You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘police’ tag.

This morning police swarmed the blockade site and arrested at least 20 individuals for violating an injunction, starting with when the three “police liaisons” after they’d left the property. Rumors that some managed to escape through the surrounding fields. Details still very sketchy and it has not yet hit the media. I’ll post more info as soon as it becomes available.

Official updates: http://swampline9.tumblr.com/ and #SwampLine9

Update: 11am
Official arrest count stands at 16, taken to Mountain Station. Charges include “trespass” and disobeying a court order, though there’s been no word yet about how many have been charged with each.

Official press release

CBC Coverage

Update 11:50am
Official arrest count now being reported at 17, with all but five now released from HPS’ Mountain Station sporting new trespassing tickets.

Update 3pm
Everybody arrested this morning has now been released!

Final Update
Final arrest count: 18 (sorry for the confusion, these numbers are always hard to pin down), mostly tresspass and mischief. Check out the official HPS press release.

enbridgepo

It’s no secret that the Hamilton Police Department has been having some “money problems” lately. Budget discussions got so heated this year they threatened to take Council to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission if they didn’t get the increase they wanted. Hiring dozens of new officers while increasing pay and benefits can’t be cheap, I suppose, and so the HPD has found itself a corporate sponsor: Enbridge.

Last February the pipeline giant quietly handed over $34 910 to sponsor a new “ATV unit” for the Hamilton Police, as well as around $10 000 in 2010 . At the time it received little coverage (six lines) but since word started spreading on social media earlier this week it ignited a bit of a fury. A demonstration is planned for Central Station this morning to call attention to the deal and to present an official complaint in writing.

Enbridge, of course, is currently attempting the very controversial Line 9 pipeline reversal in an attempt to get Tar Sands oil east, a path which cuts right through Flamborough, which fell under the HPD’s domain with Amalgamation. As they attempt to finish repairs and get flows started through the ageing pipeline this summer, it seems only natural to expect the same kind of trouble seen with the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway plans reaching south and east from Alberta. Opposition to their plans has been stronger and started earlier here in Hamilton than most, with environmental activists, city councillors and nearby Six Nations all taking a critical stance. One (short) road blockade has already taken place, and it seems pretty likely that they’re expecting more – apparently of the off-road variety…

Hamilton’s not the only municipality along the route to see recent donations from Enbridge – the trend is now so blatant that the Montreal Gazette put together an interactive map. This follows a typical strategy of attempting to buy favour with gifts and sponsorships, to give the impression of generosity and “being a good corporate citizen”. In many smaller, more desperate jurisdictions, it can be quite effective at avoiding serious discussion or at least dividing communities. Most cheques, though, weren’t this large been this large and most have gone to Fire Departments or other services. Only in a few others have they directed their cheques to police. This suggests that Enbridge doesn’t have a lot of hope for winning over the public or council here, and have therefore decided to focus a little more directly on establishing a relationship with the (similarly unpopular) police.

It’s only natural to ask at this point, what Enbridge will expect in return, though the answer seems self-evident. The message is very clear. Should anything happen this summer along Hamilton’s chunk of the pipeline route, an aggressive police response isn’t likely to hurt their chances of getting more gas-guzzling toys in the future.

This sets a terrifying precedent. What other companies, I wonder, might be interested in this kind of “public-private partnership”? I’m sure US Steel, Porter Airlines, RBC, Marineland and many others would love to write similar cheques. Corporate sponsorship is an uncomfortable enough issue when cola companies sign deals with our schools or cigarette manufacturers buy naming rights to cultural events, but corporate donations to police forces raises the stakes in a frightening way. Police carry guns and hold the power to ruin people’s lives, we cannot afford to have them owe favours.

There is a long and ugly history associated with this kind of collusion, and it needs to be brought up. From police involvement with strikebreaking campaigns to the harassment of “undesirable elements” (homeless people, addicts, people of colour etc) from trendy business districts. In one particularly disturbing recent scandal which came to be known as “kids for cash“, an American judge was convicted of taking a million-dollar bribe from the builders of two nearby “juvenile detention centres” to fill them by awarding unusually harsh sentences to youths brought before him. Closer to home, the Toronto Police Association caused an uproar back in 2000 with a fundraising drive they named “Operation True Blue. With a telemarketing drive, they offered “windshield stickers” in exchange $100 “donations”, a move even the mayor couldn’t resist referring to as “paying protection”.

The real problem with donations of this kind really comes down to the size of the numbers involved. Much like donations to election campaigns, the amounts actually given are tiny, often a tiny fraction of what they’d spend on an advertisement or PR campaign for the same purpose. The windfalls, though, can be enormous, easily reaching into the millions or billions (especially for Enbridge) for government action in their favour, making it virtually irresistible. This is exactly why we (are supposed to) have such strong laws against this sort of thing. With this kind of money on the line, though, people are almost certainly going to try.

The real irony here is that Enbridge has probably accomplished the opposite of what they set out to do. A large public donation like this was unlikely to go unnoticed for long and it’s now going to put the police under extra scrutiny during any Enbridge-related enforcement. With any luck, it will set a precedent of a different sort, forbidding such nonsense in the future. Hamiltonians aren’t stupid, and its going to cost a lot more than that to buy our city.

