It was disheartening to hear of the two stabbing incidents that marred this weekend’s Nuit Blanche outburst of civic engagement. The most obvious reason is for the grief and pain such lethal altercations inflict on those involved both directly and indirectly. But it also cast a pall on the kind of self-controlled crowd control I witnessed during the festivities.
It was around midnight or so. We stopped to take in the installations at Nathan Phillips Square along the way, in particular Alain Declercq’s Crash Cars, two driverless cars going in figure 8 loops in the square’s empty wading pool (or de-iced skating rink, if that’s how your prefer to look at it). It was quite mesmerizing and a sizeable crowd had gathered around the cordoned off area.
Of course, the draw proved too enticing for some to pass up and folks started hopping the rails to make their way across the exhibit to the other side where they disappeared back into the crowd. It was very orderly, one at a time, as most danced, hopped, twirled their way across the space, cheered on by the crowd. If anyone ventured too near the cars, they were programmed to shut off and stop running. No harm, no foul.
It could even be argued that it enhanced the exhibit with this harmless interactive participation.
Unfortunately, security didn’t see it that way. Each subsequent public appearance was treated as some sort of intrusion by an enemy combatant, chased down doggedly. Rather than just gently encourage people to be on their way and let the thing die out of its own accord, it became some sort of intense cat-and-mouse game. Almost a dare for people to make it safely across to the other side.
Then there was this one guy. Yes, there’s always just the one guy. He was about the third or fourth person to pop out and he tried to place an empty bottle on one of the cars. In the scurry/scuttle to get away, it crashed to the ground and broke. Not a catastrophic turn of events but it seemed to make the security detail especially determined to bring down this one.
How have we arrived at such a point where the only response to perceived public transgressions is disproportionate violence? Regardless of how slight a breach might be, those in the roles of maintaining order and public peace serve as agents of escalation. Their interaction with those they are purportedly meant to protect is done with a heavy hand and not a light touch.
We’ve seen it our police in reaction to the G20 protests and more recently Sammy Yatim. But on this occasion, we’re talking yellow jacketed, unarmed security guards, I guess you’d call them. Actively inflaming a situation which, had it further boiled over, they’d have no ability to contain.
And for a moment it certainly looked as if that’s exactly what was going to happen. After the one gentlemen they’d actually got their hands on was aggressively subdued, thrown to the ground, roughed up and handcuffed, the crowd got a little surly. Some of the metal barricades were kicked over, there was a general surge that pressed forward. Lots of heated exchanges between people and security, demands that the man be let go. Things were very close to descending into an outright melee.
But it didn’t go that way.
It wasn’t because a squadron of police appeared, on horseback, wielding batons and pepper spray. I didn’t see one police officer while I was there. I’d like to think that the crowd’s better angels won out, gently backing away from further confrontation. It’s a lesson that those whose job it is to keep the peace would do very well to learn.
— peacefully submitted by Cityslikr