than bemoan their own shortcomings in a noisy, public, and sometimes violent manner. I’d disagree, quite vehemently. Just because Brandon’s politics are not staunched in politics does not invalidate his right to a voice. When most of us think of homelessness as a condition, we picture it in the abstract. But those who actually live the misgivings of our social and governmental structure, regardless of what their own personal shortcomings may be, should be at the very least acknowledged.
There is meaning, I think, in the reality that those like myself, educated and entitled, were tepidly supportive of the Occupy Movement but ultimately too complicit in the status quo to commit to it. We succumbed to apathy as it faded away whereas Brandon is still showing up to the sparsely attended weekly meetings in Pershing Square. Sure, maybe he has nothing better to do. Maybe he’s mentally unstable. Maybe he’s grasping to relive the fleeting feeling of belonging and importance that he had for those few weeks in Zuccotti Park. He still calls himself a freedom fighter and I’m okay with that. At the end of the day, he’s just a kid sleeping on the streets who needs something to believe in.
Story by Jemayel Khawaja
(All text content from dtlastreetpeople.tumblr.com)