[Hpn] Fwd: Who is Policing the Police?

Bonnie Briggs s248_1132@hotmail.com
Tue, 04 Jul 2000 07:52:24 -0700 (PDT)

Hi gang,
  Here is another eye-witness account of what happened on June 15th at 
Queen's Park.
>Please circulate.
>Who is Policing the Police?
>Who is Policing the Police?
>Who is Policing the Police?
>By Debi Brock
>Policing is and always has been a para-military form of organization.
>However, police practices have become noticeably less restrained since
>the election of the Harris government.  Conservative ideologies and
>policies have stripped basic rights from tenants, workers, and the poor,
>while creating zero tolerance policies and boot camps which focus on
>punishment, and ignore the social causes of crime.  At its annual
>meeting this week, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police is
>proposing that civilian investigators from the Special Investigations
>Unit (whose task it is to investigate police conduct) be replaced by
>police officers.  Now that a government is in power which lacks the most
>basic understanding of political rights and favours authoritarian forms
>of governing, who is policing the police?
>It is not only in Ontario that police power is expanding.  Former New
>York City Mayor Randolph Giuliani’s clean up campaign has been lauded on
>both sides of the border for its ‘get tough on crime’ successes, despite
>accusations of brutality on the part of the NYPD. And last week, the
>federal liberal government tabled a Bill that would allow police forces
>across Canada greater latitude in breaking the law in the line of duty.
>The policing of public demonstrations has also rapidly changed.
>Remember ‘Peppergate’, when a public investigation was launched after
>police pepper sprayed demonstrators during the APEC meetings in
>Vancouver in 1997? Since that time, pepper spraying demonstrators has
>become a routine practice in crowd control, as we have seen in Seattle,
>Washington, Windsor, and now Toronto. Yet when demonstrators show up
>prepared with vinegar soaked bandanas and swimming goggles, this is
>interpreted as them looking for trouble, rather than attempting to
>protect themselves against a now routine form of police assault.
>I went to Queen’s Park on Thursday June 15 as part of a demonstration
>against the provincial Tory government’s agenda----an agenda which is
>killing people daily, on the streets, in the hospitals, and in Ontario
>communities like Walkerton, where people risk their lives when they turn
>on a kitchen tap. The demonstration was organized by the Ontario
>Coalition Against Poverty, and endorsed by numerous unions and community
>organizations.  Trade unionists, university professors, and church
>groups were among those who marched from Allan Gardens to Queen’s Park
>with marginally housed and homeless people, demanding to be heard. What
>happened that day can only be described as a ‘police riot’.
>At Queen’s Park, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty spokesperson John
>Clarke addressed the crowd, stating that the victims of poverty and
>homelessness should be able to speak to the legislature.  He announced
>that those who had elected to attempt to do so should proceed.  Some of
>the demonstrators then moved forward and attempted to remove barricades
>to the entrance to the legislature, chanting ‘Whose house, our house!’
>to signal that people facing poverty and homelessness were being ignored
>and denied access to elected officials.
>The police, in full riot gear, on horseback, in uniform, were out in
>force, standing behind a barricaded entrance to the legislature, while
>undercover officers were planted among the demonstrators.  They were
>prepared for a riot to happen----they had apparently been training for
>it for weeks–and they immediately put that training into practice,
>thereby actually creating the situation that they were there to
>control.  They immediately attacked demonstrators with truncheons and
>pepper spray.  Lines of riot gear clad police surged forward, beating
>everyone within reach. When they reached my location, well back from the
>front of the demonstration, a friend and I jumped up on to a statue and
>watched the people who had been standing immediately in front of us,
>doing nothing, set upon and repeatedly clubbed by groups of police, even
>after they were prostrate on the ground.  People were running in every
>direction, as they were charged by police on massive horses sweeping
>from the sides and down the middle of the park, in full gallop. Riot
>police paused periodically, only to renew their assault on the crowds
>with a frenzy that conveyed a loss of control within an orchestrated
>assault.  During one of the pauses, a police officer directly in front
>of me (since ordered off of the statue) yelled at a woman standing
>beside me (not to me—was I too well dressed?), ‘why aren’t you
>working?’  I asked him what having a job had to do with citizenship
>rights.  His reply was one of those very deliberate smiley sneers that I
>recall the villains making on the Saturday morning cartoons I watched as
>a kid.
>Police are trained to respond to dissent by containing and de-escalating
>it.   From a policing perspective, it would have been appropriate to do
>so when demonstrators broke down the barricades.  That is not what
>happened.  Instead, police resorted to tactics which escalated the
>situation, and provoked anger and sometimes violence from the crowd in
>response.  Everyone who attended that demonstration was treated as an
>enemy of the public.  Some, like me, were so outraged by police actions
>that we refused to turn and run.  Others not only refused, but fought
>In media accounts that I have seen and read, it was reported that police
>responded to rioting protestors throwing stones, sticks (from protest
>signs), horse dung, yellow paint, and a Molotov cocktail.  Yet this
