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Snipers On The Roof



Yesterday there was a rally in support of the International Day Against Police Brutality. Really, the word “rally” should be in quotation marks, because the “rally” was maybe one or two hundred people representing the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and other community organizations like it. OCAP gathered at 51 Division and then marched to University and Dundas, or until they got bored and went home, whichever happened first. And that was basically it…
… Except that someone on Reddit snapped several pictures of police snipers watching the protesters.


Now, some (including, in fairness, the original photographer, who asked us not to republish the photo of the sniper) have argued that the police here are simply being responsible: a sniper is well-suited to observing a situation from above street-level. The sniper did not, at any time, have his weapon in hand while the protesters were present, but instead merely watched them through binoculars. (As is proper; any police sniper worth his or her salt would only draw a weapon in the most extreme situations.) The rifle is just there as a last resort—after all, one never knows when a protest might get out of hand and turn violent.
Of course, the problem with this line of argument is that it distorts the proportions of the elements in play. The small band of OCAPsters were surrounded by police for the entire duration of their protest. There is tremendously little that having sniper coverage can add when you have one armed officer on the scene for every three or four protesters.

But even so, there is always the “last resort” argument—the What If line of attack. “Sure, nothing happened, but what if something had happened? What if the OCAP protesters had gotten violent? What if they had been armed? What if some lunatic not connected with the protesters decided to do something? You’d be glad that police sniper was there then!”
You can keep going with What If ad nauseum. “What if Osama bin Laden suddenly attacked 51 Division with a suitcase bomb? What if a radical paramilitary cell infiltrated OCAP with the intent of assassinating Doug Ford? What if the zombies suddenly arose and started eating OCAP?” What If can justify literally anything. (Hey, why don’t we have snipers on buildings all the time? Think of all the criminals who would be deterred.)
The What If ploy especially doesn’t work in this instance because—come on. It’s OCAP. Everybody knows what OCAP does: they show up, make some noise, wave some signs, get arrested for disturbing the peace, and then three months later repeat the whole process. We’re pretty sure nobody in OCAP has ever been convicted of anything in relation to a protest: the closest they ever came was back after the Queen’s Park mini-riot in 2000 when John Clarke nearly got convicted for assault, and since then they’ve been careful to try and play by nonviolent rules as much as possible.
Ultimately, though, we could argue back and forth about the necessity of a sniper at this protest for hours and never get to the real point: the police strongly overreacted to this protest, and with an unseemly amount of fear. Snipers are simply not a necessary security measure for anything other than the largest public protests, and even then their use is highly questionable. (Ultimately a sniper’s basic purpose is to shoot at people from a great distance, and involving them in a public protest is an admission that you believe deadly force may well be necessary.) But this was not a large public protest. This was OCAP being the same damn pain in the ass they always are: mostly peaceful and mostly annoying, and meriting consideration of deadly force not in the slightest.
Many have said before that the true crime perpetrated by the G20 Integrated Security Unit was to intimidate and pre-criminalize the citizenry of Toronto as a whole. Even so, the events of the G20 were exceptional in many ways, and although police there reacted extremely badly to those exceptional events this could still be forgiven if it was clear that the tactics adopted for the G20 were seen as a mistake. However, if snipers are to become a constant presence at public protests, then the events of the G20 were not a terrible mistake. Instead, they were the introduction of a new norm, where protest is considered to be not only the source of likely criminal activity, but a source of criminal activity so dangerous that it requires the installation of lethal force at a distance. And that is unacceptable.
All photos by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.

Comments

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    How many people need to show up for it to count as a no-opening-scare-quotes rally no-closing-scare-quotes?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=819570037 Simon Carr

    Is it sad to say I had sympathy for the protesters until I saw the “COPS PIGS MURDERERS” sign? I'm still ooged out by roof snipers in any scenario involving protests, but I can't help but understand the Police rationale in this case.

    And believe me, I'm not an authoritarian by any means.

    This is not how a conversation is created, people.

  • isyouhappy

    “This was OCAP being the same damn pain in the ass they always are: mostly peaceful and mostly annoying, and meriting consideration of deadly force not in the slightest.”

    You know what is actually annoying?It wasn't the 'pain in the ass OCAP'(Torontoist's words, not mine) it was the amount of police escorting this smaller protest around the city. I was taking the college street car home and watched as the protestors marched up yonge and along college. That didn't take long, what took long was the amount of police on horseback, on bikes, following them, trailing them, surrounding them as they closed the streets off well after the 50 or so protestors had moved on.

    I didn't agree with all of the messages on their banners, or what some of them were shouting, but I respect that they are speaking out against police brutality.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Why are you lumping all of the protesters together? It's obvious the people carrying that banner are Black Bloc or very close to it, but do you think the kid in the rainbow hat (second photo) is a member?

    You might not be an authoritarian, but you aren't that far from the people who blame everyone who got kettled at Queen and Spadina for being outside that day.

