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Toronto is burning! Or is it? Black bloc tactics play into the state's hands
By Judy Rebick
June 27, 2010 -- Rabble -- For people sitting at home and watching TV news last night, Toronto was burning. The same police car on Queen St West burned and blew up over and over again. The same image of a young man very violently smashing Starbucks windows appeared over and over again. Windows smashed all along Yonge Street. None of us had ever seen Toronto like this. It was shocking.
Most of the 400 protesters arrested last night and others who may have avoided arrest didn't see that violence. From their perspective, they were facing a violent police state. These demonstrations, militant but overwhelming peaceful, were resisting the right of the police to hold them to Queen Street. They think the people have a right to protest in a place where political leaders can hear them. They had nothing to do with torching police cars or trashing windows.
TVO host Steve Paiken was down at the Novotel last night with peaceful protesters. He tweeted his experiences, "Shame on those that ordered peaceful protesters attacked and arrested. That is not consistent with democracy in Toronto, G20 or no G20."
I was on Queen West and Spadina when the trouble started. David Fernandez has written an excellent report on what happened on his facebook page.
Rewind to just before the riot happened, thousands of us marched in a very briskly moving group until we hit the intersection of Spadina and Queen. Folks from the labour movement tried in vain to encourage the march to move back up towards queens park, but the mood was clear. Many thousands of protestors were interested in being closer to the summit and letting the police know that we couldn't be intimidated.
But nothing official was planned. Labour walked back up the street leaving thousands to mill about in the confusion of what to do next. And in that confusion, several hundred people changed their clothes and took off together running down queen street while thousands of riot cops picked their noses. In full police view, they let a mob destroy banks and trash Yonge Street.
And while riot cops had shields AND bikes and thousands of dollars in body armor to protect them from the remaining peaceful protestors, somehow they were so scared of us that they abandoned police cars.
The police spokesperson told Metro Morning today that they waited until later when it was safer to make arrests but that cannot be true. I was there and like David I believe the cops could have arrested the Black Bloc right at the beginning of the action but they abandoned their police cars and allowed them to burn, not even calling the fire department until the media had lots of time to photograph them. They had a water cannon but they didn't even use a fire extinguisher. Why?
A comment released to a media outlet last night from official police spokesperson tells some of the story, "We have never tried to curtail people's rights to lawfully protest. All you have to do is turn on the TV and see what's happening now. Police cars are getting torched, buildings are being vandalised, people are getting beat up and the so-called 'intimidating' police presence is essential to restoring order. That is the reality on the ground."
Police playing politics, justifying the expense and responding to the critiques building all week about excessive and arbitrary police powers. A politicised police force is unacceptable in a democratic society. There are serious questions that must be answered and they have not been satisfactory answered.
People were shocked last night by a city out of control but the Toronto police -- without all the huge expenditures, extra police from across the country and sophisticated new toys -- have kept the peace in riots with a lot more people and in hundreds of demonstrations much larger and often angry. I disagree with torching police cars and breaking windows and I have been debating these tactics for decades with people who think they accomplish something. But the bigger question here is why the police let it happen and make no mistake the police did let it happen. Why did the police let the city get out of control? And they did let it get out of control. The police knew exactly what would happen and how.
Christopher Watt was there when the first police car was torched,
The officers clustered and formed a line. A second picket of officers lined up behind them, facing the crowd where I stood. They started to move, but they weren't clearing the street; they were clearing out and abandoning two police cars, including the one with the shattered windshield...
In moments like this, someone needs to make a decision. This time it was a man in dreadlocks and no shirt, red paint all over his torso. He moved towards the police car, grabbing the squawking police radio...
Following the lead of the dreadlocked man, someone else pulled what looked like a leather folder from inside the car and spread its contents over the trunk. A kid wearing sunglasses, his face covered by a scarf, inspected the paperwork. Soon after, the squad cars would be on fire. (The gas cap appeared to have been removed from one of them even before the crowd moved in.)
