Black Block Violence Distracts from Message, Police Brutality Overshadows Peaceful Protests
This week I saw many things that I never expected to see with my own eyes, things I thought only happened in other parts of the world. I saw anarchists smash windows and jump on the roof of a burning police car and graffiti "Bomb the Banks", acts that detract attention from the thousands of peaceful protesters with legitimate concerns about climate change financing, labour rights, women's rights, poverty and other issues. But I also saw (with my own eyes and in numerous videos) police viciously beat and arrest peaceful demonstrators, journalists and innocent bystanders.
The list of abuses is so long I hardly know where to start. A deaf man was arrested and could not understand what was happening for the many hours he was detained because the only interpreter offered to him was a police officer, a clear conflict of interest. An amputee had his prosthetic leg ripped off by police, had his walking sticks confiscated, and then illegally detained for 27 hours. Innocent bystanders were corralled along with peaceful protesters and held there for three hours in a torrential downpour before being released. Some of these people were just out walking their dogs or waiting to catch a bus. Police conducted countless random and illegal searches of pedestrians who were not given the choice of being searched; many were roughed up and arrested for carrying swiss army knives. You can read some first hand accounts of the illegal and/or violent arrest and about the conditions in the detention centre. I’ll let these people speak for themselves.
At Queen’s park – a designated safe protest zone – police clamped down on protesters gathered there, again many of whom were journalists (just about one from every news organization), peaceful protesters, people angry about the way protesters were being treated and onlookers. I left shortly before all of this happened at Queens Park but there is ample video evidence online to attest to it. When I left I could see two walls of police moving pincer-style to coral the protesters who had congregated there thinking it was a safe zone. You can find some of these videos at the end of this post.
I spoke to a woman who had been at Queen’s Park for a little while and she told me she had found a man collapsed in the park but that when she called an ambulance they refused to pick the man up because of the conflict in the area. I find this one of the hardest parts of the weekend to accept, that emergency medical services seem to value the health, safety and lives of protesters less than that of the average citizen.
Beyond the flagrant abuses of protesters this weekend, I find a few facts hard to understand. On Saturday June 26th, I followed the Black Block filming as they rampaged up Yonge Street, yet there we no police in sight, not a one. Having joined several other marches that week, I had seen the police move very quickly to block protesters at every intersection: there were so many police officers that they could respond quickly to every new move the marching protesters made. So I struggle to understand how at the very moment when the protests turned ugly, the police were nowhere in sight.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has made statements to the effect that police had to abandon that area in order to protect the security fence as well as people and property in other areas. But weren’t violent, property-damaging anarchists precisely the threat the police had hope to prevent? I have a hard time believing that with 19,000 police in the city, police felt they had to abandon Yonge Street to the Black Block. What seems more likely is that the police let the Black Block run rampant in order to justify the crack down on protesters that followed soon after in Queens Park, at Queen and Spadina and outside the temporary detention centre. Call me crazy but I just can’t think of any other legitimate reason for the glaring absence of police on Yonge Street that day.
Thanks to the ubiquitousness of portable and social media, many of these abuses of power were caught on film and posted online, providing clear evidence of the use of excessive police force. In my opinion, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair should resign or be removed from his post, and a full enquiry into the extreme use of force and abusive conditions in the detention centre should be conducted (and not by the police themselves as has been proposed). Government and police must be held accountable for these abuses to Canadian civil liberties; Canadians should not be made to fear demonstrating for causes they believe in.
For excellent photo coverage check out the Toronto Star Photo Blog
Below are some of the videos that have been circulating on the web. I did not take them nor was I present at any of these events, however I believe these videos speak strongly for themselves.
Police rush protesters at Queen & Spadina
Police rush seated protesters with bikes
Police on horseback trample protester
Video of Undercover police turning on crowd at Queen's Park