Commentary

After Locke, Reckoning with the Slow Crisis of Inequality and Marginalization

Do we care as much about injured, marginalized and displaced people as we care about damaged property?

By David Crosbie
Published March 06, 2018

A torrent of social media Saturday evening documented what looked like protesters making their way down the bustling, restaurant-laden strip of Locke Street between Aberdeen and Main.

Smashed window on Locke Street (RTH file photo)
Smashed window on Locke Street (RTH file photo)

The group of about 30 were clad in black and carried a banner declaring themselves "ungovernable," engaging in petty tactics of intimidation, shooting fireworks and breaking the windows of local business and parked cars. Nobody was injured.

In response, Hamilton Police dispatched roughly 30 officers from "all three patrol divisions, the ACTION team, the emergency response unit and the K9 unit." Dozens of police cruisers flooded the neighbourhood in search of the vandals in a show of retaliatory might.

This procession of police cruisers was duly documented online, and when the glass settled and it became clear what had happened, the overwhelming chorus was one of support for the affected businesses and the Locke Street BIA in general.

Police Inspector Paul Hamilton said that in his 28 years with the Hamilton Police, he had never seen anything like this.

The ward councillor, the mayor, and the riding's member of provincial parliament were all on scene to make a show of solidarity by supporting local businesses. Vows were made to eat all day or all week at restaurants on the strip, declarations of "standing with Locke" asserted.

The language in the wake of this vandalism, estimated at incurring $100,000 in damage, was one of communion, of standing together and overcoming. One could be forgiven for mistaking this for the fallout of a mass shooting. But, again, nobody was injured.

If this had happened along Kenilworth Avenue, would Hamilton have rallied to support The Great Wall? Olympus? Diana's? What if this had happened on Barton? On Fennell?

If a business were bought by a real estate conglomerate and summarily shuttered, would there be rallies?

If your fellow Hamiltonians lived in fear in illegally-zoned storefront apartments, would there be immediate action to relieve their plight?

If a citizen of this ambitious, unstoppable city was evicted from their home to make way for luxury condos, would two levels of government make a public show of support? Would 30 police officers be dispatched?

Are there lineups every Sunday morning to help those who struggle to feed and clothe their families?

I do not intend to lessen the impact of these events on those businesses and their employees. I am ashamed of those who resort to violence for no discernible purpose, without respect for those who must work regardless of their politics.

But I am even more ashamed that this city seems to care more about damage to its property than it does injury to its citizens.

David Crosbie is a journalist from Hamilton, most recently a web editor and podcast producer at The Hamilton Spectator.

18 Comments

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 12:30:20

This was a form of terrorism, not legitimate protest.

The clear goal was to use violence, and the threat of violence, to intimidate residents, workers and business owners and provoke a police response. Terrorism does not necessarily require injuries or death: violence against property, the threat of violence against people and psychological intimidation are common terrorist tactics.

This was certainly not civil disobedience where protestors peacefully refuse to obey laws and accept the consequences of their actions.

You brush off the violence and intimidation because "no one was injured".

However, passersby and people in the restaurants being attacked were clearly terrified.

It was just luck no one was injured by flying glass or rocks. Those present did not know what was going to be lobbed through windows they were sitting near, or whether the thugs would start beating people up or pelt them with rocks (the way they attacked the police). Maybe they would have started violently attacking people if the police had not shown up in force. This was NOT just an attack on property!

This was not a protest (there was no message apart from "we are the ungovernables"). It was violence for violence sake. What makes you think it was a protest against anything (except, maybe "society")?

Do you really not understand why this sort of action would provoke a response of community solidarity? Did you support Butcher and Vegan and the other shops and restaurants that have been similarly vandalized on Barton?

Do you seriously not understand why 30 black clad anonymous, masked marchers smashing windows, setting off fireworks, smoke bombs on a Saturday night on a busy commercial street full of people would lead the community to be fearful and want to show solidarity (and why this is different from the incremental creep of re-development and the ongoing challenges precarious housing)?

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2018-03-06 12:31:30

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 12:54:39

You appear to be running on the assumption that there is this group of people for whom life is awesome all the time. And it's entirely ok to attack those people because they have such awesome lives and never have to struggle financially, physically or mentally. A neighbourhood is full of all kinds of different people all with their unique struggles. Kirkendall is no different.

If the end goal of the violence was to make life suck a little more for a bunch of random people then 'mission accomplished'.