IMG_6439

It was one hell of a Mayday, and I’m only starting to recover. After two marches and a block party, I feel like I could sleep for days. With great weather and high spirits, Hamilton saw a day of actions which took the lower city by storm.

Events kicked off with the Anti-capitalist march, which converged mid-day at King and MacNab. The turnout was great – well over a hundred ranging in age from small kids to seniors, with a lot of new faces. With signs, banners, flags and a pumping soundsystem, we marched up through the bus terminal toward Main, then rallied at the corner opposite the Drake International office for a speech about temp agencies. We then continued along Main and attempted to turn left onto James, which is where trouble started.

IMG_6446

A wall of police on horseback blocked our way as others with bikes and a van circled around. Those at the front tried to push through, but the horses pushed back, driving the banner and crowd back into the intersection, followed by a much longer standoff before the decision was made to continue down Main instead. Moments later, the police were caught off-guard when marchers took an abrupt left-turn into the parking lot.

This kicked-off a game of cat-and-mouse with police, who scrambled to re-deploy and corral us away from the core at every intersection. From the parking lot we cut up the alleyway onto Hughson, stalling again at King when met by the next large group of cops. Marching further north, we went a few blocks before spontaneously doubling-back up Hughson, onto Rebecca then over to James. Next we stopped at James and Wilson for another speech, this time about the effects of Payday loans, in front of an outlet on either side of the street. For the last leg we went eastward along Wilson for one last long stop in front of a wall of cops at Mary before finally settling on the grass of Beasley Park. Police then surrounded the park, confronting people they’d singled out for tickets (obstructing traffic, etc) as they tried to leave.

All in all, hundreds of dollars in tickets were given out and one kid was arrested for missing his last court date. At least a hundred was raised by passing a hat, but look for more fund-raising soon.

IMG_6461

Following a brief rest in the park, a bundle of free bus tickets were distributed and a few dozen of us boarded HSR busses bound for Centre Mall to join up with the Steelworkers’ rally. Behind the 1005’s union hall we heard speeches from Union leadership and the Mayor, mostly related to the lockout of US Steel’s recent lock-out of workers at their Lake Erie facilities. As they finished, a few hundred took to Kennilworth, Barton and Ottawa, for a second march, this time with a much smaller and more polite police presence before returning to the union hall for a barbecue and social.

IMG_6468

As we bussed back to Beasley Park, we found the Block Party kicking off and crews setting up a sound-system, decorations and food servings. By this point police had virtually disappeared, with only a few small bike-patrols riding through intermittently. The park quickly began to fill with a mix of neighbourhood residents, local activists and more kids than I could count. The crowd quickly grew to a few hundred with line-ups for free food stretching across half the park. Soon the DJ was replaced by the sounds of Klyde Broox, Lee Reed and Mother Tareka performing live, with festivities continuing until around nightfall.

As we retreated for a truly massive victory party at our hidden rebel base, there was no dispute, the day’s events were a pretty phenomenal success. Once again we managed to strike a balance between a militant presence in the streets and an engaging presence in the community without compromising either, proving once again that they aren’t exclusive goals. That being said, I’m quite glad we decided to put a little more time between between the two this year, a few dozen angry cops wouldn’t have done much for the party vibes.

Like last year, both downtown actions were organized by the re-formed “May 1st Committee”, an ad-hoc assembly of local anarchist talent. Unlike last year, we managed to pull it off with a a smaller and younger crew, many of whom were first-timers, and we didn’t start till the beginning of April. As hectic as this was at times, it represents exactly what I love about organizing with anarchists, a process which is almost totally informal yet frighteningly efficient. The biggest drawback, ironically, is the difficulties in corresponding with more bureaucratic organizations (unions, neighbourhood associations, etc) who tend to operate on a very different time-scale. That said, we do regularly correspond with both, and for anybody who’s wondering – yes, we did check first with the Beasley Neighbourhood Association about using the park, just like last year. What we didn’t file for was a march permit, as asking permission from the state would totally defeat the point of a protest.

Looking back, I’m particularly proud that we managed to get various promotional materials translated into French, Spanish and Arabic. That was much easier than I ever imagined, and is something we should all be in the habit of doing wherever possible. Also, it was nice to fulfil our ambitions of bringing a posse down to join the Steelworkers’ rally, something we intended to do last year but were a little too busy to manage in any organized fashion. Finally, like last year, I’m really glad people took the time to knock on doors and not simply rely on impersonal promotions like posters and social media. This kind of groundwork isn’t “exciting” like Greek riot porn, but the efforts shouldn’t be forgotten – it’s a crucial part of actually reaching the people around us, rather than just creating another spectacle to gawk at. If a bunch of us kids could pull it off, then so can you.

What would I like to see next year, and for future Maydays? More than anything else, I’d like to see festivities spread to more neighbourhoods, streets and parks. There’s no reason any borough in our city should be denied the chance to celebrate in their own way. The issues may vary, from closing schools and vanishing greenspace and countless others, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stand together as a city. Each time we do this it gets easier and a time will come, I hope, where the “M1 Committee” isn’t needed at all. People tend to learn fastest by doing, and as the simple formula of meet, march and party becomes more routine, it opens up opportunities for others to take the initiative, just as we have.

