June 20, 2011 | 4 Comments
The other day, The Ottawa Citizen offered us the front page headline, Why? Vouncouver’s Police Chief blamed ‘anarchists and criminals’ (sorry, no working link, but Daphne Bramham notes it here).
Sure, we could get all tautological and say that because the rioters committed crimes, they’re all criminals. It’s dumb, desperate cover for a massive police (and social) failure, but, fine, take comfort in your definitions. It is the carefree use of the anarchist trope to which I object. It’s easy; it’s wrong, and it’s deeply troubling.
The blame-the-anarchists game is a favourite among the police and political leaders. It was pulled out during the G20 assault to excuse police abuse, illegal detentions and officially-sanctioned sexual assault. For how on earth could we complain about the suspension of civil liberties, the martial law or the offences against human dignity when we had to worry about The Anarchists (or for that fun colour-association game, The Black Bloc).
This is Big Blue’s version of the Red Menace. If you paint all your foes as enemies of the respectable citizenry, you can don the flag of justice. With a wave of a hand, you can dismiss the attrocities that police commit against the very people they are supposed to protect (offences of action or omission), because you are fighting a greater existential battle. You are fighting the anarchists.
No, this riot could not have been just a bunch of drunken yobs getting some despicable kicks at the expense of others, for if that was a case, then the police truly failed, and we can’t have that. This was the work of a small few – all of them of an ideology diametrically opposed to civil, democratic society.
But this claim doesn’t wash. It never does. We have the footage; we have the pictures. This was not the work of a few; it was the work of many… and of many we might see everyday. There was nothing exceptional about the people who burned Vancouver, and we shouldn’t accept the official word that there was.
And if we believe them, what does that say about us, and our self-image. The riot was on a massive scale. A small cabal could not have pulled of the great extent of damage. Even if such a group were behind it all, they would have required the co-operation of many others. If we believe this to be the case, we are saying that we, the average citizens, can be twisted and manipulated into great acts of misdeed by a small few. We are relegating ourselves to the role of amoral sheep, unable to make any decisions or take any responsibility.
Still, the police try to paint the rioters as anarchists, but there’s no reason to believe them. They’re lying. They’re making excuses for their failure and they’re laying the groundwork for future abuses of the public. Worst of all, Vancouver is letting them.
On Saturday morning, I saw a story on CTV Newsnet about Vancouverites writing words of thanks to the police for doing what they could to protect the city. They wrote these mash notes on the boarded up windows of smashed shops. They used the battered store fronts of the victims of the riot to praise the protectors who did so little to stop the carnage.
The police will continue to use this ruse as cover for brutality that will be unleashed the next time they are faced with ‘anarchists’.
And Vancouver thanks them.