umarsaeed

Protest State

In Culture, Personal, Politics on June 23, 2010 at 9:30 AM

Line up! Barricade! Single File! Where’s your buddy! Move out! We’re going to need more people down here! Who’s that?! Keep them together! Make them go west!

Bikes and Blue, every officer with shades, everywhere we went, all around us, every corner, in the distance, along the sidewalks, collapsing and recreating themselves over and over again, providing a Bike and Blue path for the protesters to march through, funneling protesters along the streets of Toronto, containing them. Andy and I were relieved that the police could distinguish us, two simple observers of the exercise, from the actual protesters. He wore a collared shirt and I stayed off to the side with my hands in my pockets. We basically just moved with the crews from CTV, CBC, CP24, SUN TV, OMNI, and some other channels I didn’t recognize.

This was my first time being out to a real live protest, and I wasn’t impressed.

More childcare! Help the Unemployed! Gay rights! Immigration Rights! Free Palestine! Aboriginal Rights! Who’s Streets? Our Streets! Who’s Esso? Our Esso!

I’ll classify this one as a hodgepodge of protests to kick off the G20. There was no real message. I was right beside the CBC guy when he arrived at the scene, asking the CTV lady casually, “what’s going on?” while preparing his boom mic.

“I don’t know what the fuck they’re trying to do,” she said, flipping through her notes. “Abortion, Aboriginal rights, Unemployment…basically fuck the police, I don’t know,” she sighed.

At this point, I was laughing, because she looked frantic trying to find a story. I saw it right there in her notes, she had actually tried to write down all the chants, as if it would come together on paper. As far as protests go, this can’t be good. I would think you need the media to understand what your message is. The big “win” with a peaceful march is for the media to pick up your message. These protesters didn’t come close, and the media was left to make the story whatever they wanted.

The only thing that had happened that justified any of us being there was that occasionally a police officer would take a protester, bring him off to the side, hold him and shove him around a little, you know, ask him some questions. My guess is that the protester tried to take the protest outside the Bike and Blue path, and the police said no.

Let me be clear: there may very well have been proper organizations with an actual message to propagate, but they were completely undermined by what actually transpired, which was perceived to be a large gathering of generic protesters that didn’t like police presence. Andy noticed I was angered by the “Police State” chants, and asked me what exactly a police state was. I told him I didn’t know, but this definitely wasn’t it.

When I think of a Police State, I think about Pakistan in 1999 when the nation was actually under Marshall Law under General Musharraf’s rule. He managed to democratically elect himself as the president in order to legitimize his reign, but my grandmother told me that when she went to vote that day, there was a military officer with a rifle standing outside the voting booth, telling everyone to go home because they had already voted. People like my father leave places like Pakistan because they want to be free. He would never consider Toronto to be a police state, and I tend to believe him because he has lived in a much crappier place. I suppose if you’re comparing Toronto this week, to Toronto any other week, it probably looks like a Police State.

All these cops will be gone by the end of the week. But this kind of protest wouldn’t work any other week of the year. Without the police presence, without an actual message, and without true organization, this is really just a bunch of people yelling, “Who’s Esso? My Esso!” And here’s where we need to address a particular distinction when it comes to freedom.

When the protesters were like, “We’re allowed to walk!” the police backed off because it’s true, you are free to walk. But when the protesters decide to go into the Esso station and occupy the building, preaching their yelling on private property, then freedom gets slightly more complicated.

We live in a free society, but only to a certain extent. Which is to say, you are free to do whatever you want, provided that it doesn’t interfere with the freedom of others. Certain freedoms take precedent, especially when it comes to private property. Someone could read this post and hate everything I’ve said, and he’s free to disagree with it, but what he can’t do is show up outside my door and start chanting, “Who’s Blog? My Blog!” In that case, I would call the police, and I would fully expect him to be removed from my premises. Let’s not mix up a Police State with the protection of our private property laws, something we all enjoy thoroughly as Canadians.

Something else I want to point out is how much the police were being antagonized, and they all stood there and simply took it with a straight face. Pigs! Assholes! Police State! Fuckin’ Cops! Fuck You!

It reminds me of one particular drunken night during my University days. We were desperately trying to hail a cab, and we accidentally hailed a police cruiser. It slowed down as it drove by, and one of my friends was a little slow to recognize it was a police cruiser, and said “Ah Cops,” waiving his hand at them, “What are you good for?” The cruiser hit the breaks. We froze. The cruiser reversed, and the two cops both got out of the car and approached us. One particular cop was clearly angered by what my friend had said. This “bad” cop looked each one of us in the eye and asked us who had said it. We stayed silent for a bit, until one of my friends claimed that he had done it.

The “bad” cop started to push my friend around, who had his hands behind his back the whole time, showing everyone including the “good” cop that he wasn’t participating in the exchange. At the same time, my friend was vocal that he hadn’t done anything wrong. We got lucky. So freaking lucky. An actual fight broke out at the bar across the street, and all of us boys started pointing it out to the cops with a sense of urgency. The “good” cop was relieved that he could pull his partner away from us and towards McMullin’s Pub.

Of course that cop shouldn’t have pushed my friend around, who by the way didn’t actually say it, and took the punishment for all of us. That cop was completely out of line. Yet, to me, the moral of that story is that when you antagonize someone, you should be ready to pay the price. What if it was a tow-truck driving by instead of a cop, and my friend had said a similar thing about tow-truckers, and the driver got out of the car and beat the shit out of my friend? Who cares if it’s assault? We all learn in grade school, that although “he started it” rarely has any bearing when it comes to justice, it has everything to do with the consequences we face as humans. When you antagonize someone, you should be ready to pay the price. This isn’t about laws or rights or the G20 – this is about how humans deal with each other.

I must admit, the shop owners and bystanders did pause for a moment out of their every day lives, and it got people talking to each other, and watching, and it maybe even made them think about something. But with so much police presence trying to contain the rage, there’s a huge potential for an anger collision that simply isn’t worth a moment of confused reflection by surrounding civilians.

There’s one sound bite that has stuck with me. It was a lady cop standing among her peers forming the lines of Bike and Blue, shaking her head as the protesters occupied the gas station, whispering to the cop right beside her, probably someone from out of town, “I’m so ashamed of my city right now.”

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  1. Hear, here!The protests I've witnessed so far are about as pointless as socks on the beach (Which by me: pretty pointless).Though the truth of the matter is I think most of these are just people looking for an excuse to stop traffic and have people pay attention to them, more than they are any reflection of actual g20 protests.Those protests might be interesting to witness.In terms of the cops, I am wondering when the Agent Provacatuers will show up. Its the best enforcement method that they have: puts them in total control of the situation from start to finish.

  2. What are Agent Provacatuers? I just tried to google it and I got a website that's clearly an escort service, so I figured I'd ask you first.

  3. Hah!Well first say it like its french.Basically they are people who infiltrate groups that they do not belong to and incite violence, or just general unrest in the group they've snuck into. Here's one article from the g20 protests in London (unsubstantiated I believe): http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/10/g20-policing-agent-provacateursThen there is this substantiated from the Montebello protests in 2007: http://www.canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3936Here's the wiki article – just for reference – on the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_provocateur

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