Submitted to North Shore from The Tower
The independent report into policing around the Pride Hamilton 2019 festival was released Monday. Entitled “Pride in Hamilton” and carried out by lawyer Scott Bergman, it comes almost a year after the far-right attack on Pride and in the middle of a wave of demonstrations against police across the continent. It’s common following situations of particularly awful police behaviour for there to be a push for an independent review, and this report is a great example of why any hopes placed in them are so often in vain. Its primary goal is to have the Hamilton police get better at community policing, meaning controlling from within, and counterinsurgency, meaning pacifying social movements. They don’t come right out and say this though, so our hope here is to tease out those threads.
Many critical voices have already pointed out that the city paid $600 000 to have a lawyer tell them the things that “the community” had been saying all year, but it’s actually worse than that. Like calls to get killer cops criminally charged, this report wants to reduce the problem with police to very specific failings by individuals, which takes the pressure off the system as a whole. But meanwhile, south of the border, the usual smokescreen of investigations and criminal charges has failed to demobilize the struggle against police and their world. Let’s follow their example and not let any number of procedural recommendations make us forget a basic fact: all cops are bastards not because they each do shitty things, but because they’re cops.
(Didn’t pay attention to the report yet? Can’t blame you. The CBC made a summary here: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/pride-1.5602856
The Tower collective was contacted by the investigators and refused to comment, as did all the other anarchists and radical queers we spoke with. The Pride Defenders Solidarity campaign called for people to not cooperate with the investigation, because no dialogue with power should happen while three people are still facing charges for chasing the haters out of Pride. Among their 38 recommendations, the lawyers did not call on HPS to recommend to the crown attorney’s office that these charges be dropped. Although the report praises Pride Defenders (though if only the banner had been rainbow instead of “sombre, negative” black), they seem content to leave those three to deal with the day’s legal fallout.
Despite our refusal to participate, The Tower is mentioned repeatedly throughout the report, seemingly as a stand-in for all anarchists. As well, one of our collective members, also despite her refusal to participate, is one of very few named individuals in the report.
The report repeatedly points out what we already knew, which is that HPS super hates anarchists. That’s fine, we hate the cops too. The investigators seem to agree with police that “anarchists” are the bad guys, – throughout, the lawyers’ defense of the Pride Defenders is based on distancing them from The Tower/all anarchists. They criticize the police not for their paranoid hatred of anarchists, but for conflating the whole left with those anarchist ‘bad guys’.
First points of clarification then. Yes, we’re anarchists, The Tower is an anarchist collective, and as anarchists we are anti-capitalist and anti-police. However, The Tower collective is seven people, and what we do is maintain a free meeting and event space in the east end, that also hosts a lending library, a print shop, and a distro of revolutionary texts. The Tower is just a building, and there are way more than seven anarchists in the city.
We point this out not to distance ourselves from action, since all of us as individuals participate in a wide range of activities. At one point, for instance, a previous iteration of the collective all got charged for contributing to a combative demo in the Locke St area against gentrification profiteers. We stand by those kinds of actions as much as we stand by establishing mutual aid networks, running free stores, cooking community meals, and printing books. Anarchism always moves in two directions, creating and destroying, and that’s a good thing.
Why bring up the Locke St affair? It’s tied to why HPS conflating the whole left with The “Tower anarchists” is a problem. The police attempted to justify their crackdown on Pride Defenders by linking them to Locke St, and the investigators push back on that, stating “Pride had nothing to do with Locke St”, again as if that would affect the legitimacy of pushing fascists out of Pride. However, the post-Pride repression, which the report concludes was more harmful to trust in police than what happened in the park, had everything to do with Locke St, since three out of four of those arrested were charged with breaching their parole or probation.
Cops lie, and this report makes that clear. They lied about what the Pride committee asked of them, they lied about why they arrested Cedar, and they lied about why they couldn’t arrest helmet guy. That last lie is especially singled out in the report, since its not true that police can’t charge someone with assault without a cooperating victim. The cops were trying to induce queers and radicals to work with them, force us to come back towards them again. We can’t take their word about who is trustworthy or whose actions are positive.
