Activism

How to Distinguish Protesters from Vandals

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 28, 2010

In response to the destructive actions of a small handful of vandals on Saturday, the Toronto G20 police instituted a massive, sweeping crackdown on peaceful protesters on Sunday. You may already have seen this shocking video by now:

Or this one:

Or this one:

Or this one:

Or this one:

To help the police exercise their secret extra powers in future events in which liberal democracies play host to world political leaders to discuss public policy, I've prepared a checklist to differentiate between peaceful protesters and violent agitators:

  1. If they are sitting in a circle, holding hands and singing, but not throwing Molotov cocktails, they are peaceful protesters.

  2. If they are standing and yelling but not overturning police cars, they are peaceful protesters.

  3. If they are holding banners and chanting but not smashing store windows, they are peaceful protesters.

  4. If they are marching and playing percussive "world music" but not setting fire to private property, they are peaceful protesters.

  5. If they are pointing cameras at the police but not pointing weapons at the police, they are peaceful protesters (or possibly journalists).

I hope this will assist the police in future summits to be able to distinguish between the mass of citizens lawfully exercising their free speech rights and the tiny fraction of violent agitators (some of whom actually turn out to be police officers themselves) so that hundreds of citizens are not arbitrarily detained and treated abusively.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By oldcoote (registered) | Posted June 28, 2010 at 15:59:56

This seems a bit biased and shoddy to me.

No footage of the Saturday violence in this story, only a handful of video's with titles like "peaceful protesters attacked". Honestly, its completely unclear in those video's what prompted the arrests of individuals. Are we supposed to believe that individuals were seized at will from the demonstrations? They did nothing to provoke the police?

Were some innocents arrested? No doubt. Frankly, they should have seen that as a risk going in.

But if they're wearing bandana's covering their face, are they peaceful protesters?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 28, 2010 at 16:07:31

Did you watch the videos before deciding they're biased? Hard to misunderstand a phalanx of cops grabbing someone who's just standing or sitting there without doing anything, throwing him to the ground, five cops with their feet and knees pressing him down while they tie his hands behind his back with more cops standing in a circle facing outward then dragging him away. Stop making excuses for police brutality.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 28, 2010 at 16:23:28

I think we should be able to agree that both sides went overboard. Protesters are in no way innocent and it's quite easy to edit out the part of a video where the person, who in the video was simply shouting at officers just finished throwing a pool ball through a storefront window.

I'm not on anyone's side but I can promise you this, if I'd been a protester peacefully protesting and some of those black-whatevers started causing problems, I'd have done my best to turn them black and blue before they started casting a vile shadow over my peaceful attempts to protest.

FWIW, IMO there's nothing "peaceful" about shouting at police officers. If you can't maintain your cool you shouldn't be there. When your kids are yelling at each other, is your response "it's peaceful in here"?

Comment edited by frank on 2010-06-28 15:25:26

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 28, 2010 at 16:30:30

It went as planned.

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By Ancopa (registered) | Posted June 28, 2010 at 16:53:27

I watched every video there, and I agree that they are biased. This article even more so. Of course not all of the protests or protesters were violent, but it's not like the police went around willy nilly breaking up peaceful protests. They targeted the individuals and protests they did for a reason, and judging by the events of Saturday vs the events of Sunday, they are doing a fine job in a very tough position.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted June 28, 2010 at 17:58:38

Steve's Music Store, which is the store with the yellow sign in the first video, was the site where a police car was overturned on Saturday and set on fire.

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By World Vision (anonymous) | Posted June 28, 2010 at 18:37:15

quick video snapshots without any context aren't very useful at providing a view of the whole picture.
After Saturday's nonsense in the Queen/Spadina area, police were right to be extra vigilant when receiving reports of groups with bricks, molotov cocktails and other items in their backpacks.
Don't forget, the black bloc start and end every window smashing episode with a peaceful march or peaceful gathering on the lawn somewhere.
Isolated, 2 minute video clips don't do much to show the police responding inappropriately.
In fact, I wish that they had laid a beat-down on the thugs smashing away on Queen on Saturday instead of simply managing their route of destruction.

There were over 40,000 people in Toronto on Saturday representing a wealth of great causes and world needs, but virtually none of their peaceful marches or rallies received much attention due to the few hundred clowns who like breaking things. It's a shame to have such irrelevant people dominate the airwaves instead of the true humanitarians that are actually doing something useful with their lives.

