The media messaging around this weekend's resistance to the G20 might as well have been penned by the Toronto Police Force's PR department. Lost in the predictable focus on a small amount of property destruction is a sustained pattern of intimidation, harassment and violence from the state and its agents against activists in the lead up to and during the summit. Preemptive arrests, threats and fake charges have been the order of the day. Yesterday morning, several community organizers from Toronto and Montreal were picked up in violent police raids aimed at disrupting demonstrations before they happened.
There is an enormous disconnect here. On one side is the pervasive yet largely invisible violence of unjust policy and the thick blue line which enforces it; on the other is the so-called violence of protest. Police violence is ignored or continually justified because their actions are legitimized by being a part of a system of authority.
This logic governed cop behaviour in the streets this weekend. Marches were halted at whatever arbitrary line the thousands of heavily armed riot cops decided upon. Random, unprovoked beatings of marchers to enforce obedience were deemed appropriate because somewhere somebody was breaking a window. Snatch-and-grab style street arrests of anyone suspected of being a 'protester' happened across the city throughout the night and into this morning.
Far from being a 'response' to the disruption of law and order, police violence and intimidation precedes, shapes and attempts to limit any social unrest. All police action is legitimate and all protest action becomes illegitimate when those in authority say so. Saturday morning's arrests were part of the legitimization process. David Miller claims the 1.3 billion dollars in security spending has suddenly been 'justified' because police have someone in custody.
Yet the four community organizers arrested and charged with conspiracy were picked up hours before yesterday's 'violent' demonstrations even began. One of the organizers was detained on her way to give a press conference to denounce the raids in the houses. Although it is impossible to be a 'ringleader of violence', whatever that means, from a fortified jail cell, the narrative put forward by the police is that social justice advocates are inherently threatening and dangerous.
Make no mistake: the raids on organizers' house have nothing to do with violence and everything to do with controlling those who dare to engage in political dissent.
Since the fall of 2009 there have been multiple visits by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) to the houses and workplaces of a number of social justice organizers and activists around Canada, a tactic which human rights organizers refer to as the criminalization of opposition, the persecution of people for their political beliefs. Yesterday's arrests are the logical culmination of this attempt to exert control and spread fear throughout a social movement, and to prevent people from speaking out. The arrestees were targeted because they were prominent members of the anti-poverty, indigenous sovereignty and migrant justice organizing that has been at the core of the movement to resist the policies of the G20.
It is tempting to simply point to the innocuous nature of the organizers' actual activities. Their heinous crimes consisted of such scintillating actions as arranging housing, making food, organizing educational events, doing community outreach, fundraising and the like. But we have to resist the attempt to divide 'good' activist from 'bad'. Property destruction does not equal violence. Systemic violence to living creatures through war, poverty and environmental degradation has been and remains the exclusive domain of elites and their hired thugs. This is the context in which our activism occurs.