Friday, July 2, 2010

G8-G20 Protests - Saturday, Part 3

We walked up University Ave. towards to see what lay in store for us. Another line of cops? Most likely. We’d heard that things had gotten harrier down there, but given the well-maintained lines of riot police I’d seen earlier today, I didn’t expect anything too hairy. On our way North we saw a topless woman with a microphone, reporting in front of the barricade around the American consulate. The police didn’t seem to mind. Maybe a few of them were fans of the naked news themselves.

As we approached the corner of College and University the inevitable line of police came into view. All of 10 metres away stood our bikes, now unreachable. I went up to the friendliest cop I could find and asked him if we could get through to grab our ride home. He said “no” with a smile. I asked him when the cordoned-off area might become accessible. He laughed: “Come back in a couple of days.”

We went south and ducked west, hoping that maybe westerly police line blocking College St would be behind our bikes. My friend knocked my hat off my head in frustration. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” I explained. “The more I think about it, it’s actually a horrible idea! Why on Earth would we lock our bikes next to the designated protest zone?” He was right – looking back, it was a horrible idea. Though annoyed, I found everything more funny than tragic – after all, as long as our bikes were in one piece it wouldn’t be the end of the world; home is, after all, only 30 minute walk away.

Coming East on College St, up to the westerly line, we finally saw our bikes. Unfortunately we also saw a riot police less than 10 metres in front of them. We lamented the situation aloud. My friend made a video of the whole event. I briefly considered asking the riot cops, but as I’d learned earlier that day, given the right circumstances and the right officer, you might be able to hold a conversation with a regular cop, but never with 21st century legionnaire. Put a cop in riot gear and they seem to lose their humanity, their ability for independent thought. To call them “riot police” is something of a misnomer – they’re infantry, armed, armored, and distinctly disinclined to verbally engage The Enemy.

I’m not sure what the protesters who had gathered by the Western line wanted. Clearly something was happening in Queen’s Park – there was a bunch of police there and reinforcements, including cavalry, were trickling in. The protesters we saw were only a few dozen-strong. Mostly they just appeared to be telling the police that they should be ashamed of themselves, though for what, precisely, I’m not sure. Did they know something we didn’t? What had these guys done that was so bad, aside from block protesters from going to a particular part of town? I assumed they were supposed to feel a general guilt for being The Man, for working against The People. The crowd (or more specifically a small subset of the crowd) sang “What the world needs now is love, sweet, love. No, not just for some, but for everyone.” True that.

The riot police were relieved of their duties by some regularly-dressed cops. Did someone decide that this crowd wasn’t a security threat (which it obviously wasn’t)? As they marched north I surmised that they were probably needed elsewhere. Holding the Western line was probably a waste of armor.

With the situation improved, I decided to try my luck again. I told one of the cops where our bikes were and offered to give him the keys to unlock it. He said “give me a few minutes and we’ll see”. A minute later he took our keys and headed over to our bikes. One of the protesters, the most vocal one so far, screamed “Hands off our bikes!” We yelled back “No! They’re helping us get our bikes!” The protester was caught off guard “Oh… in that case can you get her’s?” she asked, pointing to her friend. It looked like the cop was going to say yes. Good man.

We thanked our one-man bike-retrieval-unit and rode home. Our G20 experience, at least the “run around and see what’s going on” portion of it, was over. We’d seen a lot of anger and volume, but few physical confrontations. We’d seen some wanton destruction, but not too much, all things considered. From our perspective the police seemed to be on their best behaviour – I can imagine how pissed off I’d be, standing around in riot gear, having people yell at me for no conceivable reason, rage at my sheer presence. I rode home feeling a sense of satisfaction – while freedom of movement was moderately disrupted, free speech remained intact. While I was angry with the Black Block for their indiscriminate vandalism and obvious provocation, I was pleased with the general all-around level of restraint – better to let a few windows get smashed than beat up a crowd.

It was Saturday, 6PM. Over the coming days my pride in the police would all but disappear.