So… I went to the Toronto G20 protests a couple of weeks ago. I’ve never been a protest/activist kid, but I figured I am against pretty much everything the G20 stands for (i.e. unbridled capitalistic and technological development at the expense of humans and the environment). Most of all, I wanted to stand – albeit in a tiny and probably inconsequential way – against what “security” forces were doing to my adopted city. I wanted to say to say I was not afraid, despite the forces of paranoid violence being marshaled in the name of said “security.”
(I probably should have been more afraid).
So I went to a march on Friday, and then a Critical Mass-inspired bike protest on Sunday, after the shit had gone down Saturday.
I liked the bike protest. Biking is fun, it was explicitly non-violent, and the participants seemed to be mostly locals. (I admit to having a hard time respecting protest tourists, and when travelling to other cities, people rarely bring along bikes along – they don’t fit in duffel bags very well). The police had a much harder time blocking and boxing off a flexible, mobile group of cyclists than they did marchers.
(And they did that quite a bit. It is quasi-understandable that the police would block off streets leading down to the infamous fence, but they also seemed to delight in randomly blocking off legitimate peaceful protesters whenever possible, whichever direction they might be headed.)
Right as we were about to start, some guy got up and said ‘there are no leaders of this protest, but if you want to do something violent, please go somewhere else.’ Then we tried to get on the road, but the police blocked us off. There was a small gap at the back – not enough police to completely pin us in that far from the fence apparently – and we slowly trickled out, even as police continue to block, harass, and sometimes grab people trying to get onto the road with the rest of the group.
After a few hours, the ride ended at the temporary detention centre. (Strangely, a line of police had channeled us right toward it – though several people within the group had been advocating that as a final destination for some time). We dismounted and chanted various things in support of those inside. Conditions inside were pretty terrible from what I’ve heard, and people were routinely denied a phone call for over 12 hours – it was again, a tiny thing, but we hoped they might hear us and know that people in the outside world cared.
I ended up on the left edge of the crowd (picture a T intersection with the protesters at the centre, facing the detention centre and its fence). Suddenly a bus pulled up and a bunch of riot cops started getting out on the road to the left of me. They quickly formed up into a line about 15 feet away.
We formed our own line, holding our bikes in front of us. Because I was on the edge of the crowd, to my chagrin, I found myself one of those on the front line. We were chanting ‘peaceful protest, peaceful protest’ (probably the most common chant the whole ride long).
I couldn’t really believe it, but after a couple of minutes of standing there, the riot police started advancing on us shouting ‘move.’ Those of us right up front nervously edged back a bit, but there really wasn’t anywhere to go. (I later learned that lines of riot cops had descended from the two other directions of the intersection – they had us surrounded, with nowhere to go).
As they got close, one riot cop lunged and grabbed the girl beside me, immediately assisted by those beside him. They threw the girl behind the line, separated her from her bike, pinned her to the ground, tied her up with their plastic cuffs, and dragged her away.
That description doesn’t really do justice to how brutal and violent they were to her. It seemed like they were hitting her, but I admit to being fairly distracted by the cops that were right there in front of me – about, I thought, to do the same to me.
They grabbed a couple of other people at the same time, and a couple of other people’s bikes – I just saw what happened to this girl up close and personal, which is why I’m telling you about it. The line of cops actually stopped advancing as we began yelling ‘shame, shame,’ but I don’t know if those two facts are causally connected.
We sat down. After a while, a cop with some sort of authority came and tried talking to us. He told us it was illegal to sit and stay in one place. Apparently, as long as we kept moving that was ok, but it was ‘illegal’ to protest by sitting in place. Now remember that they had us surrounded and blocked off – there was no place to go. Some people pointed this out, but nothing seemed to come of it. At one point a couple of ‘protesters’ walked out of the crowd and got a big handshake and friendly greeting from this head cop; they didn’t rejoin those of us sitting down.
More time passed, and more riot cops with huge guns (for tear gas pellets, presumably) started climbing out of armoured vehicles. A lot of us started feeling like it might just be time to move on, and apparently they were now letting people out at the back of the T intersection. I actually had to go back to work in an hour or so – there was a person in wheelchair relying on me to help him eat and go to bed, which had made me a lot less ok with the idea of getting arrested all along.
So I biked away. That wasn’t the end of my adventures that day, but that’s enough for today’s storytime.