The problem with fixating on the police is that it distracts us from just about everything else activist-orientated.
Yes, I know the activist explanation: that the police are a part of the larger state apparatus -- and often the public face of that apparatus through programs like community policing -- that works to oppress the marginalized of society.
The danger here is that police become the low-hanging fruit when challenging the state.
Because the police...well, are the police. They are the first layer of insulation the state uses to protect itself from citizens in revolt. Anyone studying political science or has been to a protest knows this.
And the reoccurring imagery and themes from last year's G20 protests including -- burning POLICE cars, heavy-handed POLICE tactics, POLICE arrests that breached our rights held in the Charter, POLICE officer "Bubbles", POLICE arresting more than 1,100 people over a three-day period -- doesn't help.
It's all POLICE...POLICE...POLICE...POLICE.
It makes activists look like all they do is spend their time going from protest to protest to confront the police.
Nevermind the awesome grassroots work done by groups like the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) or No One is Illegal (NOII) or No More Silence.
I admit I get caught up in the police-trance when I notice that at least 50 per cent of the photographs I take at a demonstration include images of the police, either in the foreground, background or the main focus. They are always there, hovering around every protest as a convenient and -- I believe -- state-approved distraction from what really matters.
It does seem that the mainstream press here in Toronto, most notably the Toronto Star, has been caught up in the police action-fascination. More coverage is focused on the actions of the police rather than the people the police were beating up....damn, there you go, see how the police issue just kinda just sneaks up on you like that. And then bam, suddenly the conversation is hijacked by speculation about police tactics, what they did and/or didn't do and how they arrested so-and-so. Nevermind why the protesters were out there in the first place.
Case in point, the Toronto public knows more about the G20 "kettling" incident than why activists were on the street that Sunday June 27, 2010 to be "kettled" in the first place.
Talking cop is also a social thing, a way for activists to bond over their funny and tragic police stories while sipping a coffee or a beer. I'm guilty of this too. Why do we spend precious time talking about the police when we should be talking to each other about how to grow the movement and asking each other how we're doing?
Anyway, back to the Toronto Star; I am glad the paper fronted the money for the exclusive poll that found that "Most Torontonians now believe police actions during the G20 summit were unjustified," signalling "a monumental shift" in public perception.
The Toronto Star's Angus Reid poll also reports, "Immediately following last year's summit, 73 per cent of Torontonians said police were justified in their response to demonstrations. One year later, that figure has dropped to only 41 per cent -- a dramatic, 32-point percentage drop."
OK, thank you for the information. Now we "publically know" how the Toronto public feels about the police so let's get back to talking about why the G20 demonstrators were on the streets in the first place.
Enough with staring at the car crash.
Let's start setting our sights of getting a full public inquiry that will focus not only on police behavior that weekend, but also the roles of the provincial and federal government before, during and after the G20.
On the other hand, ironically, certain socio-economic and racialized groups have a hard time convincing the mainstream that the police can do more harm than good in a community; when I would bet, despite the Toronto Star poll, most Canadians see the police's role to "Serve and Protect" the good guys who fight the bad guys.
I personally believe part of this problem is experiential. It's not until you personally experience police brutality -- as we have seen with the G20 -- that people become aware that the police are not at demonstrations to "Serve and Protect" YOU.
Or "Serve and Protect" YOUR COMMUNITY when racial profiling is singling out certain individuals not for the content of their character but the colour of their skin.
I'm not saying that police brutality should not be a concern for activists -- in fact, I praise the activists who have taken up police brutality as a issue in its own right -- but let's not let the police's presence hijack every demonstration or news story.
Remember, in regards to demonstrating, it doesn't always have to be about the cops.