Guilty by Association?

Graphic Eric Bent

There were a lot of fast facts and assumptions flying around last Thursday’s Anti-Police Brutality March among the pops of concussion grenades and clouds of pepper spray, but the worst among them was that the student movement against tuition hikes was somehow responsible for the mindless destruction of our city.

But the reason for the larger-than-average student turnout to the march this year was to rally against the kinds of tactics that caused 20-year-old CEGEP student protester Francis Grenier to take a flash bang grenade in his right eye while he sat peacefully playing a harmonica.

Lately, you can literally smell the cops coming—good ol’ pepper spray is their very favorite tool these days.

While the annual anti-police brutality event has arguably been getting more brutal in recent years, somehow the red square became something of an accidental mascot for Thursday’s destruction this time around—at least as far as national coverage is concerned.

The Globe and Mail managed to fit a tidy quote into their story from the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal Chief Marc Parent saying that the force was “already overwhelmed with the nearly daily protests by striking students protesting tuition hikes.”

There was also a “feature” on the history-making Concordia strike that was syndicated by Global News and its Postmedia family across the country that was bookended with the mention of
the notoriously anarchic Anti-Police Brutality March matched to images of peaceful student protests under a single headline: “Montreal Anti-Police Brutality March Quickly Turns Violent as Protesters Smash Cop Car and Throw Projectiles.”

Linking two radically different marches just because of a high youth turnout does more than just misinform Canadians (which is bad enough), it very intentionally and insidiously undermines the entire student movement.

It’s no big secret that the illusion of violence can seriously destroy the legitimacy we’re already being told we don’t have.

And while most media has been slow to actually analyze the many facets of the issue, this sensationalized reporting is actively working damage the student cause.

It leads viewers to equate red letters spelling “grève” and an overturned cruiser—putting all the more pressure on police to crush the allegedly militant student masses.

It’s also more than a little ironic that Education Minister Line Beauchamp would not condemn police intimidation and aggression at peaceful protests while attempting to promote a $6-million-dollar anti-bullying campaign, as was evidenced during her interview on French talk show Tout le monde en parle Sunday night.

Bullying in schools is obviously an important issue, but how she can brush aside the SPVM’s habit of shield-tapping scare tactics and increasing force against student demonstrators is baffling.

And while the given picture is that Baby Boomers don’t support the struggle of Generation Y, we just saw 10,000 people gather in solidarity for a family-friendly march on Sunday that would suggest otherwise.

There are reams of people sharing in the ideology outside of our age bracket, but being unfairly labeled as violent imbeciles will serve to hurt that essential support.

Is that the point of the erroneous connection of violence to a greater cause?

The condescension dripping off the coverage of students is a battle that cannot be won with smashed glass and paint bombs. We know that, but it seems to have proven impossible for some of the biggest media players in our country to distinguish the red-square toting students with the individual destructive tactics of a few dozen shit-disturbers who likely don’t have a stake in the tuition issue at all.

There are notable exceptions, however: last week La Presse filmed a student demonstration that saw participants surround Black Bloc members, pulling the reins on their destructive tendencies.
That is what we’re about here.

If anything, students should see the dogged determination by the media to pair fighting for accessible education with Thursday’s car-rolling lunacy as a sign. We need to take extra care when it comes to our manifestations, as frustrating as this misrepresentation is.

Despite coverage that has painted protests with broad strokes, we need to move forward regardless.

As long as our mobilization stays non-violent, we’ll have the truth on our side—and the truth will set us free.