Monday, June 28, 2010

G20 in Toronto: protesters in a violent system

LUCAS OLENIUK - Riot police move in to arrest Reuters photographer Mark Blinch at Queen Street West and Soho Street.

More than one journalist was part of those arrested in Toronto this weekend. Jesse Rosenfeld, a journalist on assignment for The Guardian, Describes Being Beaten, Arrested by Canadian Police While Covering G20 Protest

BERNARD WEIL - ETF police officers in their amoured [sic] vehicle keep watch on Leslieville where the Temporary Jail is located.

[all photos from the Toronto Star]

Hello dear readers. Sorry to be lax in making a post; I have been out-of-town teaching. Over the weekend, while madly teaching a condensed course that takes up every minute of my time, in the evenings, in my hotel room, I looked up from my notes regularly to watch what was happening in Toronto during the G20 fiasco.

I was shocked. I was shocked at the level of police, guns, security, shields. I was shocked at the aggressiveness. I was dismayed, too, to see that some protesters had taken the step to wreak violence, but while I don't condone this sort of reaction or action, I can see how it happens. I blame Canada's increasing focus on policing, security, militarism, and prisons as central to understanding the response to the G20 meeting.

STEVE RUSSELL - Alledged protesters await a new bus to transport them to the holding facility. Approximately 70 alledged protesters were arrested at 4 Bancroft on the University of Toronto Campus, Many were from Quebec and members of Anarchist groups.

Have you seen the 1971 movie Bloody Sunday about northern Ireland? I suggest you do. It has to be one of the best films I have ever seen. It shows how peaceful protest gets caught up in the escalation of state violence. It has lessons for all of us.

BERNARD WEIL - Police fires a muzzle blast into the crowd at the Eastern Avenue film studios.

While there is much to say about what happened in Toronto this past weekend, about how that level of militarism and security attracts its nemesis to it like a fly to dung and violence spirals and, of course, becomes the central focus of our spectacle society. What were our government leaders thinking to have this despised meeting in the heart of urban Toronto? Below, I've included the editorial from today's Toronto Star by John Cruikshank.

Now, I don't agree with everything he says, but his critique of the folly of holding the G20 in downtown Toronto and how the making of Toronto into a militarized ghost town (a false version of its urban action where politicians were secured inside an emptied bubble by an overwhelming force of security) set the seeds for unpredictable madness is right to the point.

STEVE RUSSELL - A couple hundred cyclists gathered at Spadina and Bloor to wait to take to the street in a ride similar to the critical mass rides

Brutal Spectacle Failed a City and Its People
. by John Cruikshank

"The G20 security strategy has been spectacularly successful at cocooning the world’s leading politicians and staggeringly ineffective at protecting the property and peace of mind of Torontonians. And the one, inevitably, led to the other.

By bringing in thousands of heavily armed strangers and throwing up barricades everywhere to regular traffic, frightening off good and decent citizens, Canadian authorities created a ghost town in the heart of our city.

Perfect for the political leaders. Protesters were kept blocks away from where the deliberations were going on.

And most protesters conducted themselves faultlessly as the global good and great met behind rings of gulag-like fencing and battalions of police beating Plexiglas shields with batons in a primitive show of might.

It was, however, less than perfect for the city, its businesses and its inhabitants. The only force that can prevent vandalism and mayhem in a city is the presence of its population. Surely that was the lesson every urban planner learned from looking south to the hollowed-out urban war zones of the United States in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

No police force, no matter how large, how well armed, how empowered to limit the civil rights of citizens, can stop vandalism in the empty shell of a city. Canadian authorities have proved that two days and nights running.

The strategy that ensured G20 leaders would never have to see a Canadian who wasn’t a politician, a police officer or a waiter lacked even a glimmer of common sense when it came to the security of Toronto and Torontonians.

They took our city to hold a meeting and bullied us out of the core, damaging the commerce of thousands of merchants and inconveniencing the entire population. Then, they failed to protect our property. Along Yonge St., as self-described anarchists were smashing stores unopposed, terrified merchants and their staffs sought shelter behind counters and in basements. If these establishments had been set alight, all of the thousands of fearsomely equipped police would have been able to do little more to save our citizens than they did to save their burning cruisers.

For the last few days, the city has looked like a vast reality TV set, where heavily garbed gladiators in black, burdened under bullet-proof vests, guns, walkie-talkies, shields and batons, try to chase down a wild, quick-footed band of anti-gladiators in black sweat suits and bandanas. And it cost us $1.2-billion to stage and choreograph this grossly unequal contest.

Canadian authorities knew that this overweening show of paramilitary hubris would draw the violent dregs of nihilism from around the world. Previous summits offered stark and certain warnings. Given that, the attempt to provide security for the city and its inhabitants has been a sad and disturbing failure.

What is the critical lesson?

Don’t even try to hold international political conferences with this kind of explosive ideological charge in the heart of a major urban centre. You sacrifice either the safety of the politicians or the safety of the city.

The idea that this was an effective way to show off Toronto to foreign guests is bewilderingly stupid.

Canadian authorities created a city no citizen could recognize and no visitor could admire. Then, they allowed a pack of brutes to trash it."


20th Century Woman said...

I am really dumbstruck that this happened in Canada. Canada is the place I planned to hide in case Sarah Palin gets elected president. Where shall I go? I guess my cousin in New Zealand would still take me in. But sanity in this world is getting to be in short supply.

Merche Pallarés said...

It was a very stupid move to have that G-20 meeting in Toronto and, after all, for what? They didn't reach any world-saving conclusion! And I have my own theory on the "violent dregs of nihilism from around the world" who come to disrupt world leaders' reunions. I don't think they are at all what the journalist says and what the powers-that-be want us to think. They're sabotages from their own "security" guards so that the world sees how, deep down, violent and wild are the protesters, and the goody-good-two shoes we have for politicians need all that protection so that WE can be protected from these hooligans... It's all a damn farce!! But most of us swallow it. Hugs, M.