The Coming Storm

What we are seeing already from police and the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) as the G20 meetings in Toronto draw closer, is the widespread manipulation of public sentiment to the effect that protesters are ‘dangerous’, ‘criminal’, and hell-bent on violence and destruction -- the fabrication of a pre-justification for the deployment of future violence by the state.

Effectively using terror to trounce our right to democratic protest and free speech, members of the ISU, in connection with CSIS agents, have repeatedly harassed non-violent activists in a manner more commonly seen in countries with a secret police, public denunciations, and disappearances. The police have publicly advertised the purchase of new weapons to use against protesters, including an LRAD system, new riot gear, and hundreds of new cameras; they have paraded in front of the media in a massively-aggressive show of force; and they have leaked internal communications requesting the services of area doctors and the existence of a converted factory lot that will serve as a makeshift concentration camp for arrested demonstrators. For the police, the summits represent a massive public windfall of both financial and social capital with which to purchase new toys and to openly bend the law.

The police are effectively trying to deter less-committed, less-radical, and first-time activists from ever showing up while simultaneously antagonizing more radical elements by picking a fight they already know they can win. The police and the media are happy to go out of their way to stress how a majority of the 1.2 billion dollars being spent on security for the summits is clearly not to protect a bunch of VIPs from terrorists (who may crash their fancy dinner parties), but rather simply to protect those VIPs from having their precious schmoozing interrupted by informed and angry citizens wishing to express themselves freely outside of the meetings.

Even 9 years ago, when the G8 met in Genoa, Italy, in 2001, putting large fences around international gatherings to create "red zones" was all the rage. It was the height of the anti-globalization movement, pre-9/11, and over 300,000 demonstrators turned out to democratically voice their grievances.

Predictably, the police also turned out in force, viciously attacking and injuring more than 400 unarmed civilians (caught in the wrong place at the wrong time), journalists, and activists with a combination of chemical weapons and less-lethal projectiles. Mass arrests were not yet common police practice, but those 300 or so arrested were subject to verbal intimidation, beatings, and the threat of rape. Genoa also marked the first recorded death of a protestor at a demonstration in the Western world (since the movement gained momentum in Seattle in 1999), when Carlo Giuliani was shot in the head and run-over, twice, by a member of Italy’s military police, the Carabinieri.

If the scenes on the streets of Genoa weren’t evidence enough of the thuggish and criminal behaviour of the police, then the scenes inside a school used by organizers as a media centre and operations hub provided the world with a glimpse at the barbarism the state is capable of. Hundreds of officers raided the Diaz School at night, and beat people into comas. They broke bones. They smashed faces. And they did it in a premeditated, highly criminal manner. The activists did not resist; in fact, most were sleeping at the time of the attack.

In a rare move, just last month, twenty-five members of the police were found guilty of planting evidence, faking the stabbing of an officer in order to frame the activists, causing grievous bodily harm, and wrongful arrest.

Much like the build-up of hysteria prior to the G20 meetings in Toronto later this month, the UK media all but predicted a bloody revolution in the streets before G20 leaders gathered in London in April 2009. The final cost of ‘Operation Glencoe’ to British taxpayers? Just over £1,600 per protester.

With the pretext of confronting and stopping ‘violent’ protestors already firmly in place, the police could get about doing what it is they actually do: protect, with weapons and physical/psychological violence, a bunch of people that should rightly be considered criminals (e.g., presidents implicated in war crimes and torture, bankers who have stolen from the poor to give money to their rich friends, politicians calling for ‘austerity’ through the gutting of social spending, etc.) from a bunch of unarmed citizens that rightly do not want them eating lobster dinners in their city.

As the protests approached, the chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Andrew Dismore, a British MP, said that, "The police have a duty under the Human Rights Act to facilitate protest and not frustrate it. If they act in a confrontational way and use confrontation language, they will start to provoke the kind of behaviour they are seeking to prevent.”

As is common, the police instituted their tried-and-true strategy of provoking small disturbances as a justification for mass arrests and the lock-down of certain areas, while isolating and cornering (now called ‘kettling’) smaller and more radical groups in order to better attack and intimidate them.

Not only did police officers openly assault non-violent demonstrators, including women and the elderly, but officers were also implicated in the death of a newspaper salesman simply on his way home from work. Ian Tomlinson, 47, was struck by batons and shoved to the ground from behind before dying on the sidewalk moments later. Initially, the police tried to hide the fact that they had assaulted the man prior to his death, and even went so far as to blame demonstrators for hampering the response time of medics. Unfortunately for the police, video evidence suggested otherwise.