Coverage in the media was even worse than normal, and limited largely to an ultra-brief and largely inaccurate clip from CHCH (their crew left almost as soon as the march began), and a Spec article which focused mainly on the labour speeches and left out the downtown actions entirely. The CBC did better, but was also very brief and only mentioned the first march (though, at least with better context). There was no mention in any of the confrontations with police or message of the downtown march (articulated with speeches and handouts). This only goes to show how limited the corporate media can be as a source for this kind of thing, but I suppose that’s why I spend so much time typing away here.

IMG_6450

As for the actions of police, they were totally unprecedented, and represent a frightening trend toward escalation at our usually-very-tame protests. Hamilton rarely sees arrests or tickets (save one last September), even though marches almost never seek the “required” permits. In over a decade, I’ve never seen cops try to block a march’s way or corral one this way, except to perhaps keep lanes of traffic open. Despite all the diversions, we never strayed much from our original planned route and managed to reach both Main & McNab and James and Wilson without much trouble. What wasn’t planned was being corralled through a schoolyard just as kids were about to be let out – a strange choice if the police were really so concerned with “safety”.

An enormous amount of police effort was put into keeping the march away from King & James, but only at the expense of diverting us onto streets like Main or Wilson which were at least as busy. Overall it came off as both hostile and petty – and I really hope the it doesn’t continue, but all things considered, it didn’t do much to dampen spirits. Instead, it instilled an atmosphere of confrontation and defiance in the march. From that first encounter with the horses, everyone I spoke to was outraged that cops would turn on a totally peaceful march filled with kids. This, in turn, only fuelled desires to march on in spite of them (and largely made our point for us). As for traffic disruptions, this large and confrontational police presence blocked far more traffic, for longer, than we ever could have on our own.

Across Canada and the world, many other cities made news. Montreal had almost 500 mass-arrested in the latest blatant round-up of protesters, there were riots in Berlin, Istanbul and Seattle (to name a few) and Greece had a general strike. Toronto had thousands marching, as did Barcelona, Manila, Copenhagen, Phnom Penh, Mexico City and Dhaka, Bangledesh. With the world still reeling from the deaths of over four hundred workers as an eight-story sweatshop complex collapsed in a Dhaka suburb and the continuing train-wreck that is austerity-stricken Europe, it’s becoming clear that Mayday and the struggles associated with it are still just as relevant in the 21st century as they were back in the 1870s and 80s. Today, like then, it’s a day of remembrance for all those who’ve died so that we can go home at 5pm, enjoy workplaces with fire exits, or even hold an open meeting of “workers” at all. It’s a day for both defiance and celebration, in the name of all the victory’s we’ve won so far, and all those we have yet to win.

A big (non-implicating) thanks to Food Not Bombs, the USW 1005, CUPE, SACHA, the Beasley Neighbourhood Association, Jared the Weenie Man, Steel City Solidarity and even the Young Communist League – I know ya don’t all agree with our politics, but solidarity’s always refreshing. A big congratulations, as well, to all the folks, houses and families who helped make Wednesday happen. You’re all amazing, inspiring, and have helped renew my faith in this old, embattled city.

IMG_6479

Disclaimer: This post represents the viewpoint of “Undustrial” and not the M1 Committee as a whole. A more official collective report-back is on its way and I’ll repost it when it arrives.

Update: It arrived. Read the full, committee-approved reportback, posted today (May 6) on the Toronto Media Coop.

Two years ago today, Andreas Chinnery was shot and killed by police  responding to a noise complaint at his Barton St. E. apartment. Finding him home alone, distraught and allegedly brandishing a bat, police claim they fired in self-defense. Since that day, Andreas’ family has been demanding answers and an apology from the Hamilton Police Department and despite news coverage, legal actions and numerous marches downtown, they’re still waiting.

This past October, Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit finally announced a (mandatory) inquest into the shooting, though it’s currently on hold until the spring. The Chinnery family’s lawyer has criticized these proceedings, complaining that both officers (shooter and witness) have the same lawyer, though the coroner has yet to rule on whether this is a conflict of interest. Yesterday, the family announced that they’re also launching a lawsuit against the police for $650 000 in damages.

In many ways, Andreas’ death has come to symbolize growing concerns about police violence and accountability in Hamilton. A year ago the Ontario Ombudsman threatened yet another review if police don’t start cooperating with SIU investigations, citing a string of incidents with Hamilton police (including Andreas’ death) as an example. Other cases, such as the severe beating of Po La Hay, a refugee living in a Sanford Ave. apartment which mistakenly became the target of a 2010 drug raid. Constable Ryan Tocher was acquitted of excessive forces charges the following year when the other four officers present in the apartment were “unable or unwilling” to identify the officer who “stomped” him, prompting the judge to lambaste Hamilton Police for a defense that “raises the spectre of a cover-up“. Ryan Tocher, by the way, has also been now been investigated for the shooting deaths of two South Asian men in addition to this incident.

