Police brutality protests revisited

Montreal’s annual march against police brutality generates a lot of news coverage the only way that protests generate news coverage: by causing destruction.

The mainstream media will give it a photo or short video clip highlighting the worst infractions, with a short brief mentioning how many people showed up, how many were arrested and what kind of damage there was. The next day, we might see an editorial decrying violence to make a point.

The alternative media, meanwhile, will go a bit more in depth about the protesters’ motives (without questioning those motives or the reasons given for them). They’ll also go in depth about accusations of police brutality, usually without trying to get the police’s side on the matter.

The truth, meanwhile, seems to be lost in the middle as the media takes one side or the other.

When I wrote about the protest last year, I concluded that “The entire purpose of anti-police brutality protests is to prompt police brutality.”

While I still believe that to be true (having police brutality at an anti-police-brutality protest helps the protesters’ case — or at least they think it does), I should expand on it a bit. It becomes an excuse for both the police and the radical elements of the anonymous, anarchist, anti-capitalist army to descend into pointless violence just to express their frustrations.

A semi-anonymous person interviewed by The Link said it much the same way (emphasis mine):

“I think in the same way that some of the protesters feel it’s a day they can let out their frustration, I think a lot of the cops feel that way too. And they like it that way,” said Paquette, who’s been homeless in Montreal for over 10 years. Few participants were willing to give their names to the press for fear of recrimination.

You’d think they’d find some more healthy and less expensive way to do so. Maybe a game of paintball or something?

I don’t mean to make light of the situation (though compared to things that happen around the world, with people dying and stuff, it’s kind of hard not to laugh at these people by comparison). But both sides use excessive force with no useful purpose, and nobody seems to care.

The protesters come from various backgrounds. Some are homeless people tired of being banned from every park and pushed out like some fruitcake nobody wants to eat. Some are legitimate victims (or friends of victims) of police brutality who want to speak out. Some are student activists who will support any leftist cause even if they don’t fully understand it. Some are radical anti-capitalists wearing ski masks who think that trashing a few McDonald’s signs will somehow bring about a new world order.

And, yes, some are undercover cops. (I don’t want to minimize how boneheaded an idea that was, and how negatively it affected the reputation of the SQ and all other police forces dealing with protesters, and though we can never be entirely certain, I’ll assume that most of the radical protesters aren’t undercover cops.)

The actions of some protesters are bent out of a (perhaps understandable) frustration. But that frustration isn’t a license to damage property or throw rocks at police. You can’t simply take advantage of the mob in order to shield yourself from consequences.

And that peaceful mob consciously shields the lawbreakers out of some twisted sense of solidarity. In Montebello, those who took rocks got singled out by the crowd, who made it clear that they would not be protected. That earned the legitimate protesters brownie points. It made regular people sympathize with them, and made the police (and their agents provocateurs) turn into the bad guys.

If that happened here, public opinion about these protests would change considerably.

The police, meanwhile, could use these protests as a opportunities to be the bigger person. But they don’t. They respond to transparently ineffective attacks on their massive body armor by literally chasing down protesters like a herd of wild bulls. They use force indiscriminately, against protesters, passers-by and journalists who get in the way. They make arrests by rounding people up like cattle, hitting them with a fine and then releasing them a few blocks away. They make people agree not to participate in protests in order to escape prosecution.

I want to re-emphasize that last sentence in case anyone missed it: Those who are arrested, whether they did anything wrong or not, are told to sign agreements saying they won’t participate in public protests. It’s legal, because people have the choice of going through a long court battle and facing jail time, but only Jaggi Singh is going to go through that on principle.

All this to say that those who take a side in this are either clueless, delusional or lying.

Other coverage of the protest:

Elsewhere in the blogosphere:

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