A report from The International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations presents alarming case studies of protest suppression and criminalization of political and social dissent around the world. Ironically, the name of the report, “Take Back the Streets,” came from an order from Toronto’s police commander to his force in June 2010, when more than 100,000 Canadians took to the street to protest the G20 summit. Despite the fact that the anti-G20 summit were peaceful, within 36 hours, more than a 1,000 people — protesters and journalists alike — were arrested and detained.
The report, which is the result of a collaboration between nine civil rights organizations, exposes disturbing worldwide governmental policies and law enforcement practices where the fundamental democratic right to protest publicly is viewed as a threat that requires a brutal police response. Countless cases of unnecessary legal restrictions, discriminatory responses, criminalization of leaders and unjustifiable use of force are documented. There are nine case studies from nine countries: Argentina, Canada, Egypt, Israel and the Occupy Territories, Kenya, Hungary, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. All of the cases reflect instances of repression of democratic rights through the legal system, criminalization of leaders, and excessive use of force by police resulting in injuries or deaths. “These cases collectively illustrate the use of lethal and deadly force in response to largely peaceful gatherings seeking to express social and political viewpoints,” says the report. In most of the cases mentioned in the report, the deaths and injuries are caused by firearms with live ammunition: for example, against protesters in Egypt; but some are also caused by so-called non-lethal weapons such as tear gas or rubber bullets fired directly into crowds.
In a case involving police brutality in Puerto Rico, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) mentions violent beating and low-flying helicopters spraying toxic chemicals over crowds of protesters. The Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) is huge: one of the largest police department in the US and second only to the NYPD. The PRPD regularly applies excessive force with pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, stinger rounds, sting-ball grenades, high-power Taser guns, and batons. According to the ACLU, police in Puerto Rico have routinely used 36-inch batons in riot control to jab, strike and beat protesters.
In the Israeli Occupied Territories of the West Bank, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel documents the persecution and arrest of leaders and organizers such as Bassem Tamimi who was jailed by Israel for more than 13 months for organizing peaceful protests. “These cases demonstrate how the justice system not only frequently fails to provide accountability for the illegal acts committed by law enforcement, but can also, at times, act as a repressive force towards demonstrators and social organizations,” says the report. In Egypt, in November 2011, the police shot thousands of gas canisters directly into the crowds resulting in many deaths by asphyxiation in addition to deaths by live ammunition. In one instance, Egyptian police fired many gas canisters into a building where protesters had found refuge, then proceeded to seal the building.
The document also points to 9/11/2001 as a turning point that allowed governments to crack down on social dissent using the subterfuge of broad anti-terrorist laws. There are alarming signs, perfectly illustrated by the nine case studies, that these “legal” structures concocted by most governments worldwide are, in effect, tools of repression and oppression. They manifest themselves in law enforcement actions such as arrests, random searches, detentions without probable cause or right to a trial, and have been already redirected to suppress peaceful political activities such as street protest and political dissent. Further, police forces are getting militarized globally, and global military organizations such as the UN “peacekeepers” can be used for police purposes when they come back home. Police organizations in Europe are being gathered into multinational military structures like the European Gendarmerie Force (EuroGenFor, or EGF). Brazil’s favelas are undergoing a “pacification” process administered in large part by former UN “peacekeepers” who have been recalled from Haiti. In general, soldiers from all over the world return from occupation missions overseas, habituated to urban warfare, to serve at home in newly militarized police or private mercenary forces such as Xe (formerly Blackwater).
The erosion of our civil and basic democratic rights, such as dissent and protest, is obvious and global. Despair is not an option, global solidarity is. Perhaps the only hope to stop the final rise, confirmed by this report, of an Orwellian world under the boots of a global police state where protest and dissent are virtually illegal, is for citizens of the world to unite in fighting to take back our streets. Some will pay a heavy price, but we must “take back the streets” from the police at any cost and without fear. Then we might regain control of our respective governments before it is too late. Power belongs to the people, but it must be regularly reclaimed. Historically troubled times, such as the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930s, have proven that people must remain vigilant and watchful of basic human rights being swept away by tyranny. Globalization of policing calls for global vigilance about human-rights abuses and a massive and coordinated globalization of outrage and protest.
Gilbert Mercier is the Editor in Chief of News Junkie Post.