#111 - In his own words: Guardian journalist arrested by G20 security forces| June 28, 2010
He says. She says. Jesse Rosenfeld was writing for The Guardian newspaper when G20 security beat him up and arrested him. Amy Goodman on what it means to have a real independent media.
1:48 - 13:45 Jesse Rosenfeld was writing for The Guardian when G20 security beat him up and arrested him. rabble radio spoke to him a few hours after he was released from detention.
14:08 - 32:15 Amy Goodman is the host of the radio/tv/podcast Democracy Now! Friday night, at the Council of Canadians event Shout Out For Global Justice, she spoke about what it means to have an independent media, and why it is important.
Interview with Jesse Rosenfeld, transcribed:
Meagan Perry: You were reporting for the Guardian newspaper when you were
detained, what was your assignment with them?
Jesse Rosenfeld: Well I’d been working for Comment Is Free on a three part series on
the G8 and G20 focused on the flashpoints of empire and contesting democracy. And
looking at comparing the self created legitimacy that the G8 and G20 have based on their
own political and economic power. Compared with the alternative to their economic
vision and the global economic plan of the 20 wealthiest nations with the alternatives
that were coming from the streets and the kind of coalitions coming from the streets.
I’d already gotten out a piece about indigenous sovereignty that went online on Friday
about the demonstration and the context of contesting sovereignty. I was working on
the piece about contesting the global economy when I was arrested, penned in at the
demonstration in front of the Novotel Hotel on the Esplanade just south of Front Street.
MP: Before all of that happened what was your impression of that crowd?
JR: It was really interesting, it was possibly one of the most interesting political moments
I’ve seen here in Toronto and I grew up in Toronto and left when I was 18. What was
so interesting about that demonstration is that it wasn’t the long developed, theoretically
thought out radicals that had organized the whole thing. It was actually people that had
almost been instantly radicalized when the police threw them out of Queens Park – the
one free speech zone.
When police beat, arrested and pushed people all the way up to Bloor Street, they
reorganized and almost 1,000 people decided: “Well if the state won’t give us any place
to express ourselves than we’ll take it directly to the fence.” And they marched down to
the fence. What was interesting was that you could tell the sort of organic nature of how
people were thinking these things out in the street. The kind of discussions they were
having about the G8/G20 and this highly unorganized march that was basically guided by
the political determination to make sure these issues stay central.
MP: How were the police reacting at that point?
JR: Well, I mean the thing was the police had thrown everyone out of Queens Park
and I guess they were completely surprised at what happened. We had gotten down to
the fence in two different places where the police penned people in who were able to
negotiate with the police and they let them out.
Eventually they went on to the Novotel Hotel area where they were blocked in by riot
police on both sides. When the riot police found out that they were not Novotel Hotel
workers who were currently on strike, well many people were highly sympathetic to
the Novotel workers strike, when they found out they weren’t actually workers from
the hotel they immediately moved in and started making mass arrests. I was with the
block of media and some of the alternative press said: “Okay how are we going to deal
with the situation?” We were obviously covering what was going on, so we asked the
police: “Are you going to be arresting the media too?” Their immediate response was
yes, you are not supposed to be here, everyone will be arrested. Then they came back
and said those who have the official summit media accreditation will be allowed. What
is interesting is that I had applied for official summit media accreditation on June 11, I
had given them my letter from the Guardian and it had been approved. Subsequently
they said I wasn’t going to be given my lanyard until I cleared an RCMP background
check, which just kept going on and on and on. It was because of that, because I only
had a media pass from the alternative media centre that the police decided to arrest me.
When I originally told them about my assignment with the Guardian, but I was also
in the editorial collective in covering the story with the Alternative Media Centre they
said: “Alright we will check your credentials and your accreditation so come over to the
side.” Then and officer looked at my press pass and said that it wasn’t legitimate and
you’re under arrest, after which I was immediately jumped and beaten to the ground. I
was punched in the stomach, my arms were pulled back, and I was hit in the back when
I went down. After I went down, cops piled on me -- they were hitting me in the back
of the ribs with their knees. They lifted up my leg and twisted my ankle as if they were
trying to sprain it…my leg smacked against the curb on the way down, my face was
pushed into the concrete. All of this interestingly happened after two police officers
had identified that I was a ‘loudmouth’ that had been bothering them the day before.
What had happened was, I was covering the front lines of different clash points at
different demonstrations. Both at the queer demonstration against the G20 earlier in the
week and at the demonstration on the Friday and I was on the front lines when some other
reporters I worked with were hit in the face and had their microphones snatched.
