Sitting in the dark on my bed, 2:00 am, and it doesn't take much effort to conjure up images of police officers grabbing protesters and throwing them to the ground as if they forgot that we fellow humans are made of bones.
Actually, they didn't seem to care whether or not we had bones, or human rights for that matter.
Dear police officers from the G20 Integrative Security Unit, here's some common sense on how to Serve and Protect: You hit a human being and we get hurt. You charge at us with police horses and we panic. You threaten us with mass arrest and we hesitate before taking to the street again. Or was that the point?
The concept of Queen's Park as the pre-determined, state sanctioned, official 'free-speech zone' was lost on the police who terrorized the demonstrators there. Or was that the point?
Also apparently "lost" were the ID badges of many officers who patrolled the streets that weekend, upping the fear while diminishing any real chance of accountability when you cannot identify the police officer that is breaching your Charter rights during your arrest.
Fear. Anger. Disbelief. These are human emotions and I wouldn't dare play the activist 'suck-it up, buttercup!', more hardcore than thourefrain. [Note: That is why I was so happy and proud to see so many people take to the streets for the "Free the Toronto 900" rally Monday night, letting the Toronto police know that we won't be intimidated.]
Truthfully, there were a few moments during the G20 protests where I was afraid. On Saturday June 26, 2010, I was afraid of the insanity of being asked by police to move towards a burning cop car when a small group of demonstrators and media were surrounded at the intersection of King and Bay street.
I thought at the time that saner minds would prevail and the cops would eventually allow us to leave the intersection in another direction -- away from the burning cop car that was dangerously close to two other cop cars. But no, orders are orders. And when asked, no officer would come forward as the individual making the orders.
And I was scared and angry that when I tried to express the voice of reason, I was told that I'd be immediately arrested if I refused to move towards the burning car.
So, I and the others ran (ok, my cane and I limped-ran) by that burning cruiser so close that I could feel the heat against my skin. There was something exploding inside the police cruiser, and I heard glass break as it flew out.
It was insanity on the part of the police to expect us to take that dangerous, fiery route and then it dawned on me that it's actually the insanity that scared me. Those police officers on the scene at the intersection of Bay and King didn't care about what happened to us - because they were following orders. After the smashing by the black bloc had gone through the area, maybe strict orders were the only thing the police had left to cling to, even if it went against the mantra of "To Serve and Protect".
Dear police officers: forcing people into dangerous situations neither serves nor protects them.
And then I remember the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog.
Here's a quick summary: The story is about a scorpion asking a frog to carry him across a river. The frog is afraid of being stung, but the scorpion reassures him that if it stung the frog, the frog would sink and the scorpion would drown as well. The frog then agrees; nevertheless, in mid-river, the scorpion stings him, dooming the two of them. When asked why, the scorpion explains, "I'm a scorpion; it's my nature."
The more and more time I spend thinking about that happened at the G20 demonstrations, the more and more I realize that the police Integrated Security Unit (ISU) played the role of the scorpion perfectly.
Here I am, wide awake at 2:00 am and enraged by the actions of the police; a "How Dare They!" kind of righteous indignation. And I realized that like many, part of my shock stemmed from my white-skinned, Canadian privilege and not my rational mind.
With more than a week's distance between myself and the events of that weekend, the police revealed themselves for the first time to the public of what they truly are. Sunday June 27, 2010 -- with the mass arrests, the rubber bullets, the police snatch squads and the systematic targetting of activists -- seems to have radicalized and polarized Torontonians.
This is not the first time I have witnessed police brutality at a demonstration where the police have skipped over us white folk and gone right for my friend who also happens to be a person of colour even though we are linked arm in arm.
I must only whisper the name Robert Dziekanski or Dudley George to remember that police brutality is more real to certain communities than others, more often communities that are already marginalized by race or class.
Confronting the realities of police violence, especially towards marginalized communities, "shatters the myth of unanimity about the virtues of the police (positive values promoted especially by TV cop shows and mass media). It also ends the isolation of groups and individuals who, engaged in this struggle, are subjected to daily repression."
In response to the widening gap between rich and poor, the deepening of poverty and the general deterioration of living conditions, governments invest in police forces to do what it takes to maintain order and social peace. For example, there is the deplorable tendency during demonstrations of resorting to so-called less-than-lethal weaponry (tested in hardened regional conflicts like Northern Ireland, Palestine, Indonesia, etc.). In opposition to the State's drift towards fascism, we have the responsibility to act and support all victims of Police force."
These are the realities that white activists have to eventually face, not wrap our white skin over our white eyes like blindfolds.
I was there on Monday night at the "Free the Toronto 900!" solidarity rally, and heard Naomi Klein as she stood in front of Toronto Police headquarters and told the police to do "your goddamned job!"
Later, Jeff Shantz, in an opinion piece wrote eloquently on the subject. Quote: "Some seem to believe that the police were supposed to be there to protect them or that the police provide the means for "protest" to take place. The concern here is that the discussion is being framed in a rather liberal framework that presents a proper, even desirable, form of state policing, a good way of policing against a bad, that police in Toronto presumably strayed from.
More than this, though, the police during the G8/G20 (as during APEC in 1997 and Quebec City in 2001) WERE doing their job. They were doing what they were and are instituted and structured to do. This is not a case of the system going awry, breaking down, going off the rails or being over the top. This is a case of the system doing precisely what it is organized to do (and in a rather limited way)."
The police were doing their god damned job. That's the problem.
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