Elsewhere in Canada, prison guards from Kitchener, Ontario have seen charges dropped over the 2007 death of Ashley Smith in their custody, also finally now seeing an inquest. Smith choked to death in her cell as guards watched after tying a ligature around her neck, a common occurrence during her lengthy stay in solitary confinement. In Saskatoon, two weeks ago, another prisoner was found dead, this time at the Regional Psychiatric Facility. Kinew James had reportedly been demanding for medical attention for over an hour or more before dying of a heart attack in her cell. James, a recent inmate of the same Grand Valley Institution for Women that Ashley Smith had died in, was transferred last fall after coming forward about guards exchanging drugs and other contraband with inmates for sexual favours. A day after James died in her cell, corrections officials and Waterloo Regional Police announced that the allegations were “unfounded” and no charges would be laid.

Earlier this afternoon, the Chinnery family held a demonstration along with around fifty supporters. Beginning at City Hall with speeches, the rally marched through downtown chanting toward the Central Police Station where a second round of speeches were held. Activists raised many questions, including why there aren’t more mental health and crisis intervention professionals available as first responders, and whether a teenager on the West Mountain would have been treated the same way. After dispersing from the Central station, a smaller group headed for a second rally outside the east-end station which sent the officers two years ago.

This formula has now become familiar, for rallies over the death of Andreas Chinnery, the “Project Marvel” raid on the Markland family and other cases. They’re a reminder that whatever the SIU and courts decide, the community won’t forget these injustices. Until the department cleans up its act, they’re going to keep happening.

Grand Valley also saw a crowd of demonstrators lining their fence earlier this week, protesting over the fate of Kinew James, the sex scandal and other concerns about treatment of women inside. Prison demonstrations like this have also become quite common over the past few years and Hamilton’s seen more than a few (most recently at New Years and during the guards’ job action).

Actions like this signal a shift in the way people view our justice system. The recent police budget controversy would have been almost unthinkable a few years ago, but now even suburban councilors want to know where their endless 5%/year increases are going. While cops and guards are getting away with murder, the rest of us are facing harsher prison sentences and a growing prison population thanks to the Harper government. Dare I say this constitutes two-tiered-justice, or that this hug-a-thug approach to violent offenders needs to stop?

It’s been two years since Andreas Chinnery was taken from us. It didn’t have to happen, but it hasn’t happened in vain. I can’t imagine what his family has gone through over these two years, but their continuing efforts to seek justice are an inspiration to all of us. Together, we can ensure that this kind of tragedy never happens again, and that young victims like Andreas are never forgotten.

IMG_6256

At last week’s General Issues committee, Councillor Sam Merulla brought forward a proposal to create a new, late-night bylaw “SWAT” team. These “commandos” would be responsible for noise bylaws and other infractions between 1 and 7am, a time when police are often too busy to respond. Merulla also proposes that these officers, possibly “special constables”, would be armed and trained in self-defence. Council voted to study the idea.

“As long as there are no issues with the police, we’d create a department of special constables who can defend themselves, whether it be with firearms, bats or some other way” -Councillor Sam Merulla

Firearms or bats!?! For noise complaints?

Does our city really need another paramilitary security force? Do they have to be armed? Has anyone considered the very real possibility that somebody will be killed? Is a noise complaint worth that?

In February of last year, 19-year-old Andreas Chinnery was shot and killed by police responding to a noise complaint, finding him alone in his own Barton St. East apartment. Last month, the province finally opened an inquest into his death. Have we, as a city, learned nothing from this tragedy?

I may not be the biggest fan of cops, but I know the difference between years and weekends of use-of-force training. There’s no cheap substitute for police. How will a separate, night-time bylaw bureaucracy be any more accountable than our existing police force? And does anybody believe that armed officers with even less training and oversight will help prevent yet another tragedy?

Hamilton isn’t the only city to have these kinds of ambitions. Toronto’s Giorgio Mammoliti suggested arming bylaw enforcement and giving them the power to arrest in order to stop graffiti. He also suggested bringing in the army to police the streets. Vancouver had its “Downtown Ambassador” program in which private security guards were paid by the city and BIAs to patrol business districts, often accused of harassing the homeless. Other cities have experimented with broader privatization of their police forces, such as the UK’s Surrey and West Midlands and now at least ten others. As a result, there’s been a massive growth in the private security sector, ranging from municipal enforcement all the way to ‘defence contractors’ in Iraq and Afghanistan. One question, at the end of all these cases stands out: who do they answer to?

It isn’t as if our police are “stretched”. They’ve seen their budget increased yearly since at least amalgamation, with constant plans by politicians like mayor Bratina to add dozens to their ranks at a time. Their largest recent initiative, the ACTION team, saw 43 more cops walking, biking or horse-riding ‘the beat’ downtown and elsewhere in an admitted attempt to saturate public places with police presence. They call it “high visibility policing”. Other initiatives include “blitzes” targeting jaywalking(!) and people who ride bikes without bells or teenagers drinking in the woods. There’s even a cop regularly stationed up the street from Webster’s Falls on the weekends for most of the summer, regulating parking access. Does this sound like a force that’s overstretched, or a city gripped with disorder?