Oh, and one last thing. I donate food on a weekly basis and I will continue to do so but not because I've been threatened.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2018-03-06 13:01:14

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By PeterG (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 13:09:59

The author is asking us to consider the scale of our reaction to this event, compared to how we react to other events. For instance, he asks whether the reaction would have been the same had it happened on Kennilworth. The reaction to this in the comments, as if it was justifying what happened, shows that many are not able to ask themselves why they feel so upset in this case, but not in other (semi-) hypothetical ones, including one that is identical but happened elsewhere in the city.

I appreciate that this piece asks us to consider what lies beneath our immediate emotions, to identify the principles that are important to us moving forward.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 13:10:36

I've been seeing this argument in a few places -- only property was damaged, nobody was injured. But the lack of physical injury to a person or persons was pure luck. What if someone had confronted this mob?

If this was a real protest with a message encouraging change, half of the people living in Durand and Kirkendall probably would have joined in.

Nicholas is correct -- this was an attempt to intimidate and terrify people and won't lead to positive change for the groups or people in your essay.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 13:25:10 in reply to Comment 122508

It would be just as bad if a band 30 thugs marched down Kenilworth (or Barton, or Wellington or any other street), attacking restaurants full of people and terrorizing passersby. But then this hasn't happened, so it is an entirely hypothetical question what the response would be (and who would respond).

As far as I know there is no identical event of dozens of thugs marching down a street full of people smashing windows of businesses people are actually sitting in. Peter, can you tell me where this has happened in Hamilton? As far as I know the other cases of vandalism occurred when the businesses were closed and did not involve the sort of direct intimidation of residents we saw on Locke.

The fact I live in near (and in) neighbourhoods that were attacked makes it is especially worrying ... but that it is just human. Is it really surprising that residents and customers of shops on Locke showed up to express solidarity more than, say residents of Kenilworth or people living in Stoney Creek who never go to Locke Street?

It is natural to be especially concerned about threats close to home. (Which is why I was more worried when the RER that I took every day to work was bombed in Paris in 1996 by terrorists than when a market in Afghanistan is bombed.)

The main problem is that the author seems completely unconcerned by the what happened to those Hamiltonians who actually were terrorized.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2018-03-06 13:26:50

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 13:26:56 in reply to Comment 122508

It's because this is my effing neighbourhood. Am I going to have to move? Where will I go? Let the people who live wherever they live worry about where they live. I've got enough on my plate to get worked up over any and every issue. What about people in Syria? Anyone mention them yet? Not a peep. It's dickheads upset about donut vendors ffs...

I'm not going to consider anything that someone has used violence to get me to consider. F that. I refuse to be cowed.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 13:30:32

People who are forced to work for nothing are slaves. If you destroy the property of people who have worked for their property you essentially render their efforts worthless. You are essentially enslaving them - making them work for nothing. If you approve of this destructive behavior, you are pro-slavery.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 13:45:19

I think the author's anti-violence position is clear, and his questions are thought provoking. The hostile reaction in the comments section is...illuminating. After the violation of people's perceptions of personal safety on Locke, is it really that unsafe to ask tough questions about the impact of slow-drip economic violence?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 13:51:19 in reply to Comment 122513

No: he is not anti-violence, certainly not violence against property, and also not physical violence and intimidation that stops short of injury and death. This is not the way to start a discussion about economic injustice.

It is not "unsafe" to ask tough questions ... it is inappropriate and unhelpful to use pure violence (with no clear motive) to try to start a conversation economic inequality and exploitation.

Do you think Saturday's event in any way furthered this discussion and persuaded people it is an important issue? Would even more violence help?

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2018-03-06 13:51:53

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 13:58:01 in reply to Comment 122513

So the fact that 'No one was injured' makes it all good? I think the Poli-Sci grads can pedantically argue all they want about economics. That's fine knock yourselves out. I don't like the idea - anywhere - of this, or any, kind of conversation being started through violent means.

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By PeterG (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 14:17:25 in reply to Comment 122510

We do know that similar property damage has been done in other parts of this city, for similar motivations, and there was little public response. Some of that is understandable from the scale and nature of the events, as you indicate, but there are other reasons too. This piece invites us to consider what those might be.

I agree that there are features of human nature that make use respond to things that affect "where we live" and "people like us" more than things that affect other places or other people. Again, I think this piece asks us to reflect on whether a crisis in the community leads us to consider how those circles are drawn.

Finally, and perhaps here it is asking for too much imagination, it asks us to consider why our justifiable opposition to the sort of violence from Saturday rarely translates to other forms of violence.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 14:20:44 in reply to Comment 122516

omg u are so pretentious i wanna punch you in the face...