  • nevilleross

    The only thing OCAP is being a 'pain in the ass' to is silly neocons who think that what happened at the G20 was just a proper response-the same sheeple that would elect Harper, elected Ford, and in all likelihood will elect Hudak. As Forrest Gump once said 'Stupid is as stupid does' (or maybe that should be 'stupid does as stupid is'?)

  • HotDang

    Article sucked.

    I realize that the Explosively Talented Mr Bird has been kicking around here for a while, but if this is the kind of editorializing we can expect from him, maybe he should stay on the TV beat.

    The article could be shortened to the parentheses in the second last paragraph, and a statement pointing out that no such response was or would ever be necessary in any protest that's ever happened in Toronto. The 'what-if,' insulting protestors, and navel-gazing portions were stupid and pointless.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=711551260 Ted Clancy

    It's no secret that the Toronto police are very worried about OCAP. And so they should be. Police officers were assulted at that riot in 2000. They don't want to let that happen again.

    You make it sound as if John Clarke was the only person involved in any violence. For the record, 40 people were charged (though not convicted).

    I agree that OCAP's subsequent demonstrations have been non-violent, and sometimes even cheerful. But that's probably not enough reassurance for the women and men who work for Toronto Police Services.

  • http://twitter.com/mark_dowling Mark Dowling

    Unfortunately T Rek I don't think Simon Carr has an opportunity to ask the holders of the sign why they lumped all cops together – like you and me he just gets to comment on the content above.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Some are there to protest police brutality, others are there to protest the police. The photos disprove your claim.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Stemmler/644800361 Robert Stemmler

    I've read that comment over three times and it sounds like you're saying that overreaction by the police is understandable if they're insulted by the signs protesters are carrying.

    Considering that such overreaction can lead to the kind of abuse this event was protesting, it seems to me that such a rationale is misguided at the very least.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Stemmler/644800361 Robert Stemmler

    Really? a riot 11 years ago? And then 11 years without an incident?

    I'm all for the cops behaving proportionally to the perceived threat level of any event. But that requires their perception to be reasonable.

  • Functionalist

    You don't start conversations with a weapon in your hand. You don't converse with the police, period, as the G20 reminded us.

  • isyouhappy

    so double or triple the amount of police on the street than protestors isn't enough reassurance?

  • http://twitter.com/GrahamJRiot Graham J

    “no one really knows when the protest will turn violent.” Then what, start pegging off the protesters one by one with a sniper rifle?! How is that acceptable!? How is that peaceful? How is that acting responsible? It was police intimidation. I will make sure I make it to the next rally, and the next. Stop handing over your rights to police to 'protect them.' They are the bullies that make you the sheep.

  • http://orwellsbastard.blogspot.com/ Orwell's Bastard

    Last time I checked, insulting the cops wasn't a criminal offence. It's rude, yes, but then so is threatening female prisoners with gang rape or tearing off a guy's artificial leg and then laughing while you order him to hop into the paddy wagon.

    In that context, it's not hard to understand a mentality that sees demonstrations as dangerous events requiring the assignment of police snipers. Obviously, the only way to handle people calling for accountability and respect for their democratic rights is to be prepared to blow their brains out from 400 meters away. Authoritarian is a mild way to describe it.

  • http://orwellsbastard.blogspot.com/ Orwell's Bastard

    Last time I checked, insulting the cops wasn't a criminal offence. It's rude, yes, but then so is threatening female prisoners with gang rape or tearing off a guy's artificial leg and then laughing while you order him to hop into the paddy wagon.

    In that context, it's not hard to understand a mentality that sees demonstrations as dangerous events requiring the assignment of police snipers. Obviously, the only way to handle people calling for accountability and respect for their democratic rights is to be prepared to blow their brains out from 400 meters away. Authoritarian is a mild way to describe it.

  • http://orwellsbastard.blogspot.com/ Orwell's Bastard

    Last time I checked, insulting the cops wasn't a criminal offence. It's rude, yes, but then so is threatening female prisoners with gang rape or tearing off a guy's artificial leg and then laughing while you order him to hop into the paddy wagon.

    In that context, it's not hard to understand a mentality that sees demonstrations as dangerous events requiring the assignment of police snipers. Obviously, the only way to handle people calling for accountability and respect for their democratic rights is to be prepared to blow their brains out from 400 meters away. Authoritarian is a mild way to describe it.

  • http://orwellsbastard.blogspot.com/ Orwell's Bastard

    Last time I checked, insulting the cops wasn't a criminal offence. It's rude, yes, but then so is threatening female prisoners with gang rape or tearing off a guy's artificial leg and then laughing while you order him to hop into the paddy wagon.

    In that context, it's not hard to understand a mentality that sees demonstrations as dangerous events requiring the assignment of police snipers. Obviously, the only way to handle people calling for accountability and respect for their democratic rights is to be prepared to blow their brains out from 400 meters away. Authoritarian is a mild way to describe it.

  • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

    An equally vague statement: “For the record, hundreds of people were arrested during the G20.”

  • Astin44

    There are two points of discussion that have appeared here – the sniper, and the large police presence.

    To the latter, I'd suggest that the police weren't sure how big the protest would be. It was carried out in concert with one in Montreal, and with G20 still a significant issue (and one would imagine more obvious to the cops as it affects them directly), there would be fears that a protest in Toronto COULD be rather large. So it would be better to overcommit officers than not have enough. Granted, once the size was known and there was little possibility of it growing significantly. a bunch of the cops could have been sent on their way, leaving a more reasonable escort behind.

    As for the sniper – were there others? Was this one near a particularly sensitive site? (US Embassy? Police station?) While an image of a guy with a sniper rifle ready to be brought to bear is scary, it is also possible to be taken somewhat out of context. Still, using only spotters, not snipers, would have certainly been more PR-friendly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=711551260 Ted Clancy

    I'm not saying whether or not I think the large police presence or the sniper was justified. In fact, the sniper kinda freaks me out.

    But I don't think this article was balanced enough, downplaying the 2000 riot, and not trying to show the police service's side of the story.

    And those 40 weren't just arrested. They were charged.

  • torontothegreat

    Snipers are MOST often used for recon. They act as the eyes for the police on street level. I'm not defending the use of snipers in this case, but I thought I'd point that out.

  • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto
  • http://twitter.com/SteveMcQwark Steven Blenkinsop

    The way people are talking about it, they're making it sound like the sniper rifle was used. It wasn't. It wasn't even pointed at anybody. Police have guns with them all the time. A handgun will kill you just as good as a sniper rifle. A sniper rifle's just more precise (ie, innocent bystanders are much, much less likely to get hit), and much more useful for a guy watching from the rooftops should a dangerous situation arise in a crowd.

    A sniper has to get authorization to engage. It isn't like he'll see something, misinterpret it, and snipe some innocent dude in the crowd.

  • thoughtfulperson

    Maybe the police were expecting a better turnout.

  • PatrickClohessy

    why is torontoist hating on ocap? you dont have to agree w/ their tactics, but labeling them “annoying” is pretty annoying. it must be nice to not know the anger of poverty/despair, and to be privileged enough to find things like poverty so trivial.

  • http://theelvesattic.blogspot.com JOHN SCOTT RIDGWAY

    I am from Chicago, which has had it's share of troubles from the police. Lately, however, the police have been very cool here. I was in Madison last weekend where a 100 thousand people were protesting and there were no police to be seen –who were not protesting themselves. I opened a dialog here between radicals and the police some time ago, going as far to say that if anyone messes with the police or property at a protest my crew is at, we will beat their asses first. The last protest I went to here, the police did not even wear guns… it is important to raise a dialog with the police. They are working class people who will benefit from our efforts as well. I look at the police as a standing army, and if the shit really goes down, I want them on my side.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    They aren't on your side and never will be. They'll arrest or shoot whoever they're told to, regardless of the circumstances or legality of it.

  • http://theelvesattic.blogspot.com JOHN SCOTT RIDGWAY

    I am a big radical, and mildly well known. The CIA has stopped three attempts on my life and the Chicago Police patrol my neighborhood massively to keep me safe. I know what I am talking about. Your attitude is what makes this bridge so hard to cross.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    My attitude? I'm taking a neutral position here: they do what they do – whether it's patrolling a neighbourhood to deter assassins, or shooting someone with a sniper rifle from a rooftop perch a block away – on orders. They aren't our friends or allies any more than they are our enemies or occupiers.

  • http://theelvesattic.blogspot.com JOHN SCOTT RIDGWAY

    I wish I had written that. Yes, that is exactly it… they are a blank slate that society writes upon in a way.

  • http://openid.anonymity.com/8WyLuhYW Chancey Wong

    Isn't obvious which building the sniper was positioned in? The toronto police head quarter's building? For security measures, like say anti-terror activities, would it not make sense to have a sniper up there watching the crowd who is approaching the building? It's not like they pre-positioned him somewhere, in preparation because they already presupposed the criminality of the crowd. Maybe they prepared him, and his position, because they might of pre-supposed something else, that they

  • http://openid.anonymity.com/8WyLuhYW Chancey Wong

    The site was sensitive. it was police headquarters, the pink granite and the terraces are a dead give away.

  • http://piorkowski.ca qviri

    Now, I know the Toronto police don't have much history protecting their own property recently, what with giving out cruisers like candy, but were they really concerned that the protesters would storm the police headquarters?

  • http://piorkowski.ca qviri

    Now, I know the Toronto police don't have much history protecting their own property recently, what with giving out cruisers like candy, but were they really concerned that the protesters would storm the police headquarters?