Anarchy in the Streets

Photo Corey Pool

Rocks were thrown. Windows were smashed. Flash-bang grenades were launched. And the age-old battle of police versus protesters continued on March 15, as the annual Anti-Police Brutality March ended as it so often does: in mass arrests.

A crowd of roughly 2,000 protesters gathered peacefully for the 16th edition of the march in the late afternoon at Place Émilie-Gamelin outside Berri-UQAM Metro station. Around 6:00 p.m., protesters set off north for Sherbrooke St. without telling police which way their march was headed—as is the custom for the event.

The march erupted into violence before the crowd even made it on to Sherbrooke St., when a couple of protesters with bandanas covering their faces hurled rocks at police cars, one of them smashing the backseat driver-side window of a cop cruiser.

The first standoff between protesters and police took place outside of McGill’s Schulich School of Music building, where riot police lined up to block protesters from going any further west.

Protesters threw more rocks, paint bombs and fireworks at police, all to yells from the crowd of “No justice, no peace. Fuck the police!” before being forced down to Ste. Catherine St. W., where the violence really escalated.

One particularly dangerous moment occurred when police opened up the side of a police van and drive-by pepper-sprayed the crowd. Those who weren’t blinded by the irritant attacked the van, forcing it to drive off down the street.

Shortly thereafter, another cop car on Ste. Catherine St. was attacked by angry demonstrators, who surrounded it on all sides. The officer driving the car spun the vehicle around and drove off quickly down the street, giving bystanders and protesters little time to get off the street. Luckily, no one was injured.

With the police presence gone, one squad car parked in front of the Eaton Centre that had been hit with paint bombs and had its windows smashed was flipped over by a handful of masked protesters.

As onlookers took in the spectacle from inside the mall, pedestrians walked by and some posed for pictures in front of the trashed vehicle. Service de police de la ville de Montréal officers armed with video cameras captured the scene from windows in the shopping centre.

“Under the circumstances, the officers did a very professional job and were able to manage the event as best as possible, even though there was a lot of agitation,” said Montreal Police Chief Marc Parent at a press conference the day after the event.

“What I want to insist on is the need to hold demonstrations in a peaceful manner in collaboration with police organizations […] primarily to ensure the safety of the demonstrators and the other individuals.”

Though few present were willing discuss the protest at the time, reactions to it were mixed.

“I think it’s fucking stupid,” said one bystander who walked out of Chapters bookstore after hearing the crowd on the street. He wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons, but added, “It’s ridiculous that these people are protesting against police brutality by being destructive themselves.”

On a few occasions, arguments broke out between the protesters.

In one instance, two demonstrators got into a fight after one of them smashed a window of a retail store on Ste. Catherine St W.

“Our fight is with the police,” the protester told the window-smasher. “Not with these people.”

The night ended with protesters marching back toward Place Émilie-Gamelin around 9:00 p.m.

The police and riot cops quickly cordoned off the park on all sides giving protesters the opportunity to leave or get caught in a kettle—a tactic used by police to coral people together for a mass arrest.

In the end, 226 people were arrested. Seven police officers and two civilians were injured. One hundred and ninety of the people arrested were caught in a kettle outside of the Bibliothèque nationale, which took a couple of hours to clear up.

It’s still unknown what the financial cost will be from what essentially became a riot that worked its way through the Montreal’s core.

But Mayor Gerald Tremblay has said his patience has run out for the anti-police brutality protesters and is promising to take action to see that the events of last Thursday don’t repeat themselves.