Certainly everyone agrees we can not have a society without order and the enforcement of order. Therefore, we need a distinction between legitimate violence and illegitimate violence – legitimate violence is sanctioned by the body politic to ensure the maintenance of order, and illegitimate violence is any violence not falling under that sanction.
No one disagrees with this, as far as I can find. All anarchists I’ve met or read about acknowledge the need for something like “police” (although they won’t use that term). And yet, people at demonstrations often chant “fuck the police” – how can that be if they acknowledge the necessity of their role?
The key distinction is the notion of legitimacy and sanction. No one thinks the Nazi brownshirts were a legitimate police force. I doubt many people would think that the French police under the Vichy Regime were a legitimate police force. Neither would many accord any legitimacy to the French police who guarded the Drancy concentration camp, near Paris, until 1943.
It’s easy to make references to how illegitimate the Nazi regime was. What’s more difficult is to objectively examine our own regime and determine the legitimacy of our own police forces. What would make them legitimate? If we think States are potentially legitimate (the Nazi state being an exception), the legitimacy of the police relies on both the legitimacy of the State, its ideals, and whether the police are in accordance with those ideals which legitimate the state. In Canada, those ideals are Democracy, the Rule of Law, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Good Governance, among others. I think most people would agree the extent to which these ideals are compromised, or endorsed hypocritically by the Canadian state, that “Canada” as such would be of compromised legitimacy. There are also the separate questions of whether those ideals do potentially legitimate a state, and whether a state can be legitimate at all – but these question will be addressed in a second post.
Did the police act in accordance with the ideals that serve to legitimate Canada? The role of the police is not to play a political role of favoring one part or another, or one policy or another, but only to protect the population against (unsanctioned) violence. So, of course, it is the role of the police to prevent property destruction, assault, etc… I don’t buy the argument that property destruction is not a form of violence – it looks like violence, sounds like violence, and someone has to pay for the broken property, which means they have to work, and forced labour is a form of violence (i.e. theft). However, the open question is whether the police, during the G20, acted in order to protect property, or in order to play particular political role?
If the police were concerned with the protection of property, one would expect them to have followed the Black Block on their predictable route from Queen and Spadina back into the City. They could have protected businesses, the wrecked police cars (some of which were not set on fire for hours after having been smashed), and they could have arrested mobs of people, only some of which were breaking things but all of which were dressed alike, on the charge of breach of the Queens peace.
However, as is becoming more and more clear, the police did not attempt to stop property destruction in downtown Toronto. Resources were not allotted to that area, despite the fact the Block’s movements were predictable and they had the best information systems in the world to relay up to the minute information from CCTV cameras and helicopters. Instead, the police waited until the Black Block had a chance to disperse in the peaceful demonstration at Queens Park. The Queens Park “Free Speech Zone” was closed after being surrounded with thousands and thousands of police. There are many reports of police beating without provocation peaceful demonstrators during this action, including two older Iranian women who were later interviewed by my housemate (video to follow).
The question is then – what was the motivation for using police violence against the peaceful demonstration at Queens Park? It’s important to understand that Queens Park was the terminus for the peaceful demonstration, which went North from Queen and Spadina when the Black Block ran East. The peaceful march contained, for instance, many union demonstrators who had come in on buses to protest the anti-union policies of many G20 nations. It also contained a few hundred middle class Vietnamese speaking out against their homeland’s communist government. Why were these demonstrators targeted?
We can’t know, without investigation, the motivation behind police orders. However, we can know Qui Bono (“who benefits”). I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that peaceful demonstrators will be made feel less safe to come out to mass demonstrations after the Toronto G20 convergence because they will fear, and understandably so, that they will be the victims of police violence.
What would it mean for the Police to be a terrorist organization? It would mean simply for the police to use terror in order to advance a particular political agenda. The police themselves had a pretty strong political agenda to push – the legitimization of the largest security expenditures ever in Canadian history – over a billion dollars on 3 days of security. To put that in perspective, it would cost 10 billion to electrify all Canadian mainline railways (and electrification would produce a lot more jobs – in fact the labour cost out of that 1 billion is likely less than 20%).
However, the more serious allegation of terrorism comes from the possibility that orders came from on high – that the police were potentially specifically directed by the government to terrorize dissidents. While we have no evidence of orders, we have lots of evidence of police activity which is in accordance with this thesis. For instance, the arrest and charge of many TCMN organizers on “conspiracy” charges is a direct affront to the right of the people to organize in peaceful groups to push for political change. The arrest of these organizers will make other people think seriously before they get involved in organizing. We also know that the police have admitted to a McGill law student that they have been targeting people from Quebec.
The use of police power to political ends, if those political ends are anything other than maintaining the values and ideals on which the state claims legitimacy, is terrorism. The other interpretation of excessive police power is to claim that the police simply get drunk with power and exert more power for power’s sake. This is certainly possible, but the important motivation here is why is this allowed to continue, why is it allowed to get out of hand? Those in positions of power might claim ignorance of the police culture of illegality, but this is a weak defence. (In fact, there is already a principle in British Common law called “deliberate ignorance” or “willful blindness” by which you can be held accountable for “intentionally putting himself in a position where he will be unaware of facts which would render him liable”. Even willful blindness, if motivated by political ends, could itself be a terrorist act, i.e. I know a third party might be terrorizing my political enemies but I intentionally place myself in a situation such that I do not become aware of any relevant facts, the concealing of which would make me liable.)
There is a larger question lurking here – whether the State can exist without hypocrisy, whether the maintenance of the existing political order is possible without the enactment of what, on its own terms, is defined as terrorism. This question I will address in a follow-up post, which will concern directly the question of the possibility of a “Democratic” State’s legitimacy.