It looked like a war zone. Police dressed up like Star Wars soldiers raised clubs and chased protesters down Spring Garden Road. In front of the Discovery Centre, police waded into a crowd and appeared to pick anyone younger than 30, or anyone wearing an earring or shabby clothes, forcing them to sit on the sidewalk. A sour smell hung in the air.
Many observers yesterday were appalled by both the stupid actions of some protesters, and the authoritative reaction by police. If a few hundred people are protesting and 20 start throwing fruit and acting in a threatening way, is it really necessary for hundreds of police to react as if the whole crowd is about to rise up in revolution?
Itís easy to see the police position. If I were a cop looking at a crowd, and some of the crowd began to threaten me, I might regard the whole crowd as dangerous, too. But it wasnít so: the great majority of protesters were angry that some had become violent. Like the police, they thought the rotten apples were jerks.
What a difference seven years makes. When Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, John Major and other G-7 leaders were here, the city positively pulsed with energy and excitement and a profound sense of importance. Thousands upon thousands of people crammed the downtown, enjoying a carnival-like atmosphere.
Since then, weíve had Seattle and Quebec City, with terrible police-protester violence. Weíve had Sept. 11, which has exacerbated security concerns.
Most Haligonians decided to stay away from the G-7 finance ministers; thousands of people who usually go downtown didnít bother. Finance ministers donít have celebrity cachet, true. But we are also less innocent now, so less likely to view a political visit as an occasion to party. Apathy came into play, too: the attitude that we canít do anything to influence our leaders, so why bother?
Staying away proved to be a smart call, unless you like to see police scared and angry, and innocent citizens terrified and bewildered.
What happened in our downtown yesterday was brutal and ugly and very, very scary. We need to talk about this, and the part that everyone played. The nature of an anti-globalization protest crowd needs to be considered. And what constitutes reasonable response by police.
FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. NoNonsense English offers this material non-commercially for research and educational purposes. I believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C ß 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner, i.e. the media service or newspaper which first published the article online and which is indicated at the top of the article unless otherwise specified.