Friday, July 02, 2010

G20 and the police

A great many people have already written about the events of the G20 weekend in Toronto. I participated in the First Nations protest the Thursday before the meeting, a protest which went off without any major problems, largely because the First Nations organizers requested, and expected, peaceful conduct from everyone.

But most protests in the city happened that way, and even the most aggressive demonstrations neither got near the leaders' meetings, nor caused any serious injuries, nor caused a serious amount of property damage. The G20 ended with two or three police cars destroyed and a lot of broken glass; plenty of sports events, and even some rowdy weekends in cottage country, end up with more damage than that.

By any standard, we now have an impressive number of accounts that indicate the police overstepped their bounds, and the police have responded with  evidence of the protesters' evil intentions which, to put it mildly, fails to convince.

At this point, I can only add one comment to this. We have a legal system in Canada, a legal system that includes the police and courts. As Rupert Ross, the Crown Attorney who wrote Dancing with a Ghost and Returning to the Teachings points out, a lot of First Nations people remain far from convinced we have a justice system. A good many poor people, social activists, and others, likewise, have very little faith that we have a justice system. Incidents like this merely reduce that faith. A loss of faith in the legal system has consequences, and those consequences tend to compound. The fewer people believe they can get justice from the system, the fewer use it or cooperate with it. Fewer people call the police, report crimes, or come forward as witnesses.

It may comfort a few people to claim that, as one poster to the CBC wrote (go to page 21 from the start of the comments):
You'll go crying, "Mommy, mommy the bad man took my money and hurt me. Help Police!" I just hope they treat you the same as everyone else and help you out when you need it most. You will take their help as if it was your God given right and then you will whine and complain about the shameful police again once they've helped you.
I can tell you from personal experience that not everyone does that. Nor should this surprise us. The argument that if something bad happens to us, we will go to the police no matter how we feel about them simply goes in a circle: you don't trust the legal system, but if something bad happens, you will. The proponents of this view never explain why we would pick the worst moments of our lives to turn to people we do not trust. I suspect they have no real answer, outside of a comforting daydream scenario. In reality, distrust of the legal system exists and has consequences. Some communities sum up their arguments for refusing to cooperate with the system in slogans like "Stop Snitching". But distrust of the legal system does not merely affect struggling and impoverished communities. It affects everyone.

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