Tag Archives: #BlackLivesMatter

Defining victory in activism, from #BLMTOtentcity to the Site C hunger strike

Image description: A split shot. On the left is hunger striker Kristen Henry at the protest encampment outside of B.C. Hydro; behind her are several tarps, tents, and signs. On the right is the Black Lives Matter Toronto "tent" city outside of TPS headquarters; a large crowd is gathered on the sidewalk, with several colourful tarps in the foreground, apparently covering piles of supplies. (Image credits: Facebook/Youtube)

Image description: A split shot. On the left is hunger striker Kristen Henry at the protest encampment outside of B.C. Hydro; behind her are several tarps, tents, and signs. On the right is the Black Lives Matter Toronto “tent” city outside of TPS headquarters; a large crowd is gathered on the sidewalk, with several colourful tarps in the foreground, apparently covering piles of supplies. (Image credits: Facebook/Flipboard)

Often, activists are met with derisive questions from opponents as to what, exactly, they think they’re trying to accomplish by (blocking off traffic/marching and chanting/occupying space/working to rule/etc). The implication often seems to be that important decisions about the division of power and resources aren’t made in the streets, but in the halls of power, and that by taking up public space and making a ruckus, advocates are misdirecting their energy and doing nothing to forward their causes. (Often, of course, these criticisms are coupled with disdain for those very causes.)

In recent years, we’ve heard these criticisms mounted, with varying degrees of self-righteous intensity, against the massive anti-capitalist demonstrations at the Toronto G-20 in 2010, against the Occupy movement and its encampments in 2011, against the Québec student strike in 2012, against Idle No More’s road and rail barricades in 2013, and against anti-pipeline demonstrations for quite some time. We’re once again hearing this rhetoric deployed against the two most high-profile protest encampments since Occupy, the Black Lives Matter Toronto tent city (#BLMTOtentcity) at Toronto Police Services’ headquarters and the protest camp/hunger strike against Site C taking place on B.C. Hydro’s doorstep in Vancouver.

To listen to the contemporary critics of each of these movements, all were wastes of time, orchestrated by “professional activists” and attended by the ignorant unemployed, employing needlessly confrontational and counter-productive tactics which would ultimately prove self-defeating.

But the simple truth is that each of these movements did have accomplishments. Some were more successful than others, to be sure, but each of them was able to boast some major achievements.

That being said, not all are remembered as successes. Continue Reading

Hallowe’en special: there’s nothing scarier than the police

This week I couldn’t seem to go a day without hearing a horror story about police brutality, hubris, abuse of power, intimidation, or sexual violence.

The most pervasive one was, of course, the now-notorious incident in South Carolina, in which a white police officer seizes a seated young black girl from her desk and hurls her across a classroom, because she (apparently) didn’t immediately comply with his order to leave the room. The girl, reportedly grieving the recent death of her mother, was then charged with “disrupting a classroom”; the classmate who filmed the video has, absurdly, also been charged with disrupting a classroom.

This whole violent attack was disgusting, pure and simple. (I say this based purely on the descriptions I’ve read of the assault, because I myself haven’t watched the footage, nor do I intend to. I likewise didn’t watch Eric Garner’s slow suffocation on a New York City sidewalk, or look at the photos of Mike Brown’s body left lying in the hot Ferguson streets for hours after his extrajudicial execution. I read about these things, and that’s disturbing enough for me.)

Speaking out against such abuse can be costly, though, as superstar film director Quentin Tarantino found out this week. At a New York City rally against police brutality organized by a group called Rise Up October, Tarantino said:

“This is not being dealt with in any way at all. That’s why we are out here. If it was being dealt with, then these murdering cops would be in jail or at least be facing charges. When I see murders, I do not stand by. I have to call a murder a murder, and I have to call the murderers the murderers.”

The backlash against Tarantino from police apologists was immediate and intense. The national police union, echoing calls from the NYPD, LAPD, and departments in Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, and New Jersey, has called for a boycott of Tarantino and his forthcoming film. Media coverage has largely fallen in line with the police angle, repeatedly falling back on the supposed insensitivity of the timing of the protest, which took place within a week of the on-duty death of an NYPD officer. In an attempt to make the protest appear out-of-bounds radical, the ostensibly left-leaning Guardian quotes the rally’s organizers as saying that police brutality amounts to a “genocidal assault on black and Latino people in this country”.

