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Sunday, July 4, 2010

This way to Authoritarian Avenue

(Photo by Jonas Naimark)

I've written at some length about the need to assert control over the way the story of the G20 summit is told. It's not going to be easy, given the institutional and political imperatives interested in spinning last weekend's events as a bunch of black-clad anarchist thugs trashing our peaceful city, yada yada yada. That doesn't make it any less important, however.

Just so we're clear: this isn't a story about a bunch of world leaders / political hacks / meat puppets for the corporate string-pullers getting together and agreeing on a whole bunch of things that'll make our lives a lot more painful. And it's not a story about a few morons breaking windows. And it's not a story about how thousands of riot cops couldn't protect a handful of cars, much as I'd like it to be about that.

No. This week's story has been about the corporate / state security apparatus using our fundamental freedoms for toilet paper. It's about people being locked up for hours without water, without being allowed to go to the bathroom, packed into cages like animals. It's about homophobic slurs and threats of sexual violence. It's about thuggish behaviour by people who know they can get away with it, because the mechanisms designed to ensure accountability are laughably weak.

Last Sunday evening, my partner and I rode our bikes eastward on Queen toward Spadina. We were held up at Queen and Cameron, about a block west of Spadina, by a wall of bike cops, backed up by a phalanx of more heavily armed officers from various police forces. We could see by looking eastward that the intersection of Queen and Spadina was completely cordoned off, so we pulled up and just watched. As we waited, we watched the facial expressions change on the cops confronting us; shoulders straightened, muscles tensed, batons brandished openly. The front line of bike cops started herding us westward, ordering us to move back, buzzing their bike buzzers and pushing us. We all complied, but you can only move as fast as the guy behind you, and that wasn't quick enough for the officers pushing us westward, and they began shoving us. I couldn't help but wonder whether they were doing it because they figured they could, that their uniforms amounted to a licence to push people around?

Theodor Adorno's description of the authoritarian personality may provide some insight, but ultimately it pales in comparison to some of the stories emerging from the weekend. As it happened, while we were being shoved westward along Queen, several heavy-duty unmarked vans pulled past us to discharge the heavily armed tactical squads, and that was our cue to get the hell out of there.

Lisan Jutras' account of being caught in the kettle is required reading for anyone who wants a first-hand account of what was going on at Queen and Spadina Sunday night, and despite being caught in the rain and not allowed to leave for hours, she was one of the lucky ones.

Tommy Taylor's account of his arrest and detention is mind-blowing. Hours without water or a chance to pee. Homophobic slurs. Abuse of disabled prisoners. At the conclusion he, like hundreds of other people, is released without being charged. It seems apparent that the police knew they'd have a hard time making charges stick, but in the meantime, hundreds of people were abused, threatened and deprived of the basic rights we normally associate with living in an open society. Got a problem with that? Go complain. There are avenues for that, Dalton McGuinty assures us.

And then there are the accounts of people who were actively beaten, threatened and abused. Lacy MacAuley was arrested outside the makeshift gulag on Eastern Avenue. Her story sounds like something from behind the Iron Curtain. Amy Miller talks about cops threatening to gang-rape her.

In a few weeks, or perhaps months even, there may be an inquiry. Findings will be announced. Wrists will be slapped. Tuts will be tutted. And eventually, if we're lucky, someone will decide that the police - Toronto, OPP, ISU, RCMP, York, Halton, Montreal, Sudbury, Barrie, and anyone else who was invited to the party - had absolutely no justification for treating people the way they did. Feel better now? If you want to complain, there are established channels. Uh huh. Good luck with that.

This needs to be hammered on, repeatedly, all the more so because the MSM are getting tired of it. There's an implicit assumption that our attention spans are, well, limited. Yeah, yeah, there were a lot of smashed windows and burning cars, and maybe the cops overreacted, but there were a lot of smashed windows, and - oh, look! Something shiny!

And that's the dynamic that the corporate / state security apparatus is counting on. The more distracted / cowed we are, the easier it is for them to keep doing this to us. Yes, it's inexcusable how people were treated, and it shouldn't have happened, but by the time these processes wind their way to the end, people will have forgotten. In the meantime, the association of protest and activism with all the negative connotations continues, and the mere act of stepping outside your door becomes risky, unless you're planning on doing anything more than being a good little consumer / producer.

So, part of the narrative that needs to emerge from this weekend is: let's just keep in mind how fragile our fundamental freedoms really are. It's become pretty clear that those charged with serving and protecting us, and those who control them, don't think they count for much.

1 comment:

  1. I think you've hit on the real issue here. We're being slowly frog-cooked into authoritarianism, or at least a passive acceptance of it. I'm gonna go re-watch Nuestros Desaparecidos now--they did the same in Argentina, and I'm anxious to glean from a good documentary anything, any insight, to help counteract it.