Brutal force at Halifax anti-war rally

We are reprinting an article by Halifax journalist SIMON HELWEG-LARSEN, who viewed first-hand the premeditated attack by the HRM police force on the anti-war rally on the first day of Bush’s war. It is a companion to, and substantiates, our main article “The day the war broke out.” The attack and the brutality cannot be viewed as merely a local event, however. On the other side of the continent, later that same day, San Francisco police arrested 1,400 anti-war demonstrators. On March 22nd, Montreal police attacked and arrested many youth demonstrating outside the U.S. Consulate as part of the rally of over 200,000 Quebecois against the war.

(Halifax, 6:22am Fri March 21, 2003 / Modified on 3:37pm Sat Mar 29 ’03) – EXCESSIVE force was used by Halifax police officers at Thursday’s peace demonstrations. Without warning, police attacked the crowd, selectively arresting organizers, using shock tasers and agression beyond the necessary for this threatless crowd.

This is an opinion piece I wrote and submitted to the Halifax Daily News and the Halifax Chronicle Herald. The Daily News did finally print the article, on A17 of the Saturday, March 22 edition.

***** *****

BRUTAL POLICE FORCE USED AT HALIFAX ANTI-WAR RALLY

AS BOMBS began to fall in Baghdad, peace protesters here in Halifax faced arrests and police action unseen since the June meeting of G7 Finance Ministers.

The marches were to be expected. A growing number of people across the HRM have been joining large marches since January, voicing their opinion against the war on Iraq. Up until now, however, there have been no arrests at these peaceful rallies.

Arrests yesterday, while surprising, are not the true cause for alarm. Police used excessive force, including shock tasers, a tactic far beyond that necessary for a sitting crowd. Even more alarmingly, most of the individuals chosen for arrest from the crowd were active organizers of the rally, suggesting deliberately intimidating selection.

Beginning at 8:00 am, protesters marched in streets alongside police escorts. Provocative, yet peaceful, actions were met with police non-involvement. At different times, protesters rallied on the property of a north end Esso station, entered an armoury building, and plastered a sidewalk outside of an Exxon office with fake blood and dollar bills. Police were present at these actions, but made no attempts to influence the protests in any way.

It wasn’t until the rally of around 200 had left its last location and was headed to the Spring Garden Library that police changed their actions. An order to arrest anyone who stepped off of the sidewalk went out on police radios. Those who were not lucky enough to overhear this message had no warning, however, as the police did not alert the protesters of their intention.

When the march reached Barrington, the police tried to herd the crowd towards Blowers Street. The front section of the march attempted to continue towards Spring Garden, and the unaware mass behind followed the snaking path. At this point, an officer pushed one man at the front of the march, trying to force him onto the sidewalk. When the man did not comply, he was picked up and dragged towards a police van.

The crowd circled around the van and sat in the street, calling for the police to release the man. At this point, the police lost their professional restraint. Officers began reaching into the crowd and pulling apparenty pre-selected protesters for arrest. The first two men and one woman arrested were organizers of the march. From the crowd of 200 sitting people, most of the 10 people chosen for arrest were organizers of the rally and vocal in chants and speeches.

Not only was the selective, and seemingly targeted, nature of the arrests suspicious, the tactics used by the police far outweighed the threat posed. As stated above, the protesters were sitting in the street, posing no threat other than a refusal to move. Shock tasers were used when people were selected for arrest. Multiple officers acted at once during each arrest, and at one point a man was lifted off of the ground and held horizontally against a police van. Officers waved their billy clubs at the crowd in threat of force.

Even after the crowd had dispersed and was walking on the Spring Garden sidewalk towards the library, police continued their arrests. On the street, officers in groups pointed at individuals, then charged into the crowd to detain them.

At this point, random individuals, and not organizers, were targeted for arrest. A high school student and an elderly man with a gray beard were among those pulled from the sidewalk.

The level of force, abuse of power, and selective arrests executed by the officers are dispicable actions which should not be undertaken by the police in this community.

A peace rally should not be the target of such tactics, which suggest political repression rather than the protection of law and order. Shame on the Halifax Police Department.

2 Comments

Filed under No Harbour for War (Halifax)

2 responses to “Brutal force at Halifax anti-war rally

  1. Pingback: Flashback: The day the war broke out | Tony Seed's Weblog

  2. Pingback: Flashback: The day the war broke out | Tony Seed's Weblog

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