It was a spectacular Sunday afternoon as my sisters and I were preparing to head over to the 13th annual demonstration against police brutality. We got together with some markers and Bristol board and made a picket sign. We racked our brains for something hard-hitting to write, something we could hold up with pride and dignity, and the Anti-Flag song “Fuck Police Brutality” seemed appropriate.
I had read about last year’s protest, and all the articles leading up to this year’s event warned of violence, but no other demonstration that I’d attended in Montreal had ever gotten out of hand. As we got closer to our destination, the first thing we noticed was a police blockade on each block surrounding the Mont-Royal metro station, something I suppose I suspected. Past the police blockade, however, were hundreds of demonstrators out to march.
It began like most demonstrations. A big hustle and bustle before the organizers get things started. People with signs, dogs, instruments, loved ones, people uniting to support a common cause. As the organizers stood on the concrete slabs, their voices were muffled by the sound of police helicopters overhead. With a cheer, the march began as passionate protesters approached the line up of police in full riot gear, their fancy new attire, giving off an air of militancy.
The demonstrators began crowding at the front lines, waiting to begin the demonstration, but police would not budge. The crowd began to chant, “Laissez nous passez!” It was like nothing I had ever seen. I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let us walk. Our protest was no different from any other.
As the majority of the protesters tried to find a new route to march, others took a stand against the police, throwing vegetables and setting off small fireworks. In the midst of all of this, I saw two people brutally arrested, and a young man pepper-sprayed. It was a hideous sight that made my stomach cringe. Police horses were frothing at the mouth from fear and no one knew where to go or what to do. Finally, the march began to take shape again, heading down St. Denis away from the madness.
The protest seemed to have found its groove again, but it would soon turn into an urban rat-race. Riot police stopped the march at a number of different locations around the city, forcing the demonstration to re-route itself. By around 4 p.m. the march was heading up University Ave., a large group of police following the protesters.
I stood watching from the corner of Prince-Arthur, and stuck my sign in the ground as a final stand. As the police reached me, one of them grabbed my sign and ripped it in half, taking the wooden stick and breaking it against his knee. There it was, the end to my first demonstration against police brutality.
I was left with only one question: why would they not let us march? Do we, in a free society, not have the right to protest against the police? By not letting us protest, by not letting us have a voice, the police created last Sunday’s chaos. They once again abused their authority and their power to oppress Montrealers. The staying power of the demonstrators, however, showed the police that we will not keep quiet.
Susanne Farag is a U1 Education student. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.