not all crimes are equal: humans and our rights are more valuable than windows

I see many posts in the blogosphere and on Facebook, and clips in old media, assigning blame for the G20 breakdown in equal parts on so-called Black Bloc protesters, government and police.

In an attempt to appear even-handed, fair and non-biased, observers decry all the violence as if it is all equally wrong.

This is wrong - and dangerous.

First of all, vandals broke windows and burned a car. The police fired rubber bullets into humans. The police hit human beings with bicycles, batons and fists. The police trapped and held human beings for hours without shelter, food or water. The police threatened human beings with rape. The police stripped-searched (and worse) human beings.

Even given our society's obsession with property rights, most people agree that human beings are more important than property. Supposed Black Bloc protesters destroyed property. The police assaulted human beings.

Second, the vandals were a one-time occurrence. We are in little danger of their actions recurring on a regular basis. The Toronto police, on the other hand, work among us every day. Our taxes pay their salaries. They are supposed to be accountable to government, and to the people. They are supposed to be trained to keep the peace and to protect us from harm. They are not supposed to be a uniformed gang loaded with weapons unleashed on an unarmed citizenry.

Third, and most importantly, the abuse of policing powers and the suspension of civil liberties by far a greater danger to society than broken windows and a burned car. We have the right to peaceful protest. We have the right to express our anger at these undemocratic and unjust meetings that affect millions of lives and the very survival of our planet. We have the right to walk in our own cities - my god, to sleep in our own beds! - without fear of being dragged off and detained.

There is no moral equivalence between the abuse of police power and the suspension of civil rights and a bunch of marauding vandals. In terms of our daily lives, and our rights as Canadians and as humans, vandalism is dwarfed by the comparison.

We must not allow our desire for order, and our fear of disorder, to blind us to the very real dangers of an overly powerful authority over our daily lives. A free society is a process. So is the chipping away of that freedom.

In addition, I am wholly unconvinced that the vandals were actually free agents. Many people don't understand that agents provocateurs and paid rioters have been employed to discredit peaceful protests for time immemorial. The tactic was used in the 1960s and 1970s against civil rights and anti-war protesters. It was used in the 1920s against union activists. It was used in the 1900s against socialists. It is mentioned in Shakespeare. I bet the ancient Romans used it to discredit the Christians.

More recently, we have proof and official admissions that provocateurs were used in protests against the 2004 and 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and in Montebello in 2007. Just because proof hasn't come out yet - and may never - doesn't mean it didn't happen again last weekend.

When so many people express outrage over the (at least) $1,300,000,000 spending of our own money on security, what better way to prove that expense was necessary? When so many are protesting, what better way to discredit them? And what better way to change the subject from what actually happens in these summits?

Consider that the people who torched the cop cars and broke windows were allowed to do so. Here is one of many similar eyewitness accounts, this one from Ian Welsh, writing at Crooks and Liars.
As best I can tell, what happened is that for about an hour, the Black Bloc protesters clearly and visibly prepared for action, with both the police and other, non-violent protesters able to see they were doing so. The number of Black Bloc vandals seems to have been between 50 to 100, certainly not more than 200. (The police had 20,000 men.)

The police actually withdrew, leaving behind police cars for the Black Block to torch. Which they then did. The Black Bloc then proceeded up Yonge street (the main north/south street in downtown Toronto), vandalizing as they went, and eventually many headed over to Queen's Park, the Provincial capital. Two hours after the first violence, the police finally take action, ensuring that there are plenty of videos of police cars burning and vandalism that would not have occurred if they had taken action earlier.

According to the police, rather than confront a maximum of 200 protesters, they withdrew behind the barrier around the G20 meetings and let them vandalize downtown Toronto for 2 hours.

Ian goes on to call this a "deliberate decision to allow downtown to be vandalized," and I cannot see it any other way.

If a young man wearing a t-shirt is committing acts of vandalism, and a fully armed (batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, sound cannons) and armored (face shield, bullet-proof vest) officer of the law sees, withdraws and does not intervene, who is the greater problem?

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