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Bear Spray Hits PiDGiN Picketers

by Joseph Jones

Treating Bear Spray with a Carton of Milk
This Window Couldn't See Even Before the Bear Spray
Getting Ready to Try to Help the Victim
Deciding to Stay at the Site
Almost a Normal Picket
Confab in Alley with Rover
Older Couple Stop to Talk to Police
Almost at the End of a Long Hour
What Have Those Surveillance Cameras Just Seen?

Halfway through the tenth week of PiDGiN picket at 350 Carrall Street, across from Pigeon Park in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the struggle for gentrification justice just jumped to a new quantum level.

At the start of the evening picket on Thursday April 11, one of a handful of right-on-time picketers took the brunt of a bear spray attack in the face and on the neck. At least two other persons suffered lesser direct effects to eyes and lungs, but were able to continue supporting the picket. The victim was treated on the sidewalk with a two-litre carton of milk. Afterward a fellow picketer accompanied his friend to the hospital.

The little that the injured person felt able to say included a remark to the effect that he might expect this kind of treatment from cops — but this didn't come from cops.

Picketer Homeless Dave, now on Day 21 of a picket-connected hunger strike over Downtown Eastside gentrification, states on Twitter that the bear-spray attacker also tore up flyers yesterday at Sequel 138, and has earlier kicked at signs at PiDGiN.

After a brief huddle, picketers agreed to keep going with the evening's picket, in the face of rumors that further bear spray attack might take place later on. Threats of possible bear spray attack have been circulating for some time. In this case there seems to be good reason to believe that the actual attacker was working at the direction of a second person, because communication was observed.

Shortly after the group arrived at a decision to continue picketing, two staff came out of PiDGiN. One of them called a small group off into the alley to the north to hold a conversation, while the other seemed only to observe and to rove. Maintaining a non-intrusive distance, this reporter attempted to find an angle for a good photograph of the alley confab.

The sequence is not certain, but it was probably shortly after this gathering disbanded, and the camera was put away, that a different PiDGiN staffer opened the front door to jeer at this reporter for possessing an iPad. In the taunter's opinion, there seems to be some deep inconsistency in carrying a picket sign and then stepping out to use a particular kind of camera to report on events. (A Twitter flurry around March 16 took earlier offense on this same point, with a stealth photo taken by @mrbarnabyjones documenting presence of the equipment.)

Before retreating into the restaurant and closing the door, the angry man hurled this threat at me: "I'll crack that thing over your head." In a separate conversation an hour later, Kim Hearty identified the person as a waiter named Adrian. Homeless Dave on Twitter has independently made the same identification.

For staff of PiDGiN to openly and explicitly threaten a peaceful picketer/reporter with simultaneous property damage and personal injury seems beyond insensitive — especially in the immediate wake of a serious bear spray attack on another picketer.

This is not the first or the lowest-level threat that has emanated from PiDGiN. Twitter documents Homeless Dave on February 16 reporting these words from Brandon Grossutti: "I know people who want to beat you up. I'm protecting you for now." His account was corroborated by this reporter on the following day, in a modified tweet agreeing that those words had been overheard.

Toward the end of the Thursday picket hour, an older couple emerged from PiDGiN and spoke briefly about having witnessed the attack on the way in. The man expressed disagreement with the picketing, but added that the physical attack breached a different and entirely unacceptable realm. The woman reported that the attacker had moved northward along the sidewalk, and wore a gray hoodie. As the couple then walked northward themselves, they paused further along to speak with police on the sidewalk, while a police cruiser sat at the curb.

Two police officers, apparently the same two who were on the scene right after the attack, returned as the picket was coming to its 7:00 pm end. This reporter asked the two officers (numbers on uniform: 2247 and 2707) about the unusual absence of police presence in the area for almost the entire hour. (The assessment of "unusual" was based on observations from thirteen previous pickets.) One of the officers indicated that concurrent incidents had required attention, and made specific mention of a stabbing. In later personal conversation, picketer Kim Hearty reported her impression of "constant police presence" at the picket on both of the preceding two days.

Two wall-mounted video cameras are attached to the corner of the building immediately north of the alley beside PiDGiN. It will be interesting to see if police have interest in the evidence that may be retrievable from that source.

Thus far, in routinely unbalanced mainstream media reporting, the PiDGiN picket has encountered far more attack and derision than sympathy and comprehension. A style of reporting that dehumanizes the picketers widens a path for vicious physical attack. In the same way, many ordinary residents of the Downtown Eastside are portrayed as little more than human effluvia who need to be swept away by tides of gentrification. Residents who are also picketers, like Homeless Dave and Fraser Stuart on Thursday evening, get it coming from both directions. Meanwhile, the structural violence of gentrification wraps itself in robes of clean-up, and hides behind a mask of revitalization.

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