Montreal : March 15th, 2002: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Montreal : March 15th, 2002
The more things change, the more they stay the same

We won't waste much time recapulating the events of March 15th, 2002. The Collective Opposed to Police Brutality(COPB) organized a demonstration to mark the 6th International Day Against Police Brutality(IDAPB) wich attracted some 500 people. The starting point of the demonstration was Berri Square in downtown Montreal, formerly known as a gathering place for punks, marginalized youth and transisents. After waiting more than an hour listening to music and speeches (that were sadly neither inspired nor inspiring...), the march headed west, as usual. Upon arriving at Police Headquarters, squeegee punks started "washing" the windows of the building. Some windows were broken and a police cruiser was covered with graffitti.

Ten to twenty minutes later in front of the provincial courthouse, closed for the night, and in an area, Old Montreal(also "closed" at night), 371 demonstrators were arrested. It was a quasi-routine operation for the local police who have regularly used the trap-round up tactic against autonomous protests since the mid 90's. What is exceptional about March 15th , 2002, is that more than 300 people were caught in the net, wich classifies this repressive operation as the third largest in Quebec's recent history, behind only the arrests of the October crisis(1970) and those of the Summit of the Americas(2001).

We can now ask ourselves a multitude of questions relating to the arrests. What happened to the COPB security team? Why didn't the COPB let the marchers know about the notice to disperse that came from the police? What were we doing all alone in Old Montreal? How come for months in Montreal, black bloc types have been carrying rocks, marbles and molotov cocktails on them at many demonstrations without ever using them?

Although these questions deserve to be debated, we think that above all, the fundamental problem with March 15th 2002 and several other autonomous protests in Montreal is POLITICAL. And it is on this point that we are going to concentrate our efforts in this text.

A sclerosed political strategy

Are we the only ones who notice that each March 15th it's always the same story. The police cat chases the militant mouse through the city to find out "Who's streets are these?". Surely, the roles can sometimes be reversed, but the baisc dynamic stays the same. We think that this is wrong. March 15th shouldn't only be about tactical challenges between street fighting activists and the police. Before anything, this day should be a day of solidarity and of people's power...A day of solidarity with the victims of police brutality and a demonstration of anti-cop, anti-authoritarian, working class force. Activities of all kinds should take place throughout the week of March 15th ; educational events, political debates, cultural and sporting activities are all viable options that would attract larger segements of working class people to our struggle. Of course, this is happening in some ways already, but the actual activity is grossly insufficient. Also, this task should not be left to the COPB alone (as has been the case in the past). It is preferable that community groups, political groups, student associations, neighborhood committees etc. join together in solidarity for International Day (Week?) Against Police Brutality.

The protest itself should be much larger and above all more diversified. Surely the intensity of the repression used by the Montreal Police the last few years contributes to the low turnout (around 500 people, not many compared to the thousands who are brutalised by police each year). However, we believe that it is the type of demonstration that happens on March 15th wich influences composition.In fact, each year we have the right to a protest wich denounces angrily(very good) and ...spectaculary(not so good). It is perfectly normal that a March 15th demonstration serves to denounce cases of police abuse. On the other hand, it's a mistake to make a spectacle out of this denounciation. Was it necessary to bring us in front of the provincial courthouse to let us know that a cop is facing sexual assault charges?

Denouncing injustice and the abuses of this world in a spectacular fashion is playing the mass-media card and, in the end, the game of our rulers. If we play the legitimate protester "role" to perfection, that is keeping orderly, smiling for the cameras and not unbalancing the present social order, we have a (small) chance to win the game. It is clear that this isn't the strategy that COPB adopts(at least not consciously). They refuse the media's presence at demonstrations, radically critique the police, the State and capitalism and attract people who don't like smiling for cameras to their demonstrations. However, every March 15th, because of the chosen route (downtown) and the need to take aim at targets that symbolically represent police brutality(like the provincial courthouse); COPB, despite it's intentions, gets caught every year in a situation where they have to out-perform the cops in the media spectacle. Let's not make-up any stories; we will never win a fight for public opinion, us anarchists, activists and street youth, against the police, who on top of having a citizen-protector status, also benefit from having a huge say in what is written in the bourgeois press.

We think that March 15th demonstrations should be held in our working class neighborhoods, far from the symbols of repression but closer to the people who we should be allying ourselves with to struggle. It may be less spectacular to denounce police brutality on Ontario street than in front of the "Palais de Justice", but in the mid and long term, we will benefit from this. Obviously, the media attention would stay. But our message, even if it's deformed in the media, would directly reach the inhabitants of the chosen neighborhood. Security factors can also be brought up here. Would the police be able to arrest 371 people in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. We think not. And even if they did succeed in arresting hundreds of people, what would be the reaction of our neighbors?

Mobilisation is a fundemental problem for the local I.D.A.P.B. Every year, members of the COPB and activists close to the COPB embarq on large-scale mobilisation campaings. We always say : "This year we will break out of the activist, punk, young and...white milieu. We will mobilise people from the black, arab and latino communities; less marginalised people, older people, less criminalised people that are just as conscious as us of the problems of repression and police brutality".

We must acknowledge that we have never succeeded. But, it is untrue to say that links outside of the activist ghetto haven't been made. This year, Kabataang (a communist influenced philipino youth group from C