Saturday, July 10, 2010

G20 Policing: an encounter with AW@L, a home to some who supported black bloc vandals

What might law enforcement been concerned about leading up to the G20?  The kind of young folk I met, quite ironically, at Kitchener's Non Violence Festival today.

Walking this afternoon through Victoria Park, with recent policing at the G20 in my mind, I entered the area dedicated by the City to the Non-Violence Festival, now already in progress.  I passed a Tibetan Buddhist group which has a mandala laid out on the ground through which people were invited to walk mindfully and quietly.  Next was Amnesty International, with petitions and letters to sign.  At another table, an Indian guru's photo was displayed, and nice man was handing out DVDs with his message of inner peace. The next table was a little harder to understand - I started a conversation with the young woman behind the table, which was covered with books and a few pamphlets.

I learned that they were from the Kitchener-Waterloo Community Centre for Social Justice and AW@L which defines itself as a community-based radical direct action group committed to solidarity and anti-oppressive organizing.   Seeing 'anarchy' in the title of many of the books spread on the table, I asked if the group renounced violence.  I got an evasive answer.  I asked again; I got a rationalization that everyone was violent or at least complicit in supporting violence, by purchasing consumer products made in violence-supported regimes.  I pointed out that they didn't belong at a Non Violence Festival if they could not affirm positively they were against the use of violence.

I wandered by their table again on my way home, after I'd done the rounds talking to people throughout the Festival area.  In that walk around, I'd encountered the event organizers, and pointed out the discrepancy between this group and their stated non-violence message.  They'd said they would look into it: every participant in the festival had signed a declaration saying they were against the use of violence.

At the AW@L table a last time, I found a group of perhaps 7 young people around it, and spoke to another young woman in the group who took the role of spokeswoman for the rest.  She also could not renounce the use of violence: "it's one tactic", she said.   "Would you have us exclude people who believe in that tactic?"  "Yes," I said, "at a non-violence festival, I'd expect you to advocate for non-violence, not violence sometimes, and sometimes non-violence."

I think to myself: it is more than likely that there are some associated with this group who would have cheered on "Black Bloc" vandals who went to the G20 with the aim of breaking things and setting fires, and God knows what else.  When I arrived back home, I Googled ("AW@L" +violence +"Black Bloc") and got articles which supported my intuition on this.  For example, in this article written by Adam Davidson Harden, he identifies one of the AW@L group who advocated violence at the G20 as one of his former students. "Diversity of tactics", I find, is code for "acceptance that violence is a legitimate means" of opposing Corporatism and the State.  Hey, that's an echo of my conversational frustration at the booth in the park.  Gee, I suppose the AW@L people I met on a lovely Saturday out in Victoria Park are connected with the (alleged) would-be bomber.

So, does this change my mind on how police responded to protesters at the G20?  In a word, no.

I am fully supportive of the police hunting down people who are planning violence (including harm to other people and damage to property), and fully supportive of their being arrested, charged and put through the legal process of the courts.   Canada has police, because they are necessary in a civil society.  Thank God for the men and women in uniform who apply the rules given by our legal system which has evolved since Magna Carta and well beyond, to express our social contract.  That's the system I feel very strongly about being upheld and protected.

If I can say that, what beef do I have with policing at the G20?  A diversion, then an answer.

I had an English class assignment when I was 10 years old: take one side in a school debate about the merits of capital punishment. I took the side against.  Canada's position.  One of the arguments against capital punishment is that a state applying capital punishment is saying the state can kill, but ordinary citizens cannot.  In other words (to the ears of an unstable person): it's OK to kill if you are justified.  Our civic authority must live by the same rules of conduct we expect from citizens.  No killing.  And no violence except in self-defence.  Police tactics at the G20 were often aggressively violent and indiscriminate (many innocent people were rounded up and treated the same rough way that legitimate suspects were treated).  Provoked by a reasonable expectation of rampant vandalism by black bloc kids, our police behaved in a way that looked like the 'police state' the AW@L kids think they live under.

I am supportive of allowing people to voice different opinions from me and most others in mainstream society.  G20 protesters went with many diverse points to make: support for the proposed billions for maternal health care in the 3rd world, disputing free trade, advocating for a free Palestine or open borders/immigration, pro or con abortion, for abolishment of interest rates, advocating that no child should go to school hungry, and on, and on... Even if someone is unbalanced enough to want to, attempt to, or actually to cause harm to other people or property (like some AW@L members), I want to see Decent Canadian law enforcement arrest them without punching, kicking or verbally abusing them; I want their right to legal representation supported, and all the rest of their legal rights respected.

