Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jeff Carolin - Torontonamo: The Terror of Unaccountable Authority During the G20

[please forward to anyone you think would read this]

hi everybody, thanks to everyone who's been sending moral support. i still feel totally fucked up. i write this with the fear of coopting the voice of the 100s of other people who have been arrested but i just think right now that we need stories getting out there and this is my 3 hour attempt to share my own. i wont pretend that my writing is at peak form or that i have the patience to give this a proper edit. nor do i have the energy right now to describe my whole account but i just read through the info at the following link and it captures my personal experience. and has made me believe (unsuprisingly) that people who are more vulnerable in these situations - like folks who dont identify as male or heterosexual, folks with disAbilities, and people of colour - had it worse than me. so please read through this first: http://www.thelinknewspaper.ca/articles/2698.

before continuing on, i just want to clarify that this is not a message about the saturday black bloc action that took place for about 1.5 hours without a single one of the 10,000 cops anywhere near it. something that i personally think was a deliberate cop gambit to justify the crackdown that followed, which seemed to have been working out in the media in their favour until some time on sunday when the wild police repression and brutality that took place at queens park late saturday afternoon and later that day in front of the novotel started coming out. (not to mention last night at queen and spadina.) rather its about something thats completely not debatable: the crime of the prisoner processing centre at eastern and pape, torontonamo.

and although torontonamo is a separate point, there is a connection to the police crackdown and the mass arrests. that is, of the 25 other people i shared my overcrowded cage with, not a single one was in there for something legitimate. a lot had been at queens park or the novotel. two were punk kids who were beat up and arrested for wearing black and knew nothing about the g20. i was also with a fully uniformed ttc attendant who was jumped by riot cops leaving queens park subway station. he was kept in for 30 hours. we were also with a 17 year old kid (who had been at the novotel), who was only wearing a t-shirt and was shivering from the cold the whole time and who, of course, had not been allowed to call his parents. (we were all, in fact, effectively disappeared for the entirety of our detention as we were allowed no calls, and the cops werent giving any information about anyone to the outside world.) then there was the self-proclaimed apolitical freelance photographer who had been tackled by a plainclothes officer while running away from riot cops. the same plainclothes officer had just, moments earlier, been inciting the crowd to get closer and to throw stuff at the cops. he was passed to riot cops who stepped on his head and kicked him in the face. he was covered in blood in our cell and was passing in and out of consciousness. obviously there was no medical attention. i asked him, as we left together 20+ hours later, if he felt less apolitical now, at least with respect to the police as an institution and the state that is supposed to oversee it. you can imagine his response.

all that to say, when you hear torontonamo horror stories, as im sure they'll keep emerging, keep this collective punishment in mind. and maybe also keep in mind how this compares to other parts of the world where, albeit much further along the fascistic spectrum, occupying armies and repressive regimes carry out mass, indiscriminate arrests and sweeps, and keep people in conditions based on the same CIA low intensity psychological torture techniques for breaking people down (as described below and in the link above). and how everyone emerged from our cell - the political and the previously apolitical - completely enraged at the abuses of authority that we had been subject to. and about how much we wanted to strike back. and about how it only took 20 hours of collective punishment and psychological torture - and the imposition of complete powerlessness - to plant within us the desire to take part in militant resistance towards the state that allowed this to happen. again, im talking about the previously apolitcal as well.

and now a few points to personalize the link i sent above.

first, the circumstances of my arrest to provide some context. i wrote this bit when i got home, after having slept for about 30 minutes in the previous 43 hours:

"the most intense shit that i witnessed over the course of saturday was when i returned to the southern law of queens park just under the legislature around 530. a motley crew of random unaffiliated activist-ey folks, passersby and labour people were having a standoff with the riot cops. the riot cops had begun darting out in groups of four or five, grabbing someone doing something completely benign and then dragging them back behind their lines where they usually would beat them for awhile with their batons. Although a part of me wanted to take off my "legal" hat and join the locked arms at the front, it became clear that few people there knew of our group. So I went back and forth just behind the front line passing out "know your rights" literature, and shouting out the legal number that ppl could call if arrested, etc. At some point I took off my hat and was helping keep people calm just behind the front line, as each time the police rushed there was a chance of a stampede. Eventually we got pushed back and back until we were divided into two marches - on Harbord and Devonshire. Cops kept charging at us beating their shield trying to force us backwards. sometimes the horses would come ahead.

Eventually things dissipated and I returned home, only to leave again with some other people to head to the Jail Solidarity action at midnight outside the jail on eastern ave. i felt obligated to go having just witnessed so many illegal arrests and beatings. Arrived at an action already in progress. Peaceful. Was following cops orders that the protest stay on the sidewalk on the north side of the street. Pretty soon after we arrived, the riot cops showed up and completely surrounded us. there was some negotiation and the ultimate decision was that we would be given a way out to the west along eastern avenue. the people i was with had decided that we were going to leave, but that we would try to carry out our legal observing from outside the riot cop ring as the people who decided to stay back were arrested.