>occurred only after police began their assault on the crowd. The first
>items to be thrown by some of the protestors were protest signs and
>horse dung. As the police attack continued, the response escalated.
>About 25 minutes after police began their assault I saw a few young men
>break up a brick sidewalk to fight back against police truncheons. (A
>friend saw some disapproving women protestors picking up the loosened
>bricks and putting them in their purses, to prevent the bricks from
>being used as weapons.)
>It took approximately 45 minutes to clear the demonstration from Queen’s
>Park.  We were pushed out onto the street at the south east corner of
>Queen’s Park, at which point  OCAP made the request that we march back
>to Allan Gardens.  Police followed us to Allan Gardens, and continued to
>attack and arrest people.  I witnessed the arrest of Magaly San. Martin,
>a community worker at Parkdale Community Legal Services and doctoral
>student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.  Magaly is a
>founder of the Latin American Coalition Against Racism, and  has worked
>for police accountability.  She was among those who participated in a
>campaign to remove police association posters in the TTC depicting Latin
>Americans as criminals.  Magaly was charged with participating in a riot
>and assaulting a police officer, both indictable offences.  An officer
>stated that she had thrown 15 stones at police (her friends denied
>this), while the Crown Attorney and Justice of the Peace at her bail
>hearing both assumed her guilt, and moreover described her as the clever
>ringleader of a riot.  The JP stated that ‘Maybe she thinks that she can
>get away with that kind of thing in Chile, but in Canada we don’t allow
>that sort of thing.’  Magaly’s family had fled Pinochet’s military junta
>when Magaly was 13.  She is familiar with a police state, and she has
>worked with determination to ensure that civil rights are protected and
>police are accountable. And like me, Magaly had simply come to Queen’s
>Park to signal her opposition to Tory government policies.
>Another casualty of the police riot that day was Toronto councillor and
>member of the Police Services Board, Olivia Chow.  Olivia Chow and
>Councillor Jack Layton had arrived at the south east corner of Queen’s
>Park on their bicycles, and witnessed police charging into the crowd on
>horseback. Chow has been a tireless social justice advocate and has in
>the past not been afraid to be critical of the police.  She chose to
>work within the system in order to ensure its accountability. For merely
>daring to question police conduct, she was forced to resign her position
>on the Police Services Board.
>In the days immediately following the demonstration, mainstream media
>accounts were virtually unanimous in declaring that what happened at
>Queen’s Park was a riot by protestors, which injured numerous police and
>their horses (the many protestors injured by police are incidental in
>these accounts). Police statements in media accounts indeed  garnered
>public sympathy by reporting injuries to horses from thrown objects.
>When will police be held accountable for using the horses as weapons,
>thereby placing them at risk?
>A ‘riot by protestors’  has come to be understood as the ‘factual’
>account of what happened at Queen’s Park;  one that most people who only
>learned of what happened June 15 by reading their newspapers or watching
>their television news reports might reasonably assume to be true.  Even
>allies like Sid Ryan, the president of CUPE-Ontario, and anti-poverty
>writer Pat Capponi have interpreted these media accounts as truth, and
>condemned the demonstrators.   These now ‘factual’ accounts and the
>public condemnation for the demonstrators that is produced out of these
>accounts then organize consent for an expansion of repressive police
>powers and for more of the iron fist policies that the provincial Tory
>government have been putting into place since they came to power.
>OCAP did declare that a war was going on, but it was a war by the
>government against the poor.  Some supporters did attempt to breach
>police barricades. Some did fight back against police with whatever they
>could lay their hands on (and yes, at least one came prepared for a
>fight with yellow paint, and another with a molotov cocktail). But I do
>not want this to imply that there were respectable and unrespectable
>protestors in Queen’s Park, with the orderly and respectable being hurt
>as a result of the actions of the unruly, as some might charge.  This
>government has chosen to completely ignore democratic political
>protest----hundreds of thousands of Ontario residents have to date
>marched on Queen’s Park, only to be dismissed as marginal or
>unrepresentative of legitimate Ontario citizens.  The mainstream media
>has become so used to frequent protests  that they no longer constitute
>a newsworthy event.  Some activists have recognized that the only way to
>capture media and public attention, and to try to stem the tide of
>deaths of the homeless on Toronto streets, is to engage in actions—like
>attempting to enter the Ontario legislature to confront the government—
>for which they will likely be arrested.  While this is not my choice of
>tactics, I cannot blame them for choosing it.  These are desperate
>times, and this kind of reaction pales in comparison to the extent of
>the crisis facing so many Ontario residents, as the gap between the rich
>and the poor widens.  This government must be called to account.  Given
>the events that I witnessed in Queen’s Park last week, so must the
>Debi Brock teaches crime and social regulation in the Department of
>Sociology, York University.
>    .............................................
>    Bob Olsen, Toronto      bobolsen@interlog.com
>    .............................................

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