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I have been doing some thinking since the action that occurred on February 13th. I was at that event and participated in the black bloc. While participating in that event, I was struck multiple times by police officers (when the riot police moved in and tried to cut the bloc in half) and I was later tackled to the ground, arrested, and detained.
Furthermore, I am no stranger to police violence. Having both been street-involved as a teen and having worked with street-involved and marginalized people for the duration of my adult life, I have witnessed what can only be described as the systemic corruption and violence that is integral to the police system. I have known underage female sex workers who were raped by police officers; I have known young men who were hog-tied, pepper-sprayed, and tossed in the trunk of patrol cars; I have witnessed the bruises and missing teeth, along with the physical, emotional, and psychological scars that have marked the bodies and minds of those who are easy targets for police officers. Of course, the multitude of marks I have witnessed tend to be considered too inconsequential to make the news, but one can also recall more public events like when police officers murdered Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport in October 2007.
Now, one might be inclined to think that all of these acts of violence are performed by a few 'bad' people who abuse their power, and are not representative of the police force as a whole. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Again, pointing to the Robert Dziekanski murder, one can see how officers were coached to lie on the stand, how they attempted to withhold evidence, and so on. Or one can simply look at the (false) statements made by the Vancouver chief of police after the action that occurred on February 13th. The truth is that something is wrong on a much deeper level, and more detailed studies exist that confirm this (one thinks, for example, of the books Our Enemies in Blue by Kristian Williams and The Story of Jane Doe: a book about rape by Jane Doe; both do a fine job of demonstrating that police corruption is a systemic issue).
With these things in mind, it is no wonder that at the action on February 13th, people were chanting: “No justice! No peace! Fuck the police!” It is also no wonder that the police were able to so easily incite some of the protesters. I witnessed more than one person who was tripped or struck from behind by an officer, who then responded by lashing out – either verbally or physically – at that officer. This is all quite understandable, and it might even by commendable.
Yet, I believe that it would help our objectives if we were more deliberate about the ways in which we engaged with the police. While I make no claim that my objectives for pursuing social change are the same as those of others, I do have the impression that most of us would agree that we are striving for a world where abundant life is available to all people and not just to some. It seems to me that most of us are striving for a world where all people have equal access to resources, to labour, to leisure, to freedom, and to justice. We are striving for a world where the glorious humanity of all people is recognized – where nobody is dehumanized and abandoned into the hands of poverty, illness, isolation, and death. I reckon that these are some of the key things that led people of diverse faiths, ethnicities, languages, and sexual orientations to put on black clothing and stand in solidarity with each other.
However, if this does describe something of our common goals, then we must remember that, within the context of oppression both the oppressed and the oppressor end up being dehumanized. Oppressed people are dehumanized because they are not provided the opportunity to flourish and share in abundant life. However, those who engage in oppressive acts are also dehumanized because abusive and violent actions are not reflective of those who are living out their full human potential. Therefore, we must always remember that, in the pursuit of liberation, we must be committed to the liberation of all people. Thus, without ever losing sight of the priority that must be granted to the oppressed, we should also seek the liberation of the oppressors.
Consequently, I have no problem chanting, “Fuck the Police!” but I always remember that ‘the police’ is not a person – it is a system and a culture that is given over to violence, exploitation and death. As such, it is a system that must be abolished if we are to live an abundant life together. However, the destruction of ‘the police’ does not require the destruction of individual police officers. Rather, each police officer is also a human person who has been made into something less than he or she could be due to his or her participation within (and enslavement to) this death-dealing system.
Therefore, although I chant “Fuck the Police!” I also try to treat each officer I encounter as a brother or sister in need of liberation and life – just like the rest of us. This is why I did not strike back, when I was struck by police officers on the 13th. In my work, I have been struck more than once by a person who was strung-out on drugs or whose actions were the result of a chemical imbalance. I would never consider striking back in that situation – striking an addict or a person with a mental illness is not the way to bring about freedom from addiction or mental illness. Similarly, when struck by the police – who are not in bondage to addiction or mental illness (at least not always…), but who are in bondage to the death-dealing ways of Police culture – I do not strike back. The answer, to all these situations, is not blows but a willingness to love and do the hard work required to bring about liberation and life for all, not just for some (even if that means I will continue to get struck along the way). Perhaps if we kept this in mind, instead of allowing ourselves to be provoked, we might yet see the day when officers drop their truncheons and join us on our side of the barricades. On that day, our dreams might begin to be realized.