Sunday, June 27, 2010

Riots on the Streets of Toronto

This was a good day to come to the library and figure out the internets again. There seems to be a lot going on back home in Toronto. People lighting cars on fire, and breaking windows, and doing all that jazz. Apparently people are riled up about it (claiming that all violent protest is wrong, and bad, and terrible) and here, half a world away, all I can think, is how disappointed I am that we've all become so bloody soft.

First off, Toronto is protesting about the G20 summit – kind of. It seems like they're more or less just angry thugs wanting to break things, like drunk college kids on a crazy bender in Europe. I do not support this protest, I don't even know it is a protest, as much as just senseless violence, without direction. But what I also don't support is all the people on facebook writing things about how terrible it is to destroy things, and how, “violent protest is just so stupid.”

Really people? Really – that's the stance we're going to take? Now – I am not for hurting people, or damaging personal property, but from what I've read – that's not what's happening here either. It's striking out against corporations, and governments. I am for the blockade running of the Gaza strip – which wasn't actually intended to be a violent protest, but at some point, when being friendly doesn't work things unfortunately change... You may have also read that I called for protest against the pay toilets when I first heard about them. (this may not have been a serious call, but the sentiment was there.) My only hope? They were destroyed in this rampage. At least then something good would have come from it.

Again, I want to stress, that I do not agree with what is happening in Toronto right now.

But – look at what has happened. Now, it's true, I'm not in Toronto, and all I have to go by is the Live Blogging of the Toronto star. ( but here's the thing. This violent protest? It's pretty tame. In all seriousness, more damage is done after a football game in more parts of the world. More damage was done during the Queen's homecoming when I was getting my Bachelor of Education in Kingston.

It's time to look at the facts – was anyone hurt? No. Were any private homes destroyed? No. What was smashed? A police car. Fine, very well. A police car set on fire. This is bad, but it's just a car. It's a thing. And I've seen cars on fire before (Queens University home coming.) Mind you, four is a lot. Although the question should be asked how the police have let four of their cruisers get destroyed – but never mind that. From what I've read – which I hope is accurate, as it was live blogged on the scene by one of the city's biggest papers – Starbucks, Swiss Chalet (a chicken restaurant), Tim Hortons, and Zanzibar (our local strip club featured in the latest Hulk movie) were damaged. No private individual's property. As far as riots go, this has been a little tame.

Just thinking back to Italy (, in January, will point out how a riot could be much much worse.

Now, again, I am completely against what is happening in Toronto right now (I feel the need to stress this point, in case it gets lost, as is so often the case when people have a strong emotional attachment to an issue). And I think we are, perhaps, better than this (though, clearly not) but what is happening – a violent protest – is not always a bag thing.

It's just not. Protests where private property and goods are destroyed are important for our world. And I think it's just so hard to keep that in mind when things are happening on our doorstep.

Rodney King. That name should mean something to people born during, or before, the early eighties. And for many born after, thanks to the music of Sublime, history classes, and the overall importance of it. The Rodney King Riot was a devastating week long riot that led to the deaths of dozens of people. But why did it happen? Because people were tired of the police treating black citizens as if they were lesser creatures – thinking they could do whatever they wanted. Now, obviously, there was more to it than this. And we need to ask ourselves, was the beating of Rodney King fully unjustified? (to the extent it went on, I'd say yes. But remember, he was claimed to be under drugs, and led police on a high speed car chase, and fought them when he was being apprehended. Still - the long tazing, and baton beating went far beyond acceptable use of force.) Was the attack of the white trucker, which was the first highly publicized incident in the riots, any less brutal? Obviously not. But it did turn the worlds eye, and made them think about the other issues which led to this - unemployment, the ghettoization of American cities, and - of course - racial issue? Yes. This was only in 1992.

People took to the streets in protest, and despite the damage and the terrible things that happened, the world took notice, and the government was forced to make a stand. The way police acted, and how they were dealt with changed. And while not everything is perfect now, steps towards a better future were undertaken during these riots. And yes, they were violent, and destructive, but they were important. Could these changes have occurred without violence? I'd like to think - yes, but if that were true, would this proverbial powder keg have exploded?

Violent protest is what led to America being America, rather that just another colony.

Even the Boston Tea Party was a protest where goods were stolen/destroyed – a violent protest, but it led to a tax reform that would change the lives of many for the better. When something is going on that you can't agree with, there are times when taking arms, and protesting as you can, is the way to make change.

The French resistance during World War II, they were terrorists violently protesting against their government (the Nazis) but I think we all value their efforts, and would not have wanted them to stop because they were hurting people or damaging property.

There is also the darker side of violent protests which Kristallnacht is a terrible terrible example of. This was November 10th, 1938. A night when Germans took to the street, killing, rounding up for camps, and destroying the property of many many Jewish citizens. The Night of Broken Glass is what it translates as. It was a terrible and dark time, protesting the assassination of a German diplomat.

Now it is this thug-like behaviour that seems to be taking over the streets of Toronto, though in a much more restrained way that is not leaving anyone hurt, or injured. Thankfully. But, can one really say that all protesting is wrong, and bad, because of some examples?

I don't think so. I think it's important we keep in mind all the historical cases where things would have worked out against our favour if protests did not occur. It's easy to cite Gandhi as proof that peaceful protest is possible, but even groups like Greenpeace strike out (who I would imagine far too many people who think violence is wrong, support.) They monkey wrench (destroy equipment), and they spike trees (basically put a metal spike into a tree, so when a logger tries to cut it down the chainsaw hits it, bounces back, and potentially kills the operator.) That's just a few of their tactics. These are tactics I disagree with, but as I see many people donating to them on the streets of Sydney, clearly some people agree.

If hungry strikes made a difference, if natives blocking roads could result in them getting their land back, that would be fantastic. It's just so easy to turn a blind eye to those cries. And nothing ever happens. Headlines change the world these days. While these are headlines I am not happy with seeing in our papers, today, I do not want to see a world where people are scared to strike out against a corrupt government, or too scared to fight back against oppression, racism, and injustice.

When people simply follow along, without standing up for themselves, and their beliefs, a better life is not often created. Unfortunately, negative things occur when thugs take to the street to create violence without thought of consequence as well.

So what's the answer? I, like many people, do not have one. However, I am willing to take a stand saying that all violent protest should not be painted with the same brush. I do not think we can say none of it should ever happen, period.

But these are big thoughts, that require far more consideration, and time to contemplate. As for right now:

I'm just glad no one has been hurt. And I hope it stays that way.

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