G20 diary 2010 .. “What you guys are doing, it’s breaking my heart”

Jun 27th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief
LUCAS OLENIUK (photo): An anarchist group travelling north on Yonge Street smashes windows.

LUCAS OLENIUK (photo): An anarchist group travelling north on Yonge Street smashes windows.

TORONTO. SUNDAY, JUNE 27, 2010. 12:30 AM ET. Now that darkness has descended on the city, the mood about the G20 protest that suddenly turned violent yesterday afternoon has shifted somewhat. My own feelings, to some degree at least, have shifted somewhat too.

A Canadian Press report captures key features of what I saw on TV. Yes it was a rather small “core group of militant protesters, disguised with dark bandanas, wearing black bike helmets and using what’s referred to as a Black Bloc tactic” who caused most of the trouble. But …

At first the police needed reinforcements to cope. Alas: “When reinforcements did arrive the protesters were long gone, leaving officers the task of driving back non-violent demonstrators … Throughout the city officers had corralled groups of protesters, but there was no sign of the balaclava-clad protesters who caused the carnage …”

RICAHRD LAUTENS (photo):  A chair is thrown through the window of  Tim Horton’s near the corner of Yonge and College.

RICAHRD LAUTENS (photo): A chair is thrown through the window of Tim Horton’s near the corner of Yonge and College.

The Canadian Press report continues: “Black Bloc is often mistaken for an organization, but it’s actually a protest tactic …  Protesters dressed normally infiltrate peaceful demonstrations, then change into black clothing and cover their faces in balaclavas or ski masks.” (And then, once their carnage is done, they change back into their “normal” clothes, and fade into the larger non-violent crowds.)

A somewhat similar Globe and Mail report is interesting too: “Black Bloc strategy has been used for decades … Rioters like those who trashed downtown Toronto aim to draw police away before dispersing into crowds.”

Another somewhat similar report in the Toronto Star strikes me as especially helpful: “Behind the Black Bloc mob … some … are members of the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance … Car loads of protesters arrived from Quebec for the weekend to join the Bloc, members said … ‘This isn’t violence. This is vandalism against violent corporations. We did not hurt anybody. They (the corporations) are the ones hurting people,’ one man said …”

STEVE RUSSELL (photo): A high-minded democratic protester is overcome by smoke after attempting to put out a fire in a police car at Queen Street West near Spadina.

STEVE RUSSELL (photo): A high-minded democratic protester is overcome by smoke after attempting to put out a fire in a police car at Queen Street West near Spadina.

This does not seem convincing to me. And, as the Star report goes on: “Factions within that group, however, appeared to just relish the mayhem. As the protest marched up Yonge St., they became more indiscriminate in what they damaged … On College St, a pack of masked protesters began to vandalize an empty BMW 4X4 …  But their presence was criticized by other protesters, who said the destruction was simply justifying the millions of dollars spent on summit security … ‘Violence just brings more violence,’ a woman said into a megaphone as an anarchist set fire to a police cruiser. ‘What you guys are doing, it’s breaking my heart.’”

In the end my heart is with this woman. Based on what I saw from recurrently watching the generally quite good local (and then in some cases national) TV reports, the police sometimes did overplay their hand, as the day wore on. Yet, as Mayor Miller said, it is all too easy to criticize the police in such very difficult situations. It is those comparatively small numbers indulging in the “Black Bloc tactic” who are at the bottom of all the trouble.

LUCAS OLENIUK (photo): The riot ended at Queen’s Park — just a bit north, to the right of this photo, which shows the intersection of College and University, looking west along College  — but little outbreaks continued across the downtown.

LUCAS OLENIUK (photo): The riot ended at Queen’s Park — just a bit north, to the right of this photo, which shows the intersection of College and University, looking west along College — but little outbreaks continued across the downtown.

The Star photo blog has a nice image of a protester at the corner of College and University with a sign that reads: “INDUSTRY RUNS CANADA NOT DEMOCRACY.”Well yes,  of course, that is true enough, in some degree. But all sensible adults who are paying attention already know this. And there is nothing remotely democratic about vandalism — smashing windows and burning cars and overturning mailboxes, and on and on. This certainly is violence. To pretend otherwise is Orwellian doublespeak. And as the woman with the megaphone said: “Violence just brings more violence.”  It just helps justify the new militarism and regressive “virocracy” that Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party has been trying to stiffen in Canada today.

Or, to put it all another way, adolescents who believe in such things as Black Box tactics are, as we aging boomers used to say, part of the problem, not part of the solution. They have nothing to tell us about the increasingly difficult and challenging problems of today’s global village, that the democratically elected and other G20 political leaders are at least trying to pretend to discuss sensibly, and practically, behind the security fence.

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