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 14:29:48 in reply to Comment 122516

Where did you get the "people like us" quote ... I never said that and it is not true in this case. The businesses that were vandalized on Barton were just the same sort of businesses owned by the same sort of people who own the businesses that were vandalized on Locke Street (i.e. capitalists who invested money). The vandalism did not occur brazenly and all at once and there was no attempt to directly intimidate people face to (masked) face.. It's not really very complicated to understand why the reaction was different and there is no evidence to suggest (as some commenters and the authors imply) that socioeconomic status played a role in the difference.

If a group of muggers mugs 20 people in Gore Park over noon hour, that will inspire more concern and fear than if a burglar robs 20 houses in year.

The answer to your final question should be fairly obvious. People respond more strongly and immediately to shocking events, rather than to ongoing forms of injustice. In fact, that is precisely why terrorists stage big spectacular attacks like this: to attract attention. It's like asking why a mass murder inspires more concern than the many thousands of deaths caused by cars every year. Is it really surprising?

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2018-03-06 14:31:32

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 14:47:47

Nope, it didn't help at all, Nicholas, not least of all because I have a McMaster professor, who should be an ally, giving me snark because his safe space was invaded by a group of thugs bent on sowing discord. I'm sorry that happened to you, but I really hope their actions don't mean we can't talk about social issues.

I care about those tough questions because I spend a lot of my limited free time as a volunteer on affordable housing issues, and on a good day can barely get people to put down their coffees to listen & care about the ongoing displacement of their less-fortunate neighbours. What I've learned this week is dispiriting--that thugs can make those tough conversations nearly impossible because they can so easily push reasonable people to the point where they fear for their safety and retreat--we'll show them thugs by refusing to talk about structural violence, or buying something, right? Or maybe that was their goal all along?

If the response to thugs isn't solidarity, but a refusal to talk about tough issues, then shame on me for hoping we could see through the broken glass to think a bit about the downtrodden, exploited, frustrated & voiceless who don't use violence.

I'm sorry I brought it up--I guess people still need to heal, but dare I say that getting angry isn't going to make things better. Smashing their windows back won't make things better, just like beating them up, or running them out of town won't end poverty and displacement. And since we can't let them "win" by talking about tough issues now, then please do let me know when we're allowed to, again.

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By balen@sympatico.ca (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 14:48:41

Although regrettable, I agree that because no one was physically hurt this was primarily a property crime. After the fact, I find the police response to be both ineffectual - they chose not to give chase, but to guard the street - and overblown.

Since moving to Hamilton from you know where in 2016, what I have noticed most is the diversity of the city's population and not only by virtue of race or ethnicity, but also class. Far from feeling squeamish about the street life here, after being gentrified right out of Toronto, I find the (relative) affordability of housing and general acceptance, even visibility, of poorer people here refreshing. There should always be room in cities for every strata of society and especially for those less fortunate. Rid a city of its low-income inhabitants - very often immigrants, artists, refugees and Indigeonous people - as Toronto is busy doing and you also rob it of an essential element of the very idea of a city: plurality and a sense of a present and future for all.

Those shops on Locke St. do not represent the unbridled greed of developers and as such should never have been targetted, so this was also an ignorant and cowardly action. I doubt that these "ungovernables" are disaffected youth raging on behalf of themselves or their peers who they believe are being displaced by rampant gentrification. Fresh from their Westdale book fair, they are more likely bored, white young men, feeling their general powerlessness, especially in the face of movements like "me too", and opportunistically misdirecting their anger on a relatively quiet, modest street.

These so-called anarchists did not attack real symbols of power such as banks, or even city hall because those institutions are well guarded. Unwilling to risk being caught and identified, they simply ran away from the scene. They chose Locke St. over King William for the same reason: security, in the form of cameras, guards and bouncers and, of course, fewer unlit places to hide. This tells us something about them: they are organized, but indiscriminate and completely unaware that their act of casual violence would only strengthen the community they attacked.

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By Rgelder@cogeco.ca (registered) - website | Posted March 06, 2018 at 15:32:53

I'll bet your earnest intention was to "start a conversation" about the underlying issues of gentrifcation, yada-yada-yada. But you completely lost me,and others I'll wager, when you suggested that the acts of intimidation were "petty” and that the police response was a demonstration of “retaliatory might”.

Gee, if I ever engage in a similar manner of intimidation or harassment, I sure hope it to gets dismissed as “petty". Your lip service towards the end did little to convince me that you are, in fact, ashamed of those who resort to violence. If your aim was to force people to confront some inconvenient truths about poverty and police violence, or whatever it was, I would suggest to you that you need a new marketing department.

