What Really Happened at Toronto City Hall Yesterday
What Really Happened Yesterday at City Hall
Yesterday, at Toronto’s Nathan Phillip Square in front of City Hall, police and protesters collided and inside of chambers security and “Stop the Cuts” members collided.
Sometime after a five minute recess that lasted ten minutes, phones began going off in the chambers and we the spectators of the circus known as council, were made aware that outside four people had been pepper sprayed and several were punched in the face by officers. Upon the news chambers began to empty as they began barricading City Hall’s main entrance.
I was sitting in council last night. Upon receiving several texts from outside telling me not to go outside, I stayed, worried. On my way into City Hall Chambers last night I passed several reporters, I even talked to one inside, so one would think all headlines this morning would read “Protesters Punched and Pepper Sprayed”….Nope. Everyone I’ve talked to who has read media coverage of what happened last night has no idea about the pepper spray, a few know about one or two people getting punched by officers, but what I have read of media coverage of the event there has been little coverage on the cops use of pepper spray.
The cops say that protesters were unlawful, and yes, shaking a barricade is very unlawful and understandably threatening to a group of police officers on the other side, but the reason they barricaded the doors does not make any sense.
The protesters shaking the barricades were trying to get inside the lobby, which has the capacity for at least 500 people if not 1000. There was far less then a hundred trying to get in and there were approximately 39 people inside that lobby. That is my estimate, from when I was in the lobby at 6PM before a friend and I were randomly invited by a security officer to go into the chambers and watch the “action” unfold in council chambers.
The spectator’s seats were all full so I leaned against a wall on the highest platform. When I came in, Councilor Doug Ford was in the middle of a speech in which there was at least one misquoted key financial figure. There were several outbursts from the audience, and Speaker Francis Nunziata became increasingly flustered over the course of the meeting.
At the five minute break, I went to go sit beside some friends of mine when a seat became vacant.
Watching the meeting from a different angle gave me a different perspective. I had not noticed that at every vote Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti would put his thumb up or down to signify to everyone else how he was privately voting. This struck me as strange, but what struck me as stranger, was that the Speaker or anyone else for that matter did not bother to stop him. Notably, Councillor Gloria Lindsey began imitating Giorgio Mammoliti, by thumbing up or down how she was going to vote.
There were two outbursts from stop the cuts members. The first one came from three women standing at the platform where I had stood earlier. After a vote they chanted “Stop the Cuts!” and were quickly met by police officers. The officers escorted them to the elevator, waited for the elevator, realized the elevator was not coming fast enough and escorted them down the stairs. The woman continued chanting down the hall until we could no longer hear them, at which point the elevator arrived.
The second outburst came from another “Stop the Cuts” member who shouted something along the lines of “Why don’t you look outside!” she was promptly escorted out as she pointed out the very important observation, the one that sparks the occupy movement “You were elected to represent us, why don’t you represent us”. Everyone clapped at her observation as her point is in fact a valid one.
With fifteen minutes left in the meeting the chambers weren’t even half as full as they were earlier. When the meeting ended, I went back outside to Nathan Phillips Square.
Inside, I had figured that all of the texts I had received were blowing everything out of proportion. I was met with the potent odour of pepper spray outside. A lot of my friends who I met up with had red eyes from the dispersal of pepper spray and one of my friends had a bruise from being punched by an officer.
I have a theory on why this story about pepper spray and police brutality is being downplayed or not covered at all. The media believes the public has grown tired of stories featuring protesters (especially from the occupy movement) being pepper sprayed.
When we are pepper sprayed, it just proves how valid our point is. It proves that democracy doesn’t meet the wishes of everyone and the opportunity to express that isn’t covered under free speech. It proves that our democratic society isn’t so democratic and that free speech comes at a price.
With the whole city watching the budget this closely, councilors have begun to stand up to Ford. Weather or not that effort is enough to keep him from crippling the city is a whole other animal.
Tensions will continue to mount today on day two “Occupy the Budget” at city hall.
But what do I know? My eyes still hurt from last night.
Remember the Rodney King Riots? No of course not, who remembers the 90’s. Lemme give you a bit of a refresher.
In 1991, after a high speed chase, a man by the name of Rodney King was apprehended and brutally beaten by officers (See picture http://cdn.gunaxin.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/rodney-king.jpg).
The police violence was excessive and unwarranted. A trial of the four officers in question was held. Jurors acquitted all four, despite clear video evidence of the officers criminal brutality towards Rodney King.
But the city of Los Angeles wasn’t havin’ it. The people of Los Angeles had been made restless by violent cops and a justice system that refused to punish them. Rodney King’s beating video was just the match the people needed to set the city on fire like it was covered in gasoline.
Upon the officers acquittal, on April 29th 1992, people took the the streets of LA to protest.
Everyone…Went…Crazy. The riot lasted for six days, injuring thousands, causing 1 billion dollars in damage and killing 53 people.
Fast forward to present day 2011.
In July, the fatal police beating of a mentality ill homeless man named Kelly Thomas (See Story Here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2019225/Kelly-Thomas-Police-beat-taser-gentle-mentally-ill-homeless-man-death.html) fails to make headlines.
The death of 62 year old, Florida tourist, Nick Christie after being stripped naked and drowned in pepper spray (See Story Here: http://letterstomycountry.tumblr.com/post/14680216765/pepperspray-boarding) doesn’t even receive a glance from the public.
A brutal, but not deadly beating can cause such a deadly riot of such large magnitude in 1992. In 2011 if a cop tortures or beats someone to death, its no big deal. What changed?
Is our generation this apathetic? Despite all of this evidence, I really don’t think so. My generation has the Occupier and those responsible for the Arab Spring. We can’t let ourselves be bullied by cops and stepped on by the powerful, we must think for ourselves and redesign the system. We shouldn’t ask for justice we must demand it.
If we work at it together we can have a society free of police brutality. If we sit back in silent fear and let people get beaten down then forget them like they never existed; there will be no one to come for us when we get beaten.