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DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE - A lively community rally occupied the intersection of Main and Hastings earlier this evening, as part of the International Day Against Police Brutality. Close to a hundred people gathered in a circle in the busy intersection to listen to community organizers and residents speak out about police abuse and issues facing the Downtown Eastside.
The action was organized by the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC), the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), and the recently formed Vancouver Cop Watch (VCW). The new group of volunteers dedicated to street patrols and police surveillance dedicated the rally to Coast Salish First Nations people, among those most affected by police brutality.
"Policing is just another form of colonization in Canada," explained VCW co-founder Jennifer Allan, highlighting the colonial history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and ongoing examples. "Still RCMP are dragging their feet when it comes to missing and murdered Aboriginal women."
"This has been going on a long time," said Richard, one of many Downtown Eastside community members to speak of police violence against local residents. Those gathered in the intersection of Main and Hastings heard stories from local residents about having bones broken, being thrown into a cell with no clothes, and other abuses by police.
"Many people here have mental problems," addicition and/or other issues, added another rally participant. "These people are being criminalized, are being driven into jails, because the province has cut back funding [for treatment]."
"There's been people killed in these alleys by police officers," he continued. Shortly thereafter, others used chalk to write the names of people killed by Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and RCMP officers onto the pavement in the middle of the intersection.
"Every day I see people being harassed for no reason," VANDU president Hugh Lampkin told those gathered. "We're not just throw-away people down here."
"We have to stand up," said Lampkin, referring to the well-known statement by Martin Niemöller decrying inactivity in the face of Nazi atrocities against targeted groups. "Don't wait until it's too late and they come for you and there's nobody left."
"The more eyes on the street we have, the safer we'll be," added local organizer Ann Livingston, encouraging anyone interested in becoming involved with Vancouver Cop Watch to do so, even simply by learning to take and post photographs from a cell phone. VCW currently has an online presence with facebook and twitter accounts, although the group is mainly active in the streets.
Throughout the rally, VPD officers filmed and took photographs of those gathered, including Donovan, who then directed participants' gaze upwards: "Fifteen minutes ago, ontop of the Empress hotel building, there was a camera crew filming us. They are from the Beat TV show."
Demonstrators expressed their disgust at The Beat, a self-proclaimed "reality" documentary series focused on VPD Beat Enforcement Officers in the Downtown Eastside. The show is currently taping its second season.
The filming of people attending the rally didn't end with the action. After participants had dispersed and traffic flowed once again through the intersection, VPD agents were stationed with a video camera at a bus stop directly across East Hastings street from VANDU, and half a dozen agents on bicycles were just around the corner.
"It's time for us to start surveilling [the police]," said DNC activist Tami Starlight. "Enough is enough. Pay attention and take care of each other!"