There is a difference between “obnoxious” and “criminal”, and that line exists to protect all of us. There will always be those who’d love to see armed men swoop in and carry off individuals who annoy them, and I’m familiar enough with indignant people to know that they always feel the law’s on their side. Politicians and the media tend to get a lot of traction out of these frustrations, since they correlate well with their wealthier and more influential customers. The problem comes when public safety becomes indistinguishable from middle-class social norms, such as those present in (private and heavily regulated) suburban shopping malls. The drive for “law and order” stems from desires which can never be satisfied, since expectations only rise with standards. Crime rates have been falling across the continent for a decade or two now, and that’s a big part of the reason these issues are suddenly such a big concern.

We don’t need a new force of almost-cops to deal with nuisance crimes. If we have enough cops for “high-visibility policing”, then we have enough cops to knock on doors at night and tell people to quiet down. A better question, though, would be whether it’s possible to deal with such problems without guns, such as sending somebody by the following day? Hamilton’s problems can’t be fixed by making our bureaucracies any more overbearing and hostile, or leaving our communities more reliant on organized force for basic conflict resolution. We don’t need any more tragedies, and most of all, we can do better.

Once again, racial tensions in America are exploding in the wake of a tragedy. The shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager on the streets of a Florida gated community, has incited controversy across the continent, with even President Obama weighing in. Wednesday, Congressman Bobby Rush was “escorted” out of the House of Representatives for pulling up a hood as spoke to the floor. Both the media and internet are embroiled in controversy, and many protesters have taken to the streets.

The internet has seen a coordinated campaign of racist misinformation about Martin, often coming openly from white supremacist groups. “Evidence” showing young Trayvon Martin’s criminal intent and “nature” is spreading like wildfire across the internet. Among other things, he wore a “hoodie” (hooded sweatshirt), and pictures were found of him posing shirtless in his bedroom and sporting a “grill” (gold teeth). These pictures seem to have originated at Stormfront.org, the notorious Neo-Nazi web forums, and Martin’s online accounts were recently hacked by a white supremacist on 4Chan. Police also leaked records showing he’d been (*gasp*) suspended for an empty pot baggie. Many are also bringing up injuries sustained by Zimmerman in the confrontation (he was allegedly punched in the head and knocked to the ground) as proof the shooting was “self-defence”. This video, just released from Zimmerman’s arrival at the station, is casting doubt on that story.

Who is George Zimmerman? His father is a retired Judge. He aspired to be a cop and helped start the “neighbourhood watch” in which he was a “captain”. In his zeal for law-and-order in his suburban neighbourhood, he’d logged dozens of 911 calls over the past few years, for everything from potholes and trash-piles to “suspicious-looking” (usually black) individuals. He called police prior to shooting Martin, and the 911 operator distinctly asked him not to follow him. Also worth mentioning is his record for domestic violence. All of this paints a picture of an obsessive, hot-headed man with a very polarized, “action movie” notion of “law and order” which he felt constantly compelled to act on.

It would be hard to argue that racism isn’t a factor in either the shooting or the response, but so was age, class and culture. Zimmerman may not be white, but he’s not exactly from the “ghetto” either. This speaks to what has become a very dominant ideology in American suburbia – one which goes right back to the original “white flight” from the inner cities. Poor urban youths of colour have been cast as barbarian hordes, and suburbs as frontier outposts of civilization. There’s an ever-present fear of an urban black underclass coming to take their “property”, arguably the best marketing campaign in history for suburban gated communities, handguns and conservative politicians.

Whatever the truth behind the shooting itself, the fact that so many have rushed Zimmerman’s defence really says something about how ignorant and terrified the underlying society is, and how eager people are to assume the worst about Martin. In spite of all the evidence that Martin was doing absolutely nothing wrong, many still simply refuse to believe that a black teenager could have a legitimate reason to walk down a suburban sidewalk.

This is hardly an isolated incident. It could just as easily have been a Latino kid stopped by some gun-wielding idiot for his “papers”. And for all the outcry over “vigilante” gunslinging, we need to be realistic – Zimmerman’s constant police calls were every bit as likely to get somebody shot as personal confrontations like this. Today’s news of a Pasadena California man’s arrest for a 911 call which led to the fatal shooting police of Kendrec McDade, another black teenager, shows how easily this can go down. It even happens in Hamilton, as it did in 2008 around Upper James and Mohawk when passers-by chased and restrained a (young, black) shoplifter, Djo Bwabwa Kalamba, running from Canadian Tire, killing him in the process. These aren’t just random deaths, there’s a clear pattern in which young black males are presumed to be armed and dangerous when they venture anywhere near “white” communities. Every additional death is another tragic reminder to all youths of colour that a different standard applies to them.

An affinity for hip-hop culture isn’t a crime, nor does it prove criminal intent. Millions of young people across the continent listen to rap music, and I’d be surprised to find anybody under 30 who doesn’t own a hoodie. This shooting resonated so deeply because it could have been anyone, and because his case reminds us of so many others. When these actions are so common and so often go unpunished that means millions of youths of colour need to fear for their lives. Like the old-time lynchings, that’s the point. Racism isn’t just a bunch of “bad words” or off-colour jokes told at parties, it’s a power structure maintained by regular acts of violence. Until we grapple with that, these murders are just going to keep happening.