Trying to separate the ‘good’ protestors from the ‘bad’ ones is a classic way police try to break whole movements, encouraging people to self-police to the point where cops consider them non-threatening, while isolating those who can’t or won’t self-police in order to target them with heightened repression. However, HPS perceives anarchists as having ‘infiltrated’ all social movements and are ‘hijacking their relationships’ with various groups (as if the police need any help having a bad relationship with marginalized people). This is a problem in itself: anarchism is a specific politic with its own history and priorities, as well as a particularly hostile attitude towards those in power. Attributing that hostility and anarchism’s legacy of struggle to people who don’t claim it for themselves is a way of saying that their voices are extreme and don’t deserve to be listened to by those with authority. Most anarchists aren’t trying to be heard by those in power, we are trying to take their power away; that is not true for many of the people the HPS would like to lump in with us. It’s also a problem because it means those HPS considers anarchists get put in the “bad” category and are exposed to worse treatment.
The report explictly explains that police feel white supremacist demonstrators and other far-right activists are more reasonable and easier to work with than the counter protestors, because they perceived all the counter-protestors as Tower anarchists. This false conflation leads to intensely biased policing against anti-fascists: we read in the report about abusive arrests last summer, but we could also tie in the absurdly inflated charges laid against those who demonstrated against Maxime Bernier in the fall. We’ve heard stories of racialized youth trying to raise concerns in their schools being dismissed as “black anarchists”, a Hamilton spin on the sadly common process of delegitimating and excluding black voices that challenge the status quo. We could also point to HPS going above and beyond any other jurisdiction in laying heavy charges on people who participated in Wet’suwet’en solidarity actions in the city this winter, continuing to investigate and charge months later for acts of civil disobedience.
The Hamilton police have their anarchist bogeyman, and they can use it to justify more intense surveillance and repression of the left as a whole than is seen elsewhere in Canada. The report makes clear that they have taken this hostility so far that they played a key role in Hamilton becoming a safe-space for fascists to organize and recruit – historical fascist movements have often blossomed as partners to liberal states in their shared goal of repressing the left.
The report tries to paint itself as anti-fascist, praising itself for not talking to any white supremacists or hate preachers, and it even identifies that (people perceive) HPS’ actions as contributing to the far-right movement. However, it conceals its basic premise: that HPS needs to police better in order to effectively control queer and other marginalized communities.
A majority of the recommendations deal with how to better do community policing – more diverse cops seeking to be part of different communities, validating past injustices as identified by community leaders and acting in the present in response to needs they identify… This is the inducement to be “good”. The report is clear throughout that militants and intransigents, especially within marginalized communities, are seen as obstacles to be overcome in getting the relationships police desire – they are the “bad” that is to be isolated in order to be crushed, whether you call them anarchists or any other word. HPS had in fact been failing at community policing and repression by lumping in with the “bad” elements that could have been made part of the “good” and so vilifying the wrong people. “Not all the Pride defenders were anarchists […] some confronted the agitators with colourful signs containing messages of love and acceptance”.
This is why we oppose initiatives to improve the police. There are opposing camps among the powerful about how their laws should be enforced – some favour naked force and intimidation, some favour participation and persuasion. We should not take sides in this argument among elites. Both visions still involve you obeying their laws, still preserve property relations and its inequalities, still produce exploiters and exploited along many axes, including race and sexuality.
There’s so much more that’s annoying about this report we could talk about (like the list of legal tools that could have been used to crack down on haters but will certainly just get used against the left). But we’d like to close by expressing our solidarity with the brave rebels in Minneapolis, especially those who may face repression for moments of struggle that have inspired so many people. People there have kept up a creative, combative presence in the street for so many days, even as progressive politicians make vague noises about replacing the police. Let’s not look to politicians or to the cops themselves to imagine different forms of social relations for us.
-Some anarchists involved with The Tower
Originally posted on The Tower’s Facebook. Click FB links at your own risk.