Protesters and Hooligans: What Would You Do?

Riot Police

Over at Stageleft, there is an interesting thread going on about police and protester actions during the G20 summit. Candace enters the discussion as a sceptic, but as is common when Candace and Stageleft talk about things, the discussion remains respectful, and people learn things.

Candace admits, after seeing the video evidence we presented, that questions about actions of certain members of police forces must be answered. However, she initially suggests that the police may have overreacted because of the actions of black bloc hooligans destroying property on Yonge Street and, more importantly, the support for those actions other protesters showed by not doing anything to stop these hooligans. In her words:

“my sympathy for the hordes rounded up and made uncomfortable for a day, the day after violence occurred ‘in our streets’ at the hands of a few hundred idiots, with the tacit support of the thousands of people actually demonstrating to make a point (none of whom were prepared to denounce the black bloc and were willing to let them fade into the crowds of non-violent protesters), is pretty low overall.”


Though such a response is misguided, in my opinion, I can at least understand where it’s coming from, especially if one just goes by the basic summary of the events as reported in the media. For all our complaints about the actions of certain members of the police that weekend, the fact remains that significant property damage was done to Yonge Street at the hands of the black bloc hooligans attending some of these protests. As small as this group turns out to be (reports vary between 25 hardcore members or 100, within a crowd that numbered in the thousands). What were the so-called ‘peaceful protesters’ doing while the hooligans smashed and looted? By standing by and doing nothing, were they tacitly supporting the actions of the hooligans?

Well, just as it would be a mistake to criticize the police as a bloc for the actions of a handful, it would be a similar mistake to criticize the protesters as a bloc. You don’t know what each individual protester thinks, and has been said several times in several other cases, silence doesn’t equal consent.

Check out this video over on Dr. Dawg’s blog. In it, you see someone who may be a member of the black blog inside an empty police car, trashing the vehicle. Be sure to listen to the audio of this video, as it’s instructive. The protesters witnessing this incident are not supportive; they’re telling the man to stop, and one even says “this isn’t helping us!”

Then there is the case of the brave Roger Reis who, upon seeing a black hooded man step through the broken window of a Bell store, helping himself to a boxed phone, tackled the man to the ground, shouted “don’t steal”, wrestled the box from the guy’s fingers and tossed it back into the store. As the story continues, Roger Reis stayed with the crowd:

At College Park on the southwest corner, “people were throwing bottles and rocks….and a bunch of them were trying to rush the doors,” Reis says. He tried to help again, standing with the building’s security guards who were “trying to convince everybody to back up. Which is,” he laughs, “a completely ridiculous thing to do in hindsight, but at the time it seemed to make sense.” (A photographer for Getty caught him there, helping to hold back the crowd.)

Throughout the afternoon he spent with the crowd—of rioters, looters, bystanders, and media—Reis realized just how small the group of violent protesters was. He figures there were “only like a core group of ten or fifteen people that were actually vandalizing. The overwhelming vast majority of other people were just like us. They were just curious. It’s like, ‘Wow, how could this happen?’”


It’s important to note this: despite confronting a looter, Reis himself was never attacked by anyone in the crowd, not even the looter he tackled. From this I think you can say that Reis’s actions certainly weren’t opposed by the majority in the crowd. Indeed, using the previous logic that silence equals consent, you could argue that many protesters supported him.

So, you’re attending a protest, speaking out for something you believe strongly in, and you witness a bunch of idiots use the event as an excuse to break windows and score some free phones. What do you do? I personally believe that it is your right to speak out about what you believe in, and it would be a shame to have to silence yourself, just because a handful of people near you behave badly. Still, were I a protester and seeing this happen, that would be my first response: leave. Possibly, if I was feeling brave, I’d try to communicate to these idiots that their actions aren’t helping the cause, and indeed could be used as justification for the police to take extraordinary measures against us. But do I have an obligation to physically intervene and try to stop these guys? Given that I set out to attend a “peaceful protest”, should I really be counted upon to employ violence against these people?

Stageleft says it better than I could:

If innocent people were being attacked, robbed, or beaten, I’d be on side with (rushing a bunch of violent thugs and performing citizen arrests), otherwise no - that’s just a real good way for people untrained in submission techniques to get hurt.

I think it takes a special kind of bravery to step out of a crowd and confront idiots intent on doing violence. I am reminded of the protests in Quebec for the SPP talks, where masked individuals carrying stones and heading towards a police line with intent, were confronted by peaceful protesters and told to stop. It turned out that these particular hooded individuals were Surite de Quebec officers, possibly acting as agent provocateurs, but that’s beside’s the point. A handful of brave individuals still confronted them, and that significantly increased the respect I had for the protesters.

But it’s a bit much to expect protesters to police their own in this fashion. In any other situation, I’m sure the police themselves don’t like the idea of people taking police work into their own hands. They’re not trained for it, and the potential for injury increases through confrontation. Stageleft proposes another solution, however: take pictures. Lots of them. “There is lots of video, and there are lots of images, taken by legitimate protesters that has been given, or is available, to the police.” Such video evidence has proven invaluable to police forces in tracking down real criminals and prosecuting them to the full extent of the law, and plenty such video evidence exists of the G20 activities, thanks to peaceful protesters doing the legal thing in helping to maintain law and order.

We really should give the individuals peacefully attending their protest more credit for that.

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