Yesterday the central defendants in the G20 “conspiracy” trial were given their sentences and taken away in handcuffs to serve their time. This concludes another chapter of this sordid ordeal, and hopefully if nothing else brings a little closure to some of those who’ve lived the last year and a half in haze of fear, uncertainty and highly restrictive bail conditions.

You can read their statements, here.

Many of those caught up in this nightmare were friends of mine, some close, and I can personally attest that they weren’t a part of the “black bloc” (most were already in jail at the time of the riot). Their trial has been based on an “extensive history of infiltration and surveillance, where any off-hand comment or dark-humoured joke has become “evidence” of involvement in a criminal conspiracy. All in all, it seems the safest place a protester could be on that Saturday was nestled into the middle of the black block, as so far, the actual rioters responsible seem to have suffered far less than most bystanders or “peaceful protesters”. Nobody familiar with the history of political trails should be surprised by this fact, and the parallels here run right back to Haymarket Square in 1886, where many organizers were eventually hung for their anarchist views in lieu of actual evidence of wrongdoing. Read the trial statement of August Spies here to see how little has changed.

After reading his ruling on the co-defendants’ plea bargain, Justice Lloyd Budzinski gave his two cents on social change. In his statement, the judge talked about how they were being punished for their actions, not their beliefs. He stated that he too, as a judge, knew what it meant to feel excluded from the political process. He spoke of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and how they should have chosen peaceful civil disobedience instead.

I’ve mentioned a few times, in passing, the close relationship between this kind of scornful “pacifism” and state violence, but this statement really says it all. A senior official with the justice system, surrounded by armed men, in the process of sending protest organizers to jail for being on the receiving end of one of Canada’s biggest (and surely most expensive) acts of civil repression since Confederation, wants to talk about peacefully resolving problems? After over a thousand people were mass arrested, brutalized, sexually assaulted and put through legal nightmares with virtually no consequences for those police officers and politicians responsible, he wants to talk about accountability? This would be utterly hilarious if it weren’t so serious or offensive.

Of course the people pointing guns at us want us to object in the most peaceful and inoffensive ways possible. Just like our bosses will tell us day in and day out that unions won’t help us get better wages. Not only is it clearly contrary to their interest for us to resist in any way which is remotely effective, but there’s generally not much in their personal experience to suggest that the establishment won’t do anything they ask.

They myth of Gandhi has reached religious proportions in the West – a view, I’m told, which is not widely shared India. This conception of Gandhi’s philosophies is incredibly shallow (I’ve read most of Satyagrahaa, have you?), leaving out crucial ideas like local governance or economics. Historically speaking, it shows a total ignorance of the context – the fact that the British and American governments were facing fairly serious armed uprisings if they brushed Gandhi or MLK aside. Instead they focus on finger-wagging accusations aimed at “bad activists” for not being enough like their saints, and justifying violent repression on that basis.

Tactics like these aren’t peaceful at all. They acknowledge, accept and utterly depend on powerful violent actors to hear their cries and take action out of sympathy. Whether this means that those responsible for their oppression call off their troops, or neighbouring powerful folks sending in their own soldiers, these tactics don’t work in a vacuum. What if nobody is listening? And what if those perpetrating the attacks don’t care? This has been the case, for instance, in nearly all the world’s repression of indigenous peoples, from the Americas to Australia and everywhere in between. What then?

Equating what is “peaceful” with what the state finds acceptable means nothing but siding uncritically with the state. In conflicts which involve the state in question (Canada, of course, being one of those nasty G20 nations the protesters were so upset about), this is especially true. That anybody can consider two burning cars and a bunch of rocks thrown through windows to be more “violent” than the billion-dollar, thoroughly illegal mass arrest of over a thousand people, complete with beatings, pre-dawn tactical raids and cavalry charges shows this very clearly. The fact alone that an establishment which was (and in many ways still is) at war gives lie to anything they want to say about “peace”.

I know a lot of pacifists. Real pacifists. From the Christian Peacemaking Teams to the Quakers to the Peace Studies department at McMaster. They don’t uncritically accept systemic violence – they do everything they can to call it out and confront it. They don’t limit the actions they see as acceptable to those which are legal. And they frequently challenge the Canadian government and others for their brutality abroad. A perfect example might be the Ploughshares movement, a collection of often deeply religious and entirely peaceful folks who regularly charge onto army bases and begin tearing apart war machines with hand tools (attempting to beat “swords” into “ploughshares”), then willingly submitting to arrest. Many of these people are anarchists, and it’s hard to imagine where the anarchist tradition would be at without groups like Quakers and others. I may not always be an advocate of peace (few people are), but all of these people have my deepest respect. If the first casualty of war is the truth then the first remedy is brutal honesty.

Some very close friends of mine are going to spend the next couple of months in prison. That’s violence. Prisons are some of the most violent institutions imaginable, involving constant and consistent threats and violence from every angle. They’re academies of crime where people are sent to lift weights, get in fights and talk about crime, and it’s no coincidence that high incarceration rates tend to correlate very well with high rates of violent crime – just look at America. They’re some of the most ugly examples of systemic racism and classism, locking up hugely disproportionate numbers of poor, black, or First Nations people while letting anyone who can afford a lawyer get away with far more grievous crimes. Corporations and police budgets, on the other hand, gain huge windfalls of public money. Academically speaking, the “law and order” approach has been publicly acknowledged as a failure for decades. These sentences are the actions of a vengeful, vindictive and greedy ruling class and shouldn’t be seen as anything else.