It seemed that too few were willing to stay, so after a brief delay (1-2 minutes?) the core organizers followed everyone out to the west and we ended up joining up with them as they passed through the ring of riot cops. We were now slightly behind the main group ahead that had left right away (half block?) and something like a block or a block and a half west of the original encirclement, a second line of riot police appeared in front of us and blocked our way, fully surrounding a group of about 20 of us. we were then arrested for breaching the peace. we were told that we had taken too long."

second, the overall architecture of this "temporary prisoner processing centre" was the most orwellian, fascistic, brutalizing, fucked up thing that i have ever seen. again, probably designed according to CIA sensory deprivation, psychological torture specs. (who the fuck allowed this to happen? this was the same place that the police said they were building in order to be able to process prisoners quickly and efficiently.) in any particular cage you rarely had a view of any other of the grey metal cages. just the spotlights and surveillance cameras and dark ceiling above, and the white or grey concrete floors. no clocks anywhere. nor were there any cameras on the hallways or places where the cops convened and brought prisoners through. and then there were the cops, guards and officers of all types walking by us. usually ignoring us, sometimes antagonizing us, and often just telling us total bullshit as i describe in two points below. when i close my eyes right now, i have an image of cold harsh lighting, stark white walls and floors, and streams of guards passing back and forth through the squares of the cage. closing my eyes makes me feel nauseous.

third, something that doesnt really come across through the list of things described in the link above was the group psychology in the cages and how we actually spent the time (at least in my cage). we spent the first few hours indignantly demanding our civil liberties (calls to counsel especially) and insulting the guards, calling them pigs, etc, when they refused. by the end i was grovelling and pleading on my knees with my bound hands in a supplicating position, begging for water, food, blankets and medical attention for those who needed it.

there was much in between these two extremes as well. the moment of collective laughter when we decided to conquer the toilet-paperless, doorless port-a-potty that faced the guards. after a few hours of ignoring the unappealing toilet, i stood up and announced (as loud as i possibly could) to the guards that i was going to take a shit, and i invited them to watch. it broke the proverbial seal and became a source of collective strength as others began to use it. we transformed what had been designed to humiliate us. (though i know that as a "man" cage we had an ability to do this that wasnt the same for the "woman" cages.) and then there was the stand up routine that one guy did, ripping into all the guards that walked by that had us all cracking up. there were moments when we tried to appeal to the humanity of the guards. ive never called anyone a nazi in my life, but there i was telling them that they had been assigned to work in a concentration camp and that when this all came to light the excuse that they were just following orders wouldnt cut it. we asked them if they had children and what they would think if their children were in it. no one would engage with us in these points. and finally, at certain points, we were screaming any possible insult we could think of. there was also a rousing rendition of "if you're happy and you know it clap your hands"... that immediately followed an incredibly intense expression of rage of the four cages in our room. almost everyone was kicking and rattling and screaming in our cages for at least 10 minutes. it the loudest and most intense creation of sound that i have ever been a part of.

then there was a moment when it looked like our cage was going to slip into total chaos. i became aware of it at the point when i myself hit my own low. i had been watching a guard eat his vast lunch five feet away from me. bite by bite. i kept up a constant stream of insults and commentary, telling him how hungry i was and if he enjoyed watching me suffer as he ate, telling him how looking at him was making me more physically ill than i had even felt up to that point. that i was going to puke and try to get as much as i could in his direction. and then pretty soon after, i was standing up, gripping the cage and screaming as loud as i could, "we need food!" i slumped back down and a really strong soul, one of the older ones amongst us, came up to me slumped in the corner and told me that he needed me to be strong. he got through to me. i looked up and i became aware that we had one guy, lips turning purple, who was going into shock both due to cold, exposure and exhaustion, and also because we had a guy with a blood condition who was semi-conscious and who was oozing blood out of his finger tips. our requests for medical attention were ignored and this one guy was getting so worked up that he was trying to convince all of us that we just had to bust through the door the next time the guards came. i got him to sit down and breathe with me and i turned to my buddy who was in there with me and said that we were collectively losing it. just then, the guy who earlier had been regaling us with his stand up routine stood up and screamed at the top of his lungs for about 10 seconds. i grabbed another guy who was in there to help get everyone quiet and i led us in a deep-breathing exercise and with the help of others got us to start reflecting on this experience. on how the only thing we could control was the space within our cage. how that was the only power that remained to us.

this was necessary after only 15 hours of arbitrary detention and deprivation.