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By what a joke (anonymous) | Posted June 28, 2010 at 23:24:26

Nothing in these videos made me scream "Police Brutality", except the 2nd video. Other than that it just looked like police doing their jobs. After the trouble on Saturday, you have see this coming. It does suck that a small group of people ruined it for those who wanted a peaceful protest. The poeple that were out there only to cause trouble only justified the 1 billion pricetag for security. And when will people learn protesting changes nothing?

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 28, 2010 at 23:29:45

Protesters are a nearly random group, assembled by the likes of posters and facebook, who come together in a thoroughly constitutional gathering.

Police are trained and paid professionals responsible to a strict military hierarchy.

If one of these groups can be held responsible for the bad actions of a few (or many), it's clear which one.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 08:25:26

"Protesters are a nearly random group, assembled by the likes of posters and facebook, who come together in a thoroughly constitutional gathering" - I'm pretty sure I wouldn't call the violent gatherings I saw "constitutional". Undustrial you're pretty naive if that's how you think all protests are organized.

A constitutional gathering becomes anything but when people in said gathering start committing vandalism not matter what the cause is. Protests of that sort are counter productive at best.

As for the police being trained and paid professionals, I completely agree. And I would have been quite angry if they hadn't reacted in some way to the situation. Perhaps you would have preferred they stood around?

Comment edited by frank on 2010-06-29 07:29:03

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 08:37:41

what a joke wrote: "And when will people learn protesting changes nothing?"

I was thinking about this yesterday... My first thought was exactly that but then I thought about Martin Luther King's marches back in the day and I can't say that they did nothing. My conclusion is that there's something to be said for PEACEFUL protests but IMO only if the cause is supported by a mass of people. When a cause is supported by fringe groups who think intimidation and other such tactics are a good idea their cause gets drowned out by anger at their methods.

As for this weekends protests how about asking the officer who was trapped in his car surrounded by "protesters" as they bashed it in how he felt? or how about the woman and security guard who cowered in a bank as protesters seethed outside? or the store owners who's storefronts were smashed in by "peaceful" protesters? or the people who rushed into department stores to escape the violence going on outside? Making judgments based on video taken by protesters who instigated violence is asinine at best!

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 08:44:32

Stop playing games Frank. I don't see anyone saying the hooligans who smashed windows and set fire to a police car were "peaceful". They were a tiny part of the total and the police have every right to arrest people committing crimes.

It's when they start arresting people that aren't committing crimes (we'll see how many actual charges get laid and how many eventual convictions we get.....my prediction is a big fat zero) and clubbing and spraying groups of nonviolent protesters sitting on the ground that we call foul. Too bad you can't seem to see the difference.

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By warcrimes (anonymous) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 08:46:15

Frank, collective punishment is a crime against humanity. It's against the law for the police to punish peaceful protesters for the actions of a few violent protesters.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 09:29:41

When the violent group disguises themselves among the peaceful protesters the police unfortunately don't have a choice but to arrest everyone and sort it out. No one's saying peaceful protesters are bad but when a peaceful protest turns into what happened on Saturday night, I'm sorry but I would have been eternally pissed off if the police didn't react.

Provisionally, I don't condone the butt whupping on the group of people singing Oh Canada although I don't know what they were doing prior to that of course. What I'm saying is that as a peaceful protester it would be your responsibility to out those in your group who aren't peaceful and failure to do so puts you in the same group as them.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 09:31:36

LOL war crimes, collective "arrests" in order to sort the good from the bad aren't crimes against humanity. I'm sorry but I'm going to call hyperbole what it is... As far as I know it's also against the law to harbor a person wanted by police or otherwise derail a police investigation...

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 09:33:50

As an aside, I'm trying to find the blog I read on Saturday night after I got home from my fireworks show. It was written by someone who was in the group with the black bloc protesters who witnessed the tactics they used to avoid detention. It's what made me believe that while there may have been protesters in the group who had no idea what was going on, collectively they're responsible for aiding them in doing what they did.

If those who were peacefully protesting were so keen on keeping it that way, then they should have been out there helping the police arrest those who were responsible for the violence.

