rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Activist Communique: The problem with fixating on the police

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

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 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.

Activists call it a part of the "Riot Porn" scene the way is fascinates and distracts. Don't believe me? Check out: http://riotporn.blogspot.com/ and http://www.flickr.com/groups/riotporn/\

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.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.