“I am going to jail today. I have plead guilty and do not contest this. But I remember that whatever happens in the court is not the most important story. Even as this prosecution draws to a close, the truly important stories are ongoing, playing out among allies in liberated spaces everywhere, and in the hearts of my family and the people who care about me. It is those stories I will carry with me as I leave the courtroom today.” – Peter Hopperton (statement)

I just read an excellent critique from BayView, regarding the Occupy movement. In it, Nancy Heitzeg makes some excellent points about the predominantly white and male nature of the Occupy movement’s imagery and critique. As a white male and someone who’s been involved with the Occupy movement, I feel compelled to respond, or at least share my thoughts. This type of analysis is vital to our movement, and it absolutely can’t be shrugged off.

I wish I could say that I hadn’t noticed similar trends. In Hamilton, at least, we’ve tried to be pro-active, by making sure that we passed an acknowledgement of the unpleasant colonial connotations of the word “occupy” through our General Assemly, and have since formed a committee to look into issues of “Accessibility and Inclusivity”. Enough? Hardly. But at least a humble start. The truth is, like all social movements, Occupy is caught between principles and the “normal” and “moderate” ideals of our broader society. These ideals, of course, are far from neutral, and definitely more in line with the interests of the “1%” than the rest of us. But then again, it doesn’t take a statistician to tell you white middle-class males make up a very small percentage of the actual population…

Heitzeg focuses on the issues of prisons and policing, and this is certainly one area I’ve witnessed this kind of thing. Though I might not apply exclusively “white” or “male” labels to all of the comments I’ve heard, they certainly apply to many. Beyond these, I’d also have to argue that many of the pro-police statements I’ve heard aren’t much in terms of class analysis either, or really any kind of analysis. Saying things like “they’re just doing their job” and “cops are part of the 99% too” says a lot about their victims too. Does an arrest or conviction exempt you from the 99%? When people argue that they’re “good guys” and “necessary”, what does this say about all the communities who certainly don’t feel the police are on their side?

We may not be as America, but our own prison statistics are pretty startling, especially when it comes to First Nations. One could argue, I suppose, that oppressing native people isn’t the “real purpose” of our policing system. Given the history of the RCMP, though, that would be a hard argument to make. The RCMP was of course geared at controlling the frontier, especially natives (in the wake of the Riel Rebellion), and the early tasks included things like making sure all native children went to residential schools. Likewise, with policing in the southern US which evolved from slave patrols, and elsewhere (Northern US or Europe) from debtor’s prisons. Racism, classism and colonialism were built into these systems from the outset, and have never been far from the surface – not in the 1930s, 60s or 90s.

Of course the police are not “on our side” and stating otherwise is very alienating to all kinds of people, especially the kinds the Occupy movement claims to fight for. Not acknowledging this is even more alienating. Perhaps most alienating is a complete failure to notice how it all ties into our message. There’s nothing the bailouts and austerity can do, or the associated police crackdowns, which haven’t been a daily fact of live for a very large number of people as long as they can remember. This violence happens every day (as the article notes, an average of one dead American daily), and the effects are crippling, socially and economically in more ways than can be listed here.

The police are only one example of institutions who’s inclusion can become very exclusive to others. Where any gross power imbalance exists, there is a potential for abuse, oppression and exploitation. I certainly wouldn’t want Welfare, Children’s Aid or Immigration officials around, nor would I want to see uniformed jail guards, security personnel or members of certain infamous residential care facilities. This isn’t to say that members of these professions can’t take part as individuals, but wearing a uniform and receiving a paycheque means that their presence is far more than personal. Anybody else present who is at the mercy of those institutions suddenly has to worry about what they’ll report back or keep on record about “troublemakers”. Whatever moralistic judgements others want to apply about immigrants, ex-prisoners or single mothers, the risk to individuals involved can’t be denied. Beyond that, it kneecaps our analysis by forcing us to pull punches on issues of serious systemic oppression for fear of offending the staff at the institutions involved. What’s worst, it does all of this in the name of catering to those with the most power in these situations, at the expense of those with the least. Refusing to criticize aspects of the because we want to “play nice” or not seem too radical is hypocrisy, plain and simple.

People are not equal in our society. That’s abundantly clear economically, sexually, racially, geographically, in terms of age, ability, or dozens of other factors. Assuming equality or imposing artificial “unity” in situations like these only entrenches inequality. This happens by turning all issues into “personality conflicts” between “individuals”. It happens when members of a dominant group cry foul over measures designed to balance the scales (ie: affirmative action). And most importantly, it happens when positions of power become normalized and accepted in ways that make very obvious oppression invisible.

Any critique of the status quo which doesn’t take these issues into account is only half an analysis. Trying to focus on the issue of “normal Canadians” is absurd. There is no “normal” Canadian or American, just a whole lot of individuals. Every issue we face affects different individuals in different ways, and there is no universal experience of oppression. The common ground comes from the fact that we’re all dealing with the same power structure, and far stronger together than apart. We can neither understand nor struggle against this power structure until we understand how it affects everybody, not just people similar to ourselves. Solidarity isn’t about an army of clones marching in lock-step – it’s about fighting a common struggle from a point of incredible diversity. Bringing this up isn’t divisive – refusing to bring it up is.