In response to comments later made by the police watchdog, Chief Inspector of Constabulary Denis O’Connor, that the violence by police was “unacceptable” and that it was “hugely concerning” to see evidence of officers breaking from their colleagues to openly assault people, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers called the response “proportionate” and said, “I can’t find any other country that doesn’t use water cannon, CS gas or rubber bullets.” Well, then!

For a mere fraction of the security costs associated with the upcoming Canadian summits, Pittsburgh police in September 2009 got to have all kinds of fun bashing non-violent protestors, tear-gassing students and faculty on a university campus, and generally doing whatever they could to make the First Amendment to the United States Constitution look like a vague suggestion. Police deployed fencing, checkpoints, and roadblocks throughout the downtown core, and used sound cannons, less-lethal rounds of ammunition, tear gas, and pepper spray against demonstrators. They also arrested journalists and people just going about their business. In apparent disregard for the right to peacefully assemble, the security services played the following message across their new LRAD speakers: "BY ORDER OF THE CITY OF PITTSBURGH CHIEF OF POLICE WE HEREBY DECLARE THIS TO BE AN UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY. IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT YOUR PURPOSE IS, YOU MUST LEAVE. IF YOU DO NOT DISPERSE, YOU MAY BE ARRESTED AND/OR SUBJECT TO OTHER POLICE ACTION. OTHER POLICE ACTION MAY INCLUDE ACTUAL PHYSICAL REMOVAL, THE USE OF RIOT CONTROL AGENTS AND/OR LESS LETHAL MUNITIONS WHICH COULD CAUSE RISK OF INJURY TO THOSE WHO REMAIN.”

The message was clear: the city is not yours, you do not have the right to protest, go home, and shut up.

Now, I am not against individual cops. I have friends and family who are cops. They are great people. Two cops I had a long conversation with in Washington once were receptive to my arguments (despite not being ‘allowed’ to talk to demonstrators), and my arresting officer in NYC conveniently hid the fact that I was wearing a bandana so that I wouldn’t be charged with the more serious crime of inciting a riot under that city’s ridiculous no-mask law of 1845. Cops help little old women and save people from harm. There is no doubt about that.

What I am against, however, is the institution. I have only written about policing at demonstrations, but you need not look far for evidence of racial profiling, corruption, homophobia, sexism, and the testosterone-fueled reactionary crap that results from putting the law and a gun in the hands of every member of a very large gang. Because I’m lucky enough to be a working class white heterosexual male, I rarely, if ever, come into contact with the police outside of a demonstration. It’s on the street during a protest that I am most likely to come up against an institution that has assaulted me with pepper spray and tear gas, which has arrested me and held me longer than is legal. (All for perfectly legal activities, I might add.) It is the poor, the homeless, and visible minorities that are on the front lines of the battle against the police. They might actually get a slight reprieve from the violence and harassment the constantly face during the G20 while 5,000 cops are busy destroying democracy in and around the fence.

The police, as an institution, are not neutral defenders of the law. They are armed to protect the rich from the poor, to protect criminal world leaders from their citizens, to follow orders in a military chain of command. They have an agenda, and it isn’t until you’re on the other side of that agenda that you truly realize what that storm trooper cop dressed in riot gear really represents.

Is it possible the police in Toronto and other members of the ISU will behave humanely and follow the very laws they have all sworn to uphold? Yes, of course it is. It is also possible that the ISU will remember section two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees me, and everyone else out in the streets, the freedom to assemble.

Unfortunately, it is more likely, based on past and current evidence, that the police will instead use some combination of minor property damage and police provocateurs (yes, they do that) as a justification to unleash an arsenal of weaponry on non-violent and unarmed citizens. They will break the law, they will injure, they will scare, and they will arrest. Hopefully this time they don’t kill anyone.

And instead of arresting the real criminals, the ones inside the meeting, instead of doing the right thing, of following the law and the constitution, of making me eat my words, of risking becoming heroes to millions of people by going into the summit and arresting the war criminals and bankers, the people guilty of the real violence and the real destruction, they will, almost assuredly, prove me right.

So get ready for the coming storm, Toronto!
(That is, if the police haven’t scared everyone away already.)

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