I want protesters in Canada to be shown a civil society's response.  The RCMP were once an icon representing all that was right, just, fair and decent about Canada. They made me and every Canadian proud. At the G20, our response to Black Bloc vandals on the one hand or Raging Grannies on the other should have made us proud; police should embody our Canadian principles and our values, even (especially) under stress.

We Canadians are not at all threatened that a group of young anarchists believe there needs to be a New Order (theirs).  Let them stand on a street corner and shout and wave placards! Let them publish to the web, run webcasts, and hand out pamphlets.  If, however, they promote race hatred, plan or carry out the destruction of property or violence on any person or group, then let the law deal with them in its firm and fair our civil way.  This is a civil society.  I believe fervently in this; I believe almost every Canadian does just as much.  This is what we stand for at home, and want to stand for as Canadians in the world beyond our borders.  We must not let down this standard.


dan kellar said...

so you support the violence of the police and the violence of the state. perhaps it is you who should not be at a non-violence festival... then again, everyone should come to non-violence festivals. AW@L spoke about the tar sands as part of our daily violence, and the violence that occurred in toronto, with the participation of the KW police.

ADH is dangerously dogmatic and after his cathartic rantings, AW@L put forth the statement on diversity of tactics:

this AW@L document or parts of it have been adapted and used around the world in only a few short months.

i cant wait until we can really celebrate a non-violence festival, but it will not happen until we all recognize the daily violence associated with your lives (that gold wedding ring may have been mined by pacific rim or barrick gold - canadian based mining corporations, which are vital to your economy - and who are destroying indigenous peoples around the world), and aim to eliminate the factors of your life which require such unsustainable resources. its not a one day thing, but we will never get there while folks are actively collaborating with the violence of the state and the police.

David L. de Weerdt said...

Dan, thank you for taking the time to leave your comment here even though, with your view of me, you must have thought it pointless.

I believe you to be against ALL violence, including violence by the State, violence by organizations and by individuals. This includes indirect violence, like when a person purchases a gold ring or a computer, some or all of which has been made by metals sourced in countries where the profits of mining fuel regimes who use frequently physical violence and rape as a political weapons.

I am educating myself on conflict metals, and strive not purchase goods fuelling violence. I have a lot to learn here; I think you could direct me to some good reputable sources of information where I can learn more how in my life as a consumer, I can avoid supporting violent people or regimes.

Re: the violence of the State. I support Canada's limiting the use of certain kinds of force to the State. We all know that there are violent people in our general population. Rather than have citizens armed, we have a police force armed and authorized to use force and temporary detention *within legally prescribed limits* to keep us safe. Our courts consider the evidence presented by the police about the crime alleged to have been committed, and pass judgment and sentence based on the law, weight of evidence and mitigating circumstances. Our system of laws has evolved over a long period, and continues to be improved. We do not support capital punishment or corporal punishment.

I know rogue police sometimes take the law into their own hands, using physical force unnecessarily during arrest or against people they merely do not like. They claim those they assaulted were 'resisting arrest'. (We saw this repeatedly in G20 Youtube vids.) I **abhor** such violence. This is “Alley Court Justice" by rogue police officers, who think they know better than the courts. These officers are criminals acting completely outside the authority given to them by the law, and must be subject to the penalty our laws provide for such illegal actions. I get VERY upset when police authority is abused. I do everything I can, non-violently, to ensure such rogues are stripped of power and punished.

I am dedicated to a vision of civilized society of Canada, and anywhere and everywhere on the planet. Use of violence in a civilized society is restricted to police forces empowered to protect citizens within the boundaries of the law.

If everyone was a Dalai Lama, if none were sick and bent on harm to others, we would not need even limited use of force by the State. That is not the world we live in. Policing alone is absolutely never going to produce a non-violent society. Only a community committed to helping one another in whole health, education and the conscious, collaborative and conservative use of natural resources to live, can hope to eliminate violence from society, even and including by the State.

Since I wrote this article, I’ve met people with AW@L. I value the desire to care for others and for the planet that I have found in them. I recognize that within their numbers, most do not support the use of violence including 'mere' violence against property. Many do sympathize with the few frustrated enough with the ‘system’ that are ready to use violence as a 'tactic.' I support these few no more than I do rogue police. Alley Court and political violence are corrosive to civil society – they destroy what they claim to be protecting.

There is a basic wrongness of causing harm to other people, or to the products or proceeds of their life's labour. If you want to make change for a better world, using violence sets the community against you. If someone started a conversation with you by smashing your bike, or shredding your clothes, would open you to listening? If you want the behaviour of the mass of Canadians, and all people of the world to change for the better effective tactics will need to be found – using violence is not one of them.