It was a perfect storm. A massive police presence who were primed for "dangerous anarchists" after a week of peaceful protests. No more than one hundred, probably fewer, young men who think violent confrontations with the police will create a radicalisation and expose the violence of the state. A new generation of young people who are becoming activists believing they live in a democratic society and are shocked by the degree of police violence arrayed to stop them.
But it is the police that let the handful of people using Black Bloc tactics run wild and then used the burning police cars and violent images as a media campaign to convince the people of Toronto that the cost and the excessive police presence was necessary. They knew what would happen and they knew how it would happen. It is the police that bear the responsibility for what happened last night. They were responsible for keeping the peace and they failed to do it.
G20 police let rioters run amok and then struck back hard at all activists
By David Langille
June 27, 2010 -- Rabble -- Alongside my neighbours from the Danforth area, I joined the large march on Saturday afternoon [June 26] on the first day of the G20 Summit in Toronto. We felt proud to be there alongside more than 10,000 other Canadians -- women, trade unionists, students, teachers, people of all ethnicities and backgrounds -- demonstrating our commitment to peace and social justice. We passed by hundreds and hundreds of police without an incident.
Soon afterwards, while catching a meal on the patio at Fran's Restaurant on College Street, we heard glass breaking on Yonge Street, and saw a mob of about 150 coming around the corner, hurling chairs into windows. Someone threw a bottle through a window showering me in broken glass. What was most striking was that there were not any police in sight.
Evidently this group had started rioting on Queen Street over half an hour earlier -- where the police drove one of their cars into the middle of the group then abandoned it. It was soon set on fire -- making a great photo op.
The group proceeded up Yonge Street smashing windows all the way up Yonge Street, at least eight blocks, without being stopped by police.
There were reported to be 19,000 security people on duty, and a senior officer told me they had 7000 police.
As an academic and an activist, I have participated in numerous demonstrations in Canada, the United States, Europe and South America, and I have never seen such a dereliction of duty.
Normally, there are buses full of riot police right in the downtown core, ready to move at a moment's notice.
The police knew that they should focus their energies on the Black Bloc, especially so late on Saturday afternoon.
But when the rioters came smashing their way up the main street of Toronto, the police disappeared for half an hour.
It would appear that the security forces allowed this riot to happen in order to justify the $1 billion which appeared to have been wasted on security measures in Huntsville and Toronto.
They must not be allowed to discredit those of us who protested peacefully.
We must hold this government responsible for wasting $1 billion dollars on security measures, and then trying to justify it by allowing people to riot.
[David Langille is the executive producer for Poor No More, a feature documentary on Canada's working poor. These articles first appeared at Rabble.ca, a radical web journal in Canada.]
Mass arrests, the security state and the Toronto G20 summit
June 28, 2010 -- The Bullet -- The massive police presence in Toronto this week has been officially justified on the basis of protecting the leaders of the G8 and G20 countries meeting in Huntsville and Toronto. We were told that the creation of the fenced-in fortress, the massive mobilisation of police (estimates ranging from 10,000-20,000) from across Canada, and even the passing of a secret law on policing (by the executive of the Ontario government without reference to the Legislative Assembly and the opposition parties) that made it a crime to appear within five metres of the security fence would protect our right to protest as well.
This is not what has unfolded in Toronto over the June 25-27 weekend.
Thousands of protesters marched peacefully on June 25, challenging the purpose and agenda of the G20, although completely hemmed on all sides by thousands of heavily armed police over the entire march (and severely hampering the freedom of assembly). On June 26, in the midst of a larger demonstration (estimated at between 10-25,000), organised by the labour, anti-privatisation and peace movements, a series of unwarranted acts of vandalism by a small number of protesters against stores, vehicles and buildings, was used as an excuse for a massive unleashing of repression and attacks by police against the democratic rights of both protesters, and Torontonians as a whole. (Like what happened at the Montebello Summit of North American leaders in August 2007, it will come out over the next weeks how widely the police had infiltrated some of the key groups – especially the so-called Black Bloc, knew the planning and participated as agent provocateurs.)
There seemed to be no real efforts on the part of the police to stop the attacks on the stores. As well, none of the massive police contingents tried to stop some of this small group from burning three of their police vehicles. It was as if the police weren't all that concerned with these actions. Reporters from European broadcasters and newspapers reported that this was totally out of keeping with any real concern to prevent violence.