You do see what's goin on here right? I'm supporting the police who by and large performed admirably and with a restraint that I don't know I could have had in the same situation (despite the few who went over the top) and you're supporting a group of protesters who by and large were partaking in peaceful protests (which also contained a contingent that went over the top). The difference is that while the police may have gone over the top in some circumstances, the harm done pales in comparison to the violence done. I know you're argument will be that any violation of rights is a huge one and my argument will be what about the rights of Torontonians who now have to repair their storefronts? or the police officer who most likely was afraid for his life while he sat in his cruiser as it was beaten to a pulp? or the rights of Torontonians to not have to lock themselves in their buildings in order to avoid the violence downtown? Who's rights take precedence - those who live and use the city or those who travel there to protest?

Comment edited by frank on 2010-06-29 08:44:29

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 29, 2010 at 11:24:48

What I'm saying is that as a peaceful protester it would be your responsibility to out those in your group who aren't peaceful and failure to do so puts you in the same group as them.

You mean like this guy?

I wasn't in Toronto on the weekend, but I've been to enough protests to know that the overwhelming majority of protesters actively work to ensure the protest is peaceful and non-violent. Look at what happened in Montebello, Quebec a couple of years ago when undercover police agents provocateurs tried to incite violence at a CEP rally.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 13:13:34

Ryan, from the descriptions on the blog I read, that's not what happened in Toronto. I also haven't read about police provocateurs in Toronto. I have read about 'undercover" police. I've also read about police and protesters having friendly conversations as protests were going on. This wasn't Montebello....sorry.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 13:59:34

Not sure what blog you read Frank but here are 20 stories vetted by the Toronto Star about protesters being picked up, held for up to 17 hours in detention and then released without any charges. Funny that.

Comment edited by nobrainer on 2010-06-29 13:00:21

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 14:53:37

I'm sorry but I'm going to call hyperbole what it is... - frank

That's pretty ironic given what you've written here frank.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 15:05:38

Keily, Hyperpole is calling protesters who enter a protest on their own volition and get arrested a crime against humanity. Crime? In most cases probably. Crime against humanity? Absolute hyperbole.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 15:18:34

Nobrainer, I'm sure the Star can find many more accounts from protesters who feel they were wronged and one or two of them may be legitimate - that's not my point. You enter a protest of this type knowing that there's a chance something can happen. Crying when it does doesn't work for me. Writing on a sidewalk in the same area as violent protests just took place? or driving around in a car with a hatchet and hammer that accidentally were left in the car from "a long time ago"...give me a break! Taking pictures of buildings? not leaving when you're asked to leave... Definitely a nobrainer.

I'm not one to do whatever I'm told in fact I love calling the police on the police and have done so a few times. However you KNOW the situation. You know that the day before there were violent reprehensible attacks on buildings/police in the area and yet you challenge officers? or drive around with a hatchet in your car? Give me a break! I wasn't born yesterday and neither were you.

A quote from one of those arrested: "Dwek understands police were trying to prevent a repeat of the Saturday violence but wishes they were able to tell the protestors and bystanders from the "rebels without a cause.""

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By warcrimes (anonymous) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 15:19:04

Frank collective punishment is when a few people commit crimes and the police react by arresting hundreds of people who just happened to be in the area and then detain them for 12, 14, 16, 18 hours in unsafe conditions and then just release them without laying charges, like the police just admitted to doing, http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/torontog20summit/article/829893--after-saturday-s-riots-police-turned-tough-talk-into-action When dictatorships do this sort of thing to their protesters we click our tongues and say shame on them, but when we do the same thing it's all excuses all down the line.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 15:24:04

From the looks of things we'll just have to disagree here cuz my mind won't be changed. IMO, if you're stupid enough to go protest in the same area/manner as the protests that turned violent the previous day then you shouldn't be surprised when you get into some sort of trouble, wrongfully or not.

Bottom line is this, if you want to protest, find a manner of doing so that is effective without being creating a potential for violence.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 15:32:19

warcrimes comparing what happened on Sunday to what happens in dictatorships is unfair to those who are detained under those dictatorships. If Saturday had not happened, I doubt anything bad would have happened on Sunday. You're not hearing excuses from me, you're hearing "suck it up pansy"! If you have the balls to protest in the same area as violence occurred the day before you ought to have the balls to tough it out under "unsafe" (note the quotation marks) conditions for 18 hours.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 16:31:37

frank your cognitive dissonance is showing. Maybe Steve Paikin can change your mind about what happened - or is he an unreliable witness too?