Lost amidst all this furor is the reality of the situation, which is that police Tarantino’s words are completely accurate: officers in the United States routinely get away with murder, and nothing is being done to deal with this dire crisis. Continue Reading

Back-seat activism and #BlackLivesMatter – from Ferguson to Seattle, dealing with persistent criticism of the movement’s tactics

We’re now living in the high age of Internet slacktivism, an era when, in many minds, sharing articles on social media and “raising awareness” are activities of paramount importance in terms of making the world a better place.

Let me be clear – I’m guilty of this myself. Probably more than most people I know. I’m so immersed in reading about politics and activism that it’s easy to do. Hell, I’m so immersed in that world that since the election started, I’ve even started talking more like Stephen Harper. And let me be clear – I’m not happy about it.

Slacktivists get a lot of hate, much of it undeserved. A lot of it comes from folks who aren’t exactly busting their asses organizing for any kind of cause, and in my mind, this is far worse than only making awareness-raising and conversation-starting efforts among your network of friends and family.

I call this back-seat activism. These are the folks who are only too happy to tell you that you should’ve taken a left after that last election, or that your blocking of traffic is only damaging your cause. The folks who will gleefully say that while they support your goals, they just can’t get behind your methods – and then expect you to do something about it to win them over, while they go back to talking about sports.

For these folks, so-called slacktivists like me who read and share and write about things that I think are wrong with the world are unmotivated and lazy; if what we’re ranting about online is so important, then why don’t we get off our asses and get out there and do something about it?

But these are the same folks who stand ready to tell a movement that it’s gone too far, or in the wrong direction, at the drop of a hat. Continue Reading

CityNews stoops to victim-blaming in coverage of Toronto #BlackLivesMatter protest

Yesterday afternoon and evening, a few hundred protesters organized under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter stopped traffic on an on-ramp to the Allen Expressway at Eglinton Avenue.

The protest started just metres away from the spot where Andrew Loku, a local man originally from South Sudan, was gunned down by Toronto police just a few weeks ago, shot within a minute of police arriving on the scene at his home. Ever since Loku’s death, activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have been ramping up the pressure on both the police and the city government.

On Thursday, the activist group Black Lives Matter-Toronto occupied a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board. They demanded the mayor and the police chief apologize for Loku’s shooting. “Every single day, black bodies in this city face violence,” said the group’s co-founder, Rodney Diverlus. “Whether it’s carding, whether it’s surveillance, whether it’s physical violence, and whether it’s death. This is life and death for us.” […]

The female officer was the first up the stairs, a thin double set that goes out and back with a landing in the middle. The male wasn’t far behind. “I went in and stood at the door because I heard a commotion,” said [Leslie] Colvin[, a building resident]. “And I heard ‘Drop the hammer! Drop the hammer! Drop the hammer!’ three times. And then ‘Bap! Bap! Bap!’ — two or three shots.”

[Susan] Schofield[, another resident,] was also standing in the stairwell. “I heard them yell at Andrew to drop the hammer,” she said. “Andrew didn’t have a chance to do anything. It was that quick.”

Loku was allegedly threatening his upstairs neighbours with a hammer. In the aftermath of his death, there’s been a lot of speculation about his mental health and emotional stability, none of which is in any way relevant.

A case in point is CityNews’s coverage of last night’s road blockade: Continue Reading

Sandra Bland’s death painfully demonstrates why we can’t address police brutality with more cameras

[Content warning: police brutality, suicide/murder, racism]

The tragic and unnecessary death of Sandra Bland in police custody in Waller County, Texas, last week has sparked a firestorm of debate in the United States and internationally. Every aspect of this case is horrific, from the belligerence and brutality of the cop who stopped and arrested Bland for an apparent “failure to signal” right up to the suspicious circumstances in which Bland was found dead in her jail cell, hanging from the ceiling with a garbage bag tied around her throat.

Defenders of the police (yes, they’re still going) argue that the arresting officer acted well within his rights, and contend that Bland’s death is what it seemed to be – a suicide. (They also, disgustingly and in typical fashion, attempt to smear Bland’s character and imply that she in some way had this coming.)

To activists from the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and to lots of everyday folks, however, that story smells pretty strongly of bullshit. And indeed, legal experts

One striking aspect of this “debate”, which is frustrating for anybody who’s been opposed to the increased presence of cameras in the public sphere, is how strongly people on all sides lean on the evidence of video surveillance. Continue Reading

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