The police then unleashed waves of repression against the legitimate protesters, those who wished to push toward the security fence – in an effort to challenge the militarisation of the streets and demand that the G20 leaders respond to concerns about austerity and attacks on poor and working people – those who were simply voicing their concerns about the G20 agenda (with its radical austerity agenda of having the public sector and the poor pay for the bailout of the banks), journalists and even innocent and curious bystanders. In one attack on a “free protest” zone (previously negotiated with the police) rubber bullets and tear gas was used, and people were indiscriminately taken down, beaten and arrested.
In all, by June 27 estimates were that some 500 people were arrested (and there have been hundreds more over the course of June 28); it is impossible for anyone to know how many of these were the instigators of violence and how many were people simply exercising their right to protest. But clearly the mass majority were only protesting and exercising their rights to assembly and free speech, which the Toronto police and the wider security forces have been systematically violating.
The temporary jail that protesters have been placed in is located at the old Toronto Film Studios on Eastern Avenue in the eastern edge of the downtown, converted into a series of cages in essentially a huge warehouse. The jail is described by inmates as a kind of Guantanamo North: cold, dirty and especially humiliating for those who were said to have refused arrest. People have been held for hours without recourse to legal representation, of which there has been a large legal team at hand. Protesters hoping to provide some type of support for those incarcerated, have themselves been attacked, tear-gassed and dispersed by police violence.
Listening to the mass media and the interviews with the police and security spokespeople for Toronto and the Canadian state, one would have thought that there was full scale rioting, and that the massive, billion dollar spending spree on security for the summit – that angered people across the country – was somehow worth it. As part of this, all protesters are being demonised and the police are being portrayed as heroes, notably by the political leadership and the Mayor of Toronto, David Miller.
The message of the protests (and of the thousands who protested across the week at hundreds of talks, meetings, protests, cultural events) – that the G20 meeting reflected the underlying agenda of the corporations and the political elites, to make sharp cutbacks across the public sector, to impose wage cuts, to not raise significant (or any) new taxes on financial capital and to impose new forms of hardship in the form of higher taxes and cuts in benefits for working people and the poor – was to be drowned out in a demonising of the entire project of the protest. That is, that the ruling classes in the G20 were doing everything in their power to have the working classes pay for the crisis and their project of re-constructing neoliberalism and the political hegemony of the banks and financial capital.
The police and much of Toronto's political and economic establishment, sought to use the incidents to change the entire discourse of the G20 week.
Socialists, of course, take their distance from the foolish acts of the few who confuse violent attacks and trashing with revolutionary politics. This is to substitute individual acts of dissent for the working class and the mass movement as a whole. It is the adventurism that calls forth the most violent features of the security and policing apparatuses of the state, catching hundreds of innocents in the wake, and helps justify to the endless expansion of the security state. To challenge the neoliberal globalisation agenda of the G20, and overturn all the undemocratic exploitative relations of capitalism, we need to build a political movement in Canada, based among the working classes who don't earn their income from capital ownership, and who also are oppressed by the unequal relations of race, gender, sexuality and nationality.
At this moment, it is a point of fundamental solidarity to denounce, as forcefully as possible, the police repression being unleashed against G20 protesters. We insist that those incarcerated on Eastern Avenue have their full civil rights restored and that civilian authorities take control from the Toronto Police Services of oversight of these proceedings. They have proven incapable of protecting – and understanding – basic civil rights (starting from the special emergency powers asked for by Police Chief Blair, and granted by stealth by Premier Dalton McGuinty). The accused should immediately be released without charge, or be freed on bail and given the right to defend themselves in open courts (not the kangaroo courts with limited or no public access that have been operating over this week).The police occupation of Toronto should end immediately, and our full civil rights – and especially our rights to our city and streets – be restored. There clearly will need to be a full and independent investigation about the role of the police in the violence of the last few days, the role of agent provocateurs and plants in the planning of these events and the astonishing violation of the rights of ordinary people and protesters alike on the streets of Toronto over the last week.