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G20 Arrests and Organizing for Freedom

July 23, 2010
tags: ,

BY HARSHA WALIA

Excerpted from vancouver.mediacoop.ca

Many of the 900 arrested have thankfully been released without charges; many others will have charges that will eventually likely get withdrawn or easily be defeated. From my conversations with women inside, it became more and more apparent how ridiculous the arrests and charges were. Damning evidence for “possession of a dangerous weapon” or “intent to commit mischief” includes being found with bandanas, black tshirts, anarchist literature, vinegar, eye solution, water bottles, or goggles, while simply speaking French landed many with the charge of “conspiracy to join a criminal organization” (presumably CLAC [Montreal’s Anti-capitalist convergence]). Charges were constantly being changed, added, or dropped.

The largest operation of mass arrests in Canadian history will be justified, and is already being justified, by pointing to and focusing in on a few key organizers (or as they call ‘ring leaders’).

The charges and multiple counts that I was specifically facing were extremely serious and fabricated. Throughout my detention it became evident that it was largely an exercise in intimidation and political targeting. I was consistently taunted by police officers saying “We have been waiting for you Walia”, “Oh you got her, I was looking forward to getting her”, “We’ve finally got the one from BC” etc. While I was being processed, one court officer suggested to me that “they have f*ck all on you but they are out for your blood.” Even after I was ordered released, several police officers were insistent on laying further charges.

Many long-time community organizers, including several people of colour, from Ontario and Quebec continue to face ongoing incarceration on similarly serious charges, with little chance of bail for possibly another few weeks. These clearly politically-motivated arrests, with flimsy evidence, are intended to criminalize and silence particular activists who are committed, effective, and unapologetic in their daily defiance of state and corporate exploitation. The particularly serious nature of the charges is intended to demonize and isolate them by characterizing them as ‘dangerous’ within their diverse communities.

Our response should be clear: that we do not allow the courts, the police, or the media to divide us into those who were unjustifiably arrested versus those who were justifiably arrested. All those who were arrested should be released immediately, and our support efforts need to focus on those facing these serious charges – with serious consequences for their deprivation of liberty – and developing strong public support to ensure their release.

The conditions of detention are already widely known: steel cage cells with upto 30 people per cell, sleeping on concrete floors with open bathrooms, denial of food and water, illegal confiscation of medications, sexual harassment, severe threats and intimidation, being refused access to legal counsel or phones, denying access to bail hearings in a timely manner; property theft, constant exposure to bright lights, and extreme exposure to cold. I went through multiple searches which I did not consent to including a strip search and more.

While I think it is important to highlight the inhumanity and violence of our detentions, it is critical to remember that humiliation and dehumanization is the purpose of the prison-industrial complex. I was personally not expecting a better ‘experience’ than the horrific one I did have given the inherent nature of the police state. For those ‘innocent bystanders” (who were explicit about not being protestors), this is an opportunity to be made aware that the horrors they experienced at the hands of the police or while in detention are not unique moments in Toronto or Canadian history. We run the risk of exceptionalizing this moment, at the expense of normalizing the daily violence of police and prisons and the criminal (in)justice system for Indigenous communities, people of colour, low income neighborhoods, street-involved youth, and trans people.

In moments of movement repression, it is understandably difficult to develop pro-active and long-term strategies for winning. I believe our organizing to free all G20 arrestees needs to be rooted within the social movements that many of the arrestees are part of: labour, anti war, migrant justice, Indigenous self determination, anti-oppression, environmental justice, and anti capitalist. While this lends itself to the all the challenges of sustained community organizing, it has the potential of building a powerful revolutionary grassroots movement that incorporates the reality of social movement repression and criminalization of dissent within a broader analysis and experience of colonization, poverty, marginalization, and daily police violence.

“Our desire to be free has got to manifest itself in everything we are and do.” – Assata Shakur

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