I was covering (the demonstrations) when they were directly targeting arrests at activists
or anyone they could grab through what looked like racial profiling. They were first
taking any kids of colour and people with indigenous backgrounds. I had been on the
frontline documenting all of this, I had been out forcefully with a piece in the Guardian
discussing RCMP and Toronto Police racism, so it was clear to me that this attack was
MP: When you were at Novotel and you were negotiating with the police, before they
said that this isn’t legitimate and threw you to the ground. Did you have any sense that
that was going to happen to you?
JR: I mean I could tell that they were a little put off and I suspected that they may try to
arrest me. I wasn’t expecting to get beaten. To be honest I’m not surprised, this is what
the Toronto Police do. This is what Canadian police forces do. They beat people when
they think that they can get away with it. It is not a new story, it may be new that it is
happening to someone who is an accredited international journalist and someone who
is white, in their upper twenties and male, but it is a daily reality for indigenous people,
people of colour, people living in ghettoized communities, queer communities. This is
the daily reality for them when it comes to police violence without justification apart
from the fact police want to subdue that element of society and what it might say.
MP: What did you experience in detention?
JR: It was kind of interesting. I’ve been working in the Middle East as a journalist for
the last three years and I’ve never seen a jail like that in Canada. It did remind me a
lot of, in many similar ways, of the way that Israelis’ detain Palestinians, or the way
Palestinian Authority jails work.
What happened was, we were in handcuffs from 10:30 in the evening when I was
arrested, until 5:00 in the morning. In an overcrowded cell with people, a porta-potty
washroom, sparse access to water and never enough water when it was needed. Finally I
was moved through into processing, I was moved into a 5 x 8 cell with five other people
and I mean, you couldn’t even all lay down at the same time. There were no benches, no
bathroom, it was just a cold concrete floor.
The centre was just absolutely freezing and we weren’t given any blankets or anything. I
was in there from about 11:30 until 5:30 a.m. I only got my phone call to my lawyer at
about 3 p.m., although I had been demanding it the entire time.
MP: There were a number of Twitter reports of people not being able to call lawyers at
all. Is that something you can verify?
JR: Yeah. I told them I was a journalist, they wouldn’t allow me to call my lawyer. I
heard that my editor had tried to get through and made a call to the police, but obviously
hadn’t been able to get through. I saw other independent media journalists that had been
beaten badly, other people that I had worked with at the AMC throughout the week who
had been arrested. I saw all sorts of different kinds of people that had all been taken
down. I was witnessing these arrests, unprovoked, brutally violent arrests. People with
blood gushing from their face all over their shirts even while being brought into jail,
black eyes on both sides, scrapes all over their bodies, walking with limps.
In my cell even, three people were denied access to medication for incredible periods of
time. One guy had an asthma attack and I don’t think he got his ventilator for over 40
minutes. Another guy had anti-anxiety medication and it took him hours to get his pills.
This other guy had both of his shoulders dislocated, he had a muscular issue, which had
been exacerbated by his handcuffing, and the police took hours upon hours to give him
his anti-inflammatory medication. He was just sitting there with dislocated shoulders.
MP: What are you hearing from people abroad? What kind of reaction are you hearing?
I’m assuming you are talking with your editors in the U.K.?
JR: I haven’t had a direct line to my editors yet, I’ve just been out of jail for several
hours now and I haven’t been able to get through. I intend to talk with them soon.
But, from the community around me I have felt incredible support and there has been
incredible organization outside. I really appreciate it. Especially the fact that people
realize that it is not just me. This has been happening to people across the board, the
only reason I’m getting attention is because I happen to be an accredited journalist. I am
expressing the same opinion, or similar ideas to other media that is getting arrested and
we are discussing the same ideas as the people in the streets are. These are all the ideas
that the government and the police force are trying to sweep from the streets and not have
this discussion in Canada.
MP: What are you hoping to see in Canada after this?
JR: It is very much what I am looking at in these pieces, the alternatives that come from
the streets. I’m very much hoping that as global empires decide to restructure themselves
from the G8/G20 in terms of negotiating an international enforced consensus both
politically and economically and the alternatives from the streets really start to jettison
not just an idea of specific grievances, but actually alternative systems that are coming
out in both the organization and … of things starting to happen and I’ve been quite
impressed by it.
MP: Well thanks for talking to us today.
JR: From what I hear we still have all the other people in jail that need to be defended.
We need to get our people out.
MP: Absolutely. How long do you think that is going to take?
JR: Who knows? They’ve gone after the organizers all weekend. We have people being
detained on warrants, we have all sorts of trumped up charges that we’re looking at.
We’re looking at a government completely intent on breaking social movements in this
country. It needs to be fought. It needs to be fought bitterly. It needs to be fought on all