Monday, June 28, 2010

G8-G20 Protests - Saturday, Part 2

Well fed, my buddy and I decided to head south.

The goal we had in mind was simple: how far could we get? It looked like it was possible to head through the police blockades if you're just a few people, and even easier to go around them. If the goal of the protesters was getting to the fence, could they do it?

As it turned out, the answer was yes - anyone moving in small groups with a moderate degree of knowledge of Toronto's structure could walk right up to the fence, which was mostly along Wellington. We were baffled why no else though of this. Maybe if we were in a large group this would be hard. After all, for two people with no signs to veer off path is one thing, to take a massive blimp or coat hanger down Bathurst is another.

Over the past few days, the laws granted to police regarding people near the fence were frightening. Within five meters, the police had the legal right to ask you why you were there, to search you, and if refused and didn't leave (or maybe just refused - it was unclear to me), you could be arrested on the spot. Furthermore, in court, the police's word was God - no witnesses could save you from whatever the cops said on the stand.

As we neared the fence, we stood back, as far from it as could be. Yet for all the hype about having to be away from the fence, it turned out that no one cared. People (from what I could see regular folks who weren't protesting) walked next the fence. Some even walked up to it and touched it. This was clearly not what I had imagined.

We moved away from the fence a bit and decided to walk along King. As we approached Bay we saw a line of cops. Maybe the protesters were coming down there. Had they broken through? Were they getting to the fence?

Then I heard the Band. I never saw the band, but from the way they sounded I was sure it was the Anarchist Marching Band (or at least parts of it) from yesterday, their jovial arpeggiated tune heralding the coming of red and black flags. I was only half a block away and there was a dozens of cops in the way, yet we could see the flags wave while people clad in black ran through the intersection, then quickly away. As they left smoke began to rise.

We had just witnessed the lighting of the cop car in the middle of King and Bay. A handful of cameras were on the scene, but not too many. Police moved in and yelled at us to get back. We complied.

Standing half a block we waited, while our cameras and video recorders did their job. Would the protesters be hemmed in by the cops? The cavalry came in, dwarfing the yellow-jacket cops on bikes. We saw riot police put on their masks and march to the scene, flicking out their batons. As we took pictures one of the more conversationally-inclined cop asked us "So we're the bad guys, eh?" My friend responded that he didn't think so, and that there's no reason for setting a car on fire. I didn't think so either - up to now all the action taken by the police was marked by personal restraint - God knows I would've wanted to smash some guy's face in if he was yelling at me for hours.

I was both disheartened and excited - the protests would not be remembered for violence, not the peaceful chanting I saw yesterday and earlier today. No would remember that earlier this morning, Greenpeace, Oxfam, and Amnesty International demanded a better world. Yet seeing the beginnings of "who knows what" was admittedly thrilling. And besides, I'd never seen a burning car before.

From all the way back there was some confusion. Was it one car on fire or two? Where were the anarchists? Did they move south? Were they diverted? We wondered aloud to each other if they had reached the fence.

The car was set on fire a little before 1PM, and it took nearly 20 minutes to put it out. By this the things had moved elsewhere. We down to Wellington to see if the fence had been reached, or even breached. No sign of anyone here. Police on horseback came marching through, followed by a truck carrying water bottles and hay. Horses relived themselves. We couldn't help but laugh.

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