The main change I’ve noticed in myself since the G20 is how much I hate cops now. Not only am I uncomfortable around them, as most people are—I hate them.
I didn’t feel this way before the G20. But now, this newfound hatred permeates every part of my existence: from walking down streets to browsing on Facebook and everywhere in between. I firmly believe that police functioned during the G20 as enemies of democracy, civil rights, and social justice, and that they function in similar ways, around the world and in Canada, every single day.
This newly altered perception of police is regrettable. It has cost me a lot—socially, politically, and psychologically. Allow me to explain.
About two months ago I went to an old friend’s wedding with my partner. The groom and I had had a small falling out in high school, but we had both long forgotten what it was over; I thought his wedding would be a good opportunity to reconnect. His parents and brother came from Alberta, and told me how much they had missed me, how glad they were to see me again as a fully fledged adult, and how happy the groom was that I was able to make it.
It all made me feel very warm and happy.
The wedding was beautiful. At the reception, the speeches were touching, but someone beside me at our table began complaining that they were too long. “I mean, I want to eat,” he said. Soon after he told us he was a Toronto police officer.
My partner and I were initially turned off far more by his occupation than by his wanting the speeches to end. We agreed not to press him about being a cop, his opinions on the G20 policing, or anything else. We were there to have a good time, not cause a scene. As the night went on, he and I had a few drinks together, and I have to admit, I really warmed up to him. Not my favourite person in the world, but nowhere near my least favourite either. Turns out, there’s more to police than the uniform: they’re still real people under there who just want to have a good time. And we all definitely had a great time.
But no matter how much I drank and how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake the questions I wasn’t asking him: “Where were you that weekend?” “Did you shove my partner’s face in the mud?” “Did you humiliate my best friend by forcing him to strip down, bend over, and lift his balls so you could fully search him, all the while recommending he stop trying to be a ‘political hero’?” “Did you help cram me into a paddywagon and accuse me of being an anarchist—as if that were a crime—before dumping me 25 kilometres from my home and telling me to make my own way back?”
I updated my Facebook status during the wedding, with something like “Wedding seating arrangements are pretty funny sometimes” and in the subsequent comments I passingly called the officer “a bit of a douchebag.” A few days later the groom messaged me, calling me out for being a douchebag myself, having openly and flagrantly insulted his wedding guests on my Facebook wall. I couldn’t disagree.
My heart instantly sank very deep. It had become so routine for me to express frustration about any interaction I had with police that I didn’t even think about how disrespectful it was in this instance. I apologized profusely, and he sent me a short email reading simply “No worries. Water under the bridge.” Still, we haven’t spoken since. My cop hatred seems to have broken what social ties he and I had rebuilt or retained. I doubt we’ll ever be good friends again.
Thinking about this makes me feel sad, and extremely socially isolated. Obviously.
One might expect that, even if cop-hating alienates me from some people, it would at least bring me closer to those people who share my politics and experiences. Somewhat ironically though, a distrust of police can actually make it harder to connect with those people in Toronto who do, in fact, share my politics and G20 experience.
Toronto hosted an academic conference on anarchism this past January, and since it was a five-minute walk from my house I went with a curious friend. Anarchist intellectuals, after all, are among the few willing to theorize about the democratic barriers presented by police repression of protests, and to speculate about how police tactics can be circumvented or mitigated in order to facilitate social progress. I wanted to hear people talk about that, about how to prevent things like Toronto’s G20 from happening again. I was excited to meet people who, like me, see the G20 summit as an unjust method of economic policy-making, amounting to little more than the open collusion of rich nations against the global labouring poor. I wanted to hear people agree that such summits were always facilitated by the police repression of a citizenry mobilized to disrupt their injustice, and that this clearly makes the police enemies of global justice. I wanted to feel welcomed and see my political views openly accepted in a group.
I wore a favourite hat along with my black and red T-shirt.
One panelist, discussing police repression, wondered aloud whether undercover police were in attendance, noting how horrible (but not implausible) it would be if the riot squad suddenly barged in and arrested everyone on conspiracy charges. At the thought of being arrested again, trapped by police in an enclosed space, I let go a kind of nervous laugh, as I often do when I’m extremely uncomfortable.
The entire room of at least 50 people immediately turned around to stare at me, wondering what I thought was so funny. My face must have instantly gone a deep shade of red. For the rest of the day, I’m sure, every single one of them thought I was a cop and I had lost any chance of being trusted—at the very least, that’s how I felt.
I attended the second day despite feeling very embarrassed and alienated. I knew very few people there, wore different clothes, and shaved what beard I had, so I doubted anyone would recognize me.
During an afternoon panel an organizer suddenly rushed in, grabbing the panelist’s microphones and recording devices. “The cops are outside,” she said, “and they brought guns.” I almost fainted. Sure enough, several police were outside, carrying loaded shotguns. Several brave individuals told the police they would not be let inside, and thankfully they didn’t force their way in. I hid in a corner.
Shortly thereafter I overheard three girls in conversation about the startling police presence. One of them mentioned “that guy from yesterday, wearing the black and red T-shirt with the hat” and how he (i.e. I) “was totally a cop.” I paused to eavesdrop, hoping I had misheard. Another agreed with the first, noting how I had laughed at the mention of a police raid, and thereby given myself away. Then they all looked at me, standing there, listening in on them. I felt they recognized me. I felt horribly embarrassed. I quickly moved on, not wanting to be confronted and accused of being a police infiltrator.
But, after a few seconds, I realized how stupid and divisive it was to run away from that rather than confront it. So, I turned around to just tell them I wasn’t a cop. Whether they believed me or not, I thought it was appropriate to at least acknowledge I had heard them.
Unfortunately, they were already gone.
As a 6-foot-tall, 220-pound middle-class white male in his late twenties who consistently wears T-shirts and jeans, it’s all too easy for a skeptical activist to perceive me as an undercover cop. I myself have had small bouts of paranoia over several new acquaintances, but this was the first time I’d overheard people discussing the “fact” that I was a cop.
I haven’t been to an activist meeting of any kind since. I just can’t deal with good people believing I’m something we both have come to hate.
This intense isolation is by far the most regrettable effect I still feel a year after Toronto’s G20. The worst part? After a year of thinking through it all, I still don’t know what to do about any of it.
The author woke up on June 27, 2010, to a Facebook message from his best friend’s mother, saying he’d been arrested at around 5 p.m. in Queen’s Park the day before. He and his partner spent the entire day on the streets, peacefully objecting to the imposed police state and demanding that his friend and all other detainees be released. The author and his partner were subject to several unlawful searches as a result, and witnessed innumerable other rights violations across the city. Walking home after vocally opposing the Queen and Spadina kettling, the pair were suddenly ambushed and arrested by a group of bike cops. His partner was quickly released, but the author was held by police for more than three hours and repeatedly told he was an “anarchist asshole” who was “going to be [there] for a while.” He was eventually driven to a police station on the outskirts of Toronto, released (still soaking wet) without charges, and told to get off police property or risk being re-arrested.
The author’s name has been withheld upon request.
For complete G20 retrospective coverage, go to One Year Later.