While Hamilton Police continue to make an example of anti-fascist demonstrators, the crisis of escalating white supremacism is on our doorstep and things aren't getting better.
By Cameron Kroetsch
Published August 15, 2019
The City of Hamilton is facing a crisis. No, it's not unique to our city alone but, yes, how our police and leaders are responding to it is setting us apart.
This past weekend, for me, was a brand new low point in that response. In short, the police and our civic leaders failed us again. Their actions have put everyone in danger and the City needs to get a handle on it.
For those of you who have been wondering where I'm coming from, check out some information I shared in an op-ed I wrote for the CBC or the one that more recently appeared in The Hamilton Spectator. I direct you to those both because I'm not intending to recycle that content here but also because a lot of what I said in those two pieces underpins what I'm about to say in this one.
Our public spaces are becoming too dangerous to use.
People who use public spaces are being discouraged from using those spaces because violence and hatred are being permitted in them and because intimidation tactics and harassment are being employed to control those who peacefully stand up to that violence and hatred.
This past Saturday at City Hall made that clearer than ever.
I stood on the City Hall forecourt as a man dressed in military fatigues, someone known to get very frustrated and angry, drove a full-sized yellow school bus up onto the sidewalk at peaceful protestors.
There's no other way to describe that, by the way. It wasn't a gentle or benign act. It was an attempted assault.
When I saw it, the first thing I assumed was that a tow truck had been called and that police had detained, if not arrested, the person driving this multi-tonne weapon. Nope, not even close. As I approached the bus, and the officers surrounding it, I discovered that they were going to spend the next 30+ minutes "talking to the driver" in an effort to deescalate the situation.
Police calmly negotiating with the 'hate bus' driver (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)
On the face of it, peaceful deescalation of a violent situation is a good idea. I'm not opposed to police trying to do that. But the outcome of that deescalation can't be to let the person take their weapon around to the back of the building and then come back out to continue to menace people by joining their white supremacist friends.
That is not the way to send a message to hateful and violent protestors who continue to threaten to start a version of their own martial law to "detain" anyone that gets in their way. Yes, the bus driver actually said this in a public video. He is literally saying that if members of the public get in his way, he will take it upon himself to remove them from the situation.
How much scarier does it have to get? An angry bus-wielding white supremacist is bowling up on City property with the intent of causing harm or, in the least, detaining you if you get in his way.
For me, that was a clear and easy moment for police to intervene and send a message. They, instead, decided to wait a couple of hours to make an example of someone else. What was that example? The arrest of a peaceful protestor who was dancing around the crowd in defiance of the hateful white supremacists who were threatening his literal existence.
Police arresting anti-fascist counter-protestor (Image Credit: Graham Crawford)
And, not only did they arrest this person, who describes themselves as a young skinny gay hippie, but eight officers swarmed him, threw him to the ground, and then held him in a police car for upwards of 30 minutes with no ventilation, no air conditioning, and no water on a scorching, humid August day.
They did what most of us wouldn't do to our dogs, to a person who was peacefully protesting against hate at City Hall.
Not only is this a complete violation of his human rights, but it's also a huge stroke of luck for Hamilton Police Services. What if he had experienced an immediate, severe, or life-threatening reaction to this confinement? Many people have died in similar conditions and there's no excuse for what the police did.
An OIPRD complaint isn't enough for the torture that was inflicted on someone who was arrested, according to police, for a "breach of the peace and causing a disturbance" while "attempting to assault a group of protestors".
Let's think that through for a second: a man drives a bus at a crowd of people and is "spoken to" for 30 minutes but a person who is dancing joyfully is corralled, arrested, thrown on the ground, and then tossed in a hot police cruiser.
I don't know about you, but I'm used to the police refrain of "we have reason to believe" as an excuse for them to search, seize, and detain. Why didn't that standard line of thought come to mind when that bus drove up onto the sidewalk? It did for me, and for everyone else I spoke to. Why, instead, was the driver given the benefit of the doubt?
My reading of it is that we're dealing with the equivalent of a 1980s movie where rival high schools are competing to win the local football championship and that the singular focus of everyone involved in the situation is "winning at all costs".
In this scenario, the police are trying to intimidate the other team and rattle them before the two rivals meet on the field for the big game next week. The police are in a furious rage, egging the windows of the rival school, because their mascot was stolen over the weekend.
Just like in those classic jocular movies, the root of this frustration comes from an affront to masculinity, authority and whiteness. A "we'll show them" attitude has taken over the control centre of the hive mind and the police are seeing red where there's only peaceful, happy pink.
In fact, the police were so enraged and singularly focused on punishing a single anti-hate protestor that they completely abandoned the City Hall forecourt and left peaceful citizens to fend for themselves. It's clear what their focus was and who they were there to protect.
And in case there's any doubt in your mind about who police were protecting, here are the words of the bus driver himself from a video he recorded and posted shortly after driving up onto the forecourt:
Next time I come back ... I'd like to show up early and have like other Yellow Vesters. I'll do the same thing. I'll park my bus on the sidewalk. Because they got the cops to push me off, but if we're here early, you know, and we're already set up. So, I want to get here early, set it all up with a bunch of Yellow Vests, so that antifa can't, so that when the cops show up, everything's set up and it's like, 'Sorry.'
My advice to this City is to fire Chief of Police Eric Girt and hire someone to replace him who can think beyond the short fuse of their temper and lead the Hamilton Police Service down a different path. That's the leadership we need at bare minimum.
Someone must be held responsible for what's been allowed to take place with policing in this City. Everything from carding to the unprotected attacks on Pride to the targeting of peaceful protestors must be strongly addressed: no more equivocations, explanations about operational limitations, or arrests of protestors.
The crisis is on our doorstep, Hamilton, and things aren't getting better. No amount of calling this out as an "international problem" is going to solve it.
What has been the effect of all of this? Parents are unsure if they can bring their children to City Hall on the weekend. Many allies and activists are turning away from protests in public spaces for fear of their safety or for fear that they will be arrested. The white supremacists are winning. And the people in our Council Chambers are making things worse.
Councillors Sam Merulla and Esther Pauls are drawing on their own personal experiences in an attempt to dismiss what's happening in Hamilton. As self-identified Italian-Canadians, they're citing the slurs, slings, and arrows they endured as a sort of character-building exercise.
Their suggestion is that everyone just needs to get over it already. We need to just "walk it off". Their comparisons, rather than coming from a place of compassion and understanding, are a viciously subtle scolding of every single person who is being targeted by white supremacy.
As much as I hate what sounds like alarmist rhetoric, I really can't understand this in any other way. This is an escalating situation that is being treated as if it's just another day down at the Hall.
And the people in positions of power are too used to viewing all opposition to them as easy to dismiss because it's coming from "those people who just hate our institutions". They're quick to label me, and other people who ran against entrenched politicians, as doing this for "obvious political gain".
But what do they say to the hundreds of other people who have shown up to rallies? Are they all in it for that same political gain? What about the people who supported the Mayor's 2010 and 2014 municipal campaigns, who worked on them and helped to get him elected, who donated to him, and who have been speaking out about this loudly?
When your cheerleaders have put down their pom-poms to pick up a megaphone, and you can't recognize how serious it is, you're no longer in a position to lead.
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