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By RSM (registered) | Posted March 06, 2018 at 18:31:49

"But I am even more ashamed that this city seems to care more about damage to its property than it does injury to its citizens." Although there has been much said about the property damage and fear that the mob might have gotten violence there has been an uptick in the discussion around gentrification and class warfare in general. Although the whole of Queen's Park was able to agree to pass Rowan's Law today there has been little headway to tackle poverty and precarity; even the transparency law is being panned as being insufficient. Interestingly, Locke Street is the neighbourhood of the leader of the ONDP. While it is clearly human of her to offer commiserations with the affected businesses and patrons how will it play with supporters who have been working for more social justice in the city in the face of June's provincial election?

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By Wentworth (registered) | Posted March 07, 2018 at 13:57:49

A masked mob massed in a community park in the heart of the most densely populated neighbourhood in the city, then went on to vandalize two blocks of a popular BIA that straddles two highly engaged neighbourhood associations representing the next two most densely populated neighbourhoods in the city. I don’t find it strange that adjacent neighbourhoods and neighbourhood associations along with patrons, peers and friends of those who work along that strip (along with the mayor, ward councillor and MPP—who happens to live nearby) would express disapproval and shop the neighbourhood in support.

As to the preceding wave of anti-gentrification vandalism, those actions bear scarce resemblance to Saturday’s blitz.

Last summer, seven businesses were targeted by vandals—not in the space of two blocks on one street in a matter of minutes, but across three lower city wards, more than 6 kilometres apart, during June and August 2017. East to west:

  • Hendry’s Shoes (657 Barton St E): security cameras vandalized, windows tagged
  • Gibson Lofts (601 Barton St. E): slogan sign hung
  • Co-Motion 302  (302 Cumberland Ave): locks glued, facade tagged
  • The Heather (357 Barton St E): window broken
  • The Butcher and the Vegan (61 Barton St E): window broken
  • Acclamation (185 James St N): locks glued, facade tagged
  • Marsales Realty (986 King St W): locks glued, facade tagged

Before The Hamilton Institute claimed responsibility for the above actions, police weren’t even considering those incidences of vandalism as being connected.

Apples and artichokes.

If a mob action comparable to the Locke South riot had taken place in a popular BIA with decades of heavy commercial volume and little to no history of violence or vandalism, I expect that there would be a similar rally of support.

If a beloved family business were evicted by a developer, a show of community solidarity could be predicted.

Were a chronic socioeconomic issue to express itself in a dramatic flashpoint such as a Ghost Ship-style tragedy, there would be an upswell of empathy and philanthropy and no shortage of media coverage.

If the owners of the Cotton Factory were to attempt to engineer a 401 Richmond-style displacement, the arts community and friends of culture throughout the region would likely rise to the occasion.

As these example illustrate and your headline insinuates, time is a key consideration. The slow-drip issues of illegal and affordable housing cannot be resolved as easily as repairing a window and are obviously more complex than a hash-tagged day of shopping. The same is true of sprawling and trenchant ills like inequality and marginalization, which cannot be remedied by an afternoon of shopping.

Relationship-building and consensus-forging takes time, as does dismantling bias and closing divides within our community. Chronic, thorny socioeconomic issues and zoning demand dedicated and prolonged advocacy and engagement, and require ongoing political lobbying to achieve bureaucratic traction around things like zoning revisions and mixed-use residential proposals, to say nothing of budgetary means to effect a desired outcome. The latest version of the City’s Downtown Secondary Plan has been under development and discussion for the past seven years. That’s not an unusual time frame for social change. There are no discounts or shortcuts for being smart or hip or woke. It takes time and considerable reserves of empathy, understanding, and patience. Few find that prospect appealing. Most find it daunting. Even those who ostensibly have power are required to put in the hours. Crafting and stickhandling even ineffectual virtue-signalling legislation requires a great deal of persistence and luck, and many practical bills die or are voted down or are picked over or ever watered down before they are enacted as law. And revising or replacing our entire parliamentary system of law, if that's your aim, will prove even more time-consuming.

As far as post-incident language goes, I would respectfully submit that “retaliatory might” is a semantically loaded interpretation of the response of local law enforcement. Vehicles aside, your account suggests that the ratio of police officers to rioters was apparently 1:1, even after they had pelted officers with rocks. And in light of the fact that the mob still eluded police, it was arguably an insufficient complement of officers. It is a little pedantic to ask whether 30 police officers would ever be dispatched to prevent the eviction of a single citizen, whether for luxury condos or because of rent owing; the author presumably knew the answer to his rhetorical before it was asked, and understands that officers regard most landlord-tenant disputes as a civil matter and not a criminal one.

Two cents.

Comment edited by Wentworth on 2018-03-07 14:01:26

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