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Sunday, July 18, 2010

When cops go wilding

Wilding: a slang term that refers to the practice of marauding in bands to terrorize strangers and to swagger and bully. From the Urban Dictionary. The term came to prominence in connection with New York's Central Park Jogger case in 1989.

Well, it looks as if the Toronto Police Services Board is going to launch an “independent civilian review” of the giant G20 clusterfuck. That should go well. No doubt it'll have the power to subpoena witnesses, compel production of documents, and cut through the layers of misinformation and bullshit that have characterized virtually everything we've heard from official channels.

That's one view, anyway. There's another view, one more likely experienced by the people who got kettled, rousted, tasered, beaten and locked up. From their perspective, the view looks more like this:
  • authoritarian bullies who know they're untouchable
  • brutality
  • lying
  • torture
  • beatings
  • sexism
  • homophobia
Even if the bogus charges of “breach of the peace” or “causing a disturbance” don't stand up in court, nothing changes the fact that hundreds of people were locked up in the Eastern Avenue gulag and treated with contempt, sadism and utter disregard for their fundamental rights. The message couldn't have been more clear: exercise your rights to free speech and free assembly, and this is what'll happen to you. Don't like it? You shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Here's some of what you can expect, apparently:

Sean Salvati says he was arrested, beaten and tortured before the summit even began, apparently because a couple of RCMP officers outside a baseball game took exception to his wishing them good luck. An excerpt from his account:

"The booking sergeant then immediately came from around the desk and grabbed me by the neck while officers 8830 & 8659 held me by the arms. I was dragged into an interrogation room with the door shut to be held by officer 8830 & 8659, while the booking sergeant began to beat me in the face, body and kick my legs. I was never asked to remove my clothing nor would I have objected if a strip search was what they were attempting to do - but my clothing was forcibly removed in way as to flip myself around like a rag doll on the concrete floor. The buttons of my shirt were ripped open. At this point I was completely naked and the beating continued. At no time did I resist or fight back, nor did they perform a search of my areas. I had defensive bruising to my foreams and many welts, burns from being dragged along concrete which I have documented with a physician and taken pictures of. The booking sergeant advised that he was going to rip out a nipple ring that I had (which was not returned to me) and made an attempt to pull it out, however, either officer 8830 or 8659 advised him not to. This was torture. It was removed in such a forceable way that it was swollen and painful for days following the assault. I did not resist and would have removed it myself if I was asked to. I was taken through the booking hallway completely naked in front of female officers and forced to sit in a holding cell for approximately 4 hours - completely naked."

Nathan Adler talks about being herded into the veal pens on Eastern Avenue after getting caught up in a snatch-and-grab operation near Novatel on the Esplanade. Forget, for a moment, about the presumption of innocence and the numerous problems inherent in mass indiscriminate arrests. One of the details that stands out, particularly, is his description of a claustrophobic prisoner having a panic attack and the reaction of one of the cops:

" ... the officer responded by taunting him and saying, “if you can’t handle it now wait until we get you into a cell, it’s going to be ten times worse”. "

(Gratuitous sadism. If nothing else, it's a pretty novel spin on “serve and protect.”)

Stephen (can't really blame him for not wanting to give his full name) earned this for little more, it seems, than natural curiosity and throwing the “rock on” gesture to a few music fans whose black clothing earned them the attention of police:

"In the blink of the eye my coffee had gone sailing through the air, and I felt the
unmistakable impact of a body tackling me to the ground. Realizing the state of affairs, and the likelihood that this was an officer of the law, I immediately went limp and declared out loud : “My identification is in my right hand pocket, I am complying, MY IDENTIFICATION IS IN MY RIGHT HAND POCKET, I AM COMPLYING”. My statement had gone completely ignored, and with face ground into the pavement, another officer proceeded to kick with vigor into the right side of my ribcage. Seconds later, my hands were cuffed behind my back, and I was pressed firmly against the brick wall that lined University Avenue.
“You cocksucker Black Bloc douchebags”, yelled an officer directly into my ear, “You think you are so fucking tough? How are you now without your faggot friends?”