This is, of course, not a blanket condemnation of the Occupy Movement. Far more, it’s a critique of the ideals of our society which continually do their best to re-assert themselves within it. I’ll continue to be involved, and do what I can to see that these issues are brought up. None of this is a reason to stall in our tracks, but rather to move even farther forward, toward a movement and critique which better reflects the grim realities of the world we live in. This is not hard – we just have to be willing to listen, and the pay-off will be a far stronger, larger and more diverse movement – but only if we’re all willing to let go of our old ideas about what a movement is supposed to look like. True popular movements allow all people to share in the creative side of actions, not just following orders and doing the work.

The inevitable backlash to the Occupy movement is beginning to hit many American cities. Municipal governments are losing patience and police are beginning to move in. Occupy Oakland and now Occupy Atlanta have been evicted by police. There are also reports coming in of police moving in at Occupy Orlando, Albequerque and Eureka.

Oakland’s crackdown began before dawn today as police raided the encampment making 85 arrests. Tensions flared later on as hundreds or thousands marched and confronted police this evening. Some threw paint, a few hurled rocks or struggled against the onslaught, but facing a barrage of beanbags, tear gas and reportedly sound cannons protesters were scattered or tackled. Reports indicate that over a hundred may now be incarcerated, and the National Lawyers’ Guild’s local chapter is sorely displeased. Oakland was known for having one of the more radical occupations, amongst a lot of battles since the shooting death of a local man at the hands of transit police.

Atlanta’s arrests were far more peaceful, as those who remained at the camp gathered in a circle waiting to be arrested. Those who volunteered for arrest reportedly included a state senator – all 53 have now been released on bail. Though Occupy Atlanta had been given permission to camp into November, a recent “unpermitted” hip-hop concert had worried authorities and the Mayor had revoked his order. A man reportedly sporting a loaded AK-47 probably also had them scared, apparently it was completely legal, he had a permit (God bless America…), and just wanted to encourage fellow conservatives to support the movement. Thankfully, he didn’t bring it to the arrests.

A word of caution to police, governments and others who’d seek to use riot cops to end this movement: it’s a trap. If you strike us down, we will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine – on youtube. A whole bunch more bumbling police brutality is exactly what’s needed to liven up this movement (media has a short attention span – until people start bleeding again).

(Note: It’s come to light since I posted this that Scott Olson, a veteran, was wounded and is in critical condition in the assault on Occupy Oakland. This is not what we need – this is a tragedy, and absolutely unacceptable. It strikes me that the eerily precient words I posted yesterday might now look a little insensitive, and for that I sincerely apologize. I considered removing or re-writing them, but that wouldn’t be entirely honest. The point stands, and the fact that much of Olson’s horrific ordeal was caught on tape only goes to show that it won’t be easily forgotten. Let’s all hope that he makes it through this.)

Far too many people are scarily comfortable with the idea of others getting beaten down at a protest. Those hippie freaks should probably just cut their hair and get a job, right? As movements grow, though, this gets a lot harder. Most people really dislike the idea that they might get tear-gassed, beaten or shot at with beanbags. The more people who get caught up in these crackdowns, the more people are going to feel threatened – and that will only serve to make the protesters’ point all the better. The establishment, of course, has to respond – the Occupy movement, no matter how peaceful, is proving to be very threatening in very fundamental ways. I just doubt that it’ll do them any good.

Earlier today, during a march associated with the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, the NYPD kettled and mass-arrested demonstrators on the Brooklyn Bridge. Reports are sketchy so far, but as many as 400 may have been pinched.

Their crime was walking on the roadway (instead of the originally planned pedestrian walkway). Though police initially warned marchers not to take the roadway, little was done until hundreds were already on the roadway. This has prompted allegations that it was a trap, and given the outrage over last weekend’s roundup, and whether or not that’s true, this says a lot about the treasured legal status of automobile routes. Why should a little thing like public protest be allowed to get in the way of people driving wherever they want?

The commitment to nonviolence, so far, has been strict and inspiring. Not only does this take a lot of discipline (and isn’t always possible), but in the face of pepper-spray and kettling tactics, it takes a lot of personal courage as well. I know it’s not easy to stay peaceful under these conditions, but the fact that it’s happened is a really good sign.

Despite this crackdown, the protests have clearly been growing. Occupy LA began today, and the union support is just rolling in. Though, regrettably, the rumours of Radiohead, yesterday, were greatly exaggerated.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Archives

RSS Newsfeed

obtainium83

Building a new world from the bones of the old one.

Hamilton Urban Forest Coalition

Promoting the protection, enhancement and appreciation of urban forests in the City of Hamilton

The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination

“This is not a normal travelling theatre company you know!” Scotland Yard.

Knowing the Land is Resistance

Based in the remaining Carolinian forest, nestled between Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment...

Narrative Resistance

fighting back against dominant stories

Warrior Publications

Purpose: To promote warrior culture, fighting spirit, and resistance movements