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 30, 2010 at 08:08:39

Just not a fan of Paikin...

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 30, 2010 at 09:08:39

We're all forgetting the most important question: is Brian Barett going to get his chainmail and padded arrows back? That stuff looks expensive, and they already made him miss his game.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 30, 2010 at 09:44:10

On the upside he's sure to be flooded with offers for dates after his newfound celebrity.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 30, 2010 at 12:30:18

On the upside he's sure to be flooded with offers for dates after his newfound celebrity. - z jones

He was on his way to a LARP, so I bet it is at least safe to say he won't get fewer dates ; )

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 30, 2010 at 14:45:19

@Frank

Yeah, I suppose you'll also ignore the word of those crazy granola-munching hippies like Joe Warmington from The Sun and his AM640 communist brethren.

Link: http://www.torontosun.com/news/columnist...

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2010 at 17:07:14

There were maybe 30-50 'visible' vandals, some in black attire, some just idiots playing 'running of the bulls' with the police on Saturday night on King W..

What about the 900 arrests made? Isn't that wrong by about 850 to 870?

IMHO, the abandoned police cars were decoys. They were planted there for effect, with the idea that somebody would torch them or vandalize them. I have Never seem a police vehicle left like that, let alone 3 of them! No one has explained what happened to them in the 1st place. Why did they 'cease to function'? Police vehicles are always kept in good repair.

You can't haul little 16 year old girls off the Go train cuz they have vinegar or a gas mask & detain them for hours.

It's not an arrestable offense to wear black. It's not 'just cause'. It's not even a fashion crime!

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By three points or so (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2010 at 22:40:27

First, arrests were oing on starting the week prior and many organizers never made it becasue they were picked up in advance. It is not a crime to assemble except apparently wehn authorities want it to.

Second, police were at their quietest when the vandalims occured as they were ordered not to engage. why is this? Instead they just up their brutality after they have an excuse that could have been at least mitigated if not prevented given the number of officers, undercover people etc.

Third no matter what one person or group has done, that is not an excuse to ignore human rights and do as you please and hide under the banner of public safety. I would ask people to not only look at these vidos but watch media here possible and listen to the first hand accounts which have devestating similarities.

The main reason the causes were not heard as they should is within our media who look for the most sensational for their broadcasts.

Finally, in this day and age is such a gathering really necessary? A violent element always seems to follow which our leaders know and accept. Spending a billion dolars is not the answer. We have so much communication technology I suggest our leaders use it and save the billions used for these events on the needs of the people and our planet.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 01, 2010 at 08:38:59

Yeah, I suppose you'll also ignore the word of those crazy granola-munching hippies like Joe Warmington from The Sun and his AM640 communist brethren. - Pxtl

Well done, nicely played Pxtl!

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-07-01 07:39:14

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 03, 2010 at 01:14:32

The real issue here is that while some protesters may have committed crimes (and very little apparant effort was actually put into catching them) there is no question that the police violated much more serious laws, which they have a professional duty to know about.

A police officer not knowing he needs just cause to search a pedestrian is like a doctor who doesn't understand consent or confidentiality - an immediate threat to the legitimacy of the profession.

Are we innocent until proven guilty, or guilty until proven innocent? Is there anyone here who doesn't own black clothing?

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By TD (registered) | Posted July 03, 2010 at 19:35:34

It's what made me believe that while there may have been protesters in the group who had no idea what was going on, collectively they're responsible for aiding them in doing what they did.

By that token, while I'm sure there were police officers working the summit who committed no crimes, collectively the police force is responsible for the offences that were committed by some of their officers. If cops don't want to associate with their violent brethren, they should quit the force.

The difference is that while the police may have gone over the top in some circumstances, the harm done pales in comparison to the violence done. I know you're argument will be that any violation of rights is a huge one and my argument will be what about the rights of Torontonians who now have to repair their storefronts?

If you don't think that police officers beating and arresting Canadian citizens for sitting peacefully on public property is a greater offense against the entire COUNTRY than a few broken STOREFRONTS, you have a severely impaired moral compass. What kind of person thinks breaking glass is worse than breaking people?

The most important job of security in any situation is to exercise restraint. Unless you're the President's bodyguard, you exercise restraint. You don't attack crowds of people, even if a rock bounces off your riot shield. You take the hit and you exercise restraint. That is the price of living in a free country.

This Canada Day I was not proud of Canada.

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