"I was walking calmly off Queen’s Park lawn, with both hands in the air in peace signs when about five officers grabbed me, hit me repeatedly with batons and fists, threw me to the concrete, crushed knees into my cheek bone, back and thighs, dragged me on the pavement and put handcuffs on me.

"I was then transferred to officers who were not in riot gear, who demanded I tell them why I had come to trash their city and with which group I was with. When I responded that I wouldn’t answer any questions until I talked to a lawyer, they said that would only make it harder on myself and painfully tightened the handcuffs to cut off the circulation in my hands. When they were about 20 meters from the University Street intersection area, where I could see other individuals detained lying on the ground, one of the officers very forcefully squished the palm of my hand toward my forearm and squeezed painfully underneath my upper arm, making me double over in pain, while he screamed “Stop resisting arrest asshole! Stop resisting arrest!” repeatedly."

Sexism, homophobia, sadism, arbitrary and authoritarian behaviour, abuse of power.  Have I left anything out?  Nothing new here. All of these things have a common theme: cops with contempt for the people they're supposedly there to serve and protect, and knowing they're untouchable and will never be held accountable.

So where is it that cops get the idea that it's OK to do this? Is it a matter of organizational or occupational culture? Is it a question of personality traits already latent in people attracted to police work? All worthwhile questions, perhaps to be discussed in future postings.

Part of the answer may lie, though, in the class origins of the whole idea of “policing” -- essentially, acting as hired muscle for the elites, mainly to keep the lower classes in line. This is at the heart of a thoughtful argument by Jeff Shantz, ostensibly in reaction to Naomi Klein's call for the police to stop the PR and do their jobs. Shantz points out that the very term “police” comes from the Greek polis – city – and that

"...The institution was created to regulate the working classes and poor (the so-called dangerous classes) who were moving to cities after having been violently displaced from their communal lands (and who were rightly pissed about it and did not want jobs in the deadly factories). Look at the legislation that founded the first modern police forces in France and Germany. The royal edict of 1667 that founded the first modern police under Louis XIV in France stated clearly that the job of police was: “purging the city of what may cause disturbances, procuring abundance, and having each and every one live according to their station and duties.” Procuring abundance simply means ensuring the condition for economic exploitation. Having people live according to their station and duties is as clear an expression of maintaining class inequality as you can get.”

It's an important and troubling observation: the idea that maintaining the lower orders in their station is the very foundation of policing as we understand it. It's one that raises fundamental questions about the assumptions inherent in the expression “law and order.”

In any event, we saw during the G20 what happens when the mask comes off. All the niceties about civil society, all the smarmy talk from Bill Blair about community partnerships, was revealed for the insubstantial window dressing it is. The G20 demonstrated, quite clearly, that when the shit hits the fan, many cops have zero regard for the laws they're sworn to uphold or for the citizens they're sworn to serve and protect. All that goes down the toilet. This is all about power and showing us who's boss. And nothing speaks more eloquently to the quality of a person's character than the way he or she treats people with less power than him/herself. The examples cited above don't even scratch the surface.

What's been especially hard to stomach, subsequently, is the way they then turn around and ask for help from the public – the citizens whose rights they've been violating – in identifying “vandals.”

Once again, recall that thousands of cops, with a billion-dollar budget, with arbitrary arrest powers enabled under imaginary laws, couldn't protect a few vehicles or keep a handful of dickheads from smashing windows. They can't do that, but they're pretty good at beating the shit out of peaceful citizens exercising the rights guaranteed to them under the Charter.

If anything's been made clear, it's the relative weight of elite interests compared to our supposedly fundamental freedoms. No doubt a lot of people are going to think twice about taking to the streets again. And wouldn't that be convenient for Stephen Harper and his G20 paymasters. I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

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