fourth, i want to add another thing to the link above that didnt really come up. its that i believe that 100% of the apparent administrative incompetence was one more subtle but ultimate really powerful tool to fuck with our heads. it was both their excuse for why we werent getting food, water, phone calls to lawyers and medical attention for those who needed it and it also toyed with our minds, emotions and spirits. this part was totally sadistic. basically it seems consistent that in all "breach of the peace" cages they would make it seem that the delays were all due to processing slowdowns. "we're really trying here. but it just takes time. you'll get to make your phone calls soon. why dont you just calm down." etc etc. that was when they talked to us; most of the time they just ignored all of our requests or were verbally hostile to us.

they would keep our hope alive that things actually were being processed by taking someone out every few hours. for example, 2 guys were taken out from my cage after 2 hours, and we thought, yes, we're going to get out soon. and that was the implication of what the guard told us. we saw them 15 hours later in different cages. they did this periodically throughout the day. also, almost every half hour a guard would come by looking for people who were almost never in our cage. it made it seem that they had no idea where anyone was. new people would keep coming on shifts and say that everything was a mess, and then they'd make us line up in our cage and give our last names and prison IDs. in our cage we did this three times. they also took people out of our cage, implied they were getting out and then would only take their pictures (one guy was photograhed three times) and then they were sent back. around hour 16 they came to our cage and told us that our group had gotten lost in the system and that they had been looking for this one guy in every cell. the implication was now that they had finally found him we'd all finally be processed. we didnt get any more releases for 3 hours. etc etc etc. they also kept coming around, pausing in front of us, getting us to be quiet and then would read out 2 or 3 names and prison IDs that 95% of the time were not in there with us. this both got our hopes up and then would totally dash them when none of the people were us. it also kept up the justification for why none of our rights and needs were being satisfied.

as it was approaching 24 hours, and a lot of us finally did get released, we basically walked around the corner from our cage, got handed our property bags and the forms filled out by the original arresting officer (no other paper work or processing to be done!) and were told to leave (into the pouring rain).

its hard to describe the significance of this final point. they told us that there had been an admin fuck up and that's why our group was held so long. when, a bit earlier, i said to one of the guards, "does anyone know whats going on? is it just that there's no one in charge who know's whats happening". he replied, "yeah this guys finally figured it out. this is a smart guy." and it didnt sound sarcastic at all. but as i sat down to write this last night, i pictured this final scene again. the outdoors were just around the corner. there was just a folding table with a commanding officer and all he had to do was hand us our belongings and tell us to leave. basically it took 2 minutes to process us. But they had led us through this puppy mill of caged people to make it seem that we were in the middle of this huge complex full of overcrowded cages that we couldnt see, under spotlights and surveillance cameras, cops and guards rushing by, hunger and dehydration, people going into shock from the cold and exposure. barely sufficient medical attention (and only after hours of chanting and screaming)... and this underlying admin incompetence that was used as the excuse for it all.

and as i started writing it down last night i went through the final moments again and suddenly felt a tightness in my neck. i realized that we were basically 35 feet and 2 minutes away from being released the entire time. i couldnt breathe and felt like i was going to puke all at once. i had to get leah to calm me down and help me breathe again. it hit me like a 1000 tons that the entire display of admin incompetence was an act. they wanted us off the streets until the g20 was over and they succeeded. they wanted to criminalize dissent and prevent anyone empowered by g20 demos to remain politically active. they wanted to gather intelligence. they mollified us with the admin bullshit stuff and strung us along and toyed with us all at once. sick and debased. and consistent from what ive been hearing from other people who were released with no charges.

fifth, i was in plastic wrist restraints the whole time.

sixth, i recognize that none of this was about the issues around social and environmental justice that protesters have been trying to bring attention to all week. but i think that this does address a core underlying issue of a hierarchical state that is not accountable nor democratic to those who do not fit into the mainstream.

seventh, for the legally inclined, they read us a breach of the peace statement that said something like if we were found at another g20 demo we would be given a real criminal charge. i tried to argue with the guard that he couldnt impose conditions (something i dont know but assumed) but my fellow arrestees told me they just wanted to leave. so i acceded and we left.

eighth, today i turn 28.

in peace, solidarity, and rage,

jeff/hedge

2 comments:

Skinny Dipper said...

Over the weekend, people in Toronto needed to show their papers near the G20 fence and other parts of downtown Toronto. The next time, we may need to show our papers across Ontario and Canada.

Benjamin Elroy said...

Well written. Unfortunately, sometimes just words cannot do enough justice to what the people in detention saw and had to endure. It was terrible. The psychological impact of the experience impacted me negatively and severely. I can honestly say, even though I will one day heal, I will never be the same person I once was minutes before I was wrongfully arrested and taken down./elroy

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