Friday, March 30, 2012

Remembrance Day: The Eviction

Earlier this week I wrote a blog about Remembrance Day and the circumstances surrounding Occupy Nova Scotia. Today I am going to recount for you, from my perspective, what happened on that infamous day in Halifax. I will do my best to be honest and unbiased. In 'The Deception' I had ended my recount as I was leaving Grand Parade after the ceremonies. I will continue from there.

After leaving Grand Parade, I returned to Victoria Park on my way home. When I arrived there, I was immediately pulled inside the Medical Tent by some officers (also mentioned in the The Deception) and handed a notice. The notice we were served explained that by-law P-600 would be enforced and that we were being evicted. I asked the officer, Sean Auld, how much time we had to move. He simply smirked in self-satisfaction and shrugged his shoulders. This was just before noon.

As police went tent to tent delivering notice, I began making phone calls to other members of ONS to try and determine our course of action. As time began to creep by, more and more police vehicles began to arrive on site, in effect surrounding Victoria Park. It was quite obvious by one in the afternoon that the police would not be giving us very much time to accomplish anything. We're talking about a holiday Friday, in a pouring rain and wind storm with only a small number of the occupiers present. We never once told the authorities we would not comply; they were told we needed some time to accommodate the demand.

A rally was called for three that afternoon in an attempt to amass a large crowd to deter any action of physical removal by the police. I can only assume that we were under surveillance as the call for a rally went out between one and one thirty and the police began the eviction process just before two. There were approximately 20-25 occupiers on site when the police came into the park; they numbered just over 40.

In true deceptive fashion, they entered at the rear of the camp, initially unnoticed by those of us present. They began taking possessions and homes away without any regard for the people who owned them. Tent poles were broken; tents torn and crumbled shoved into shopping carts; clothing tossed into garbage bags like trash. When we were alerted to their presence, we moved down towards the back where they were. A line was formed in front of the tents nearest to the police that they had not yet removed. We stood in that line, arms linked using the people's mic to let the police know what they were doing was wrong, that we were peaceful, non-violent protesters, that we would not resist arrest, that we had a right to be there and other things along this line. I personally led one of the lengthier people's mic to ensure that it was clear we were exercising our rights and that if it came down to it, we would not resist arrest but we would not let them follow through with what they were doing.

I am unsure how long this particular stand off lasted but it did come to an end when we realized that other officers had come in from another side and were taking tents and belongings from behind our line. It was obvious to us that we were outnumbered and needed to make a stand. This happened, for me, when I happened to see an officer standing next to a tent holding an evidence number as another took a picture. What made me decide enough was enough? The officer holding the number pointing and laughing at the home and worldly possessions of one of my fellow occupiers; my fellow humans; my fellow friends.

Two of us moved over and stood on a tent the police were getting ready to remove; the tent had collapsed through the night. I wasn't sure what was going to happen, standing there, only that I felt the police had gone too far. After a minute or two, they turned their backs to us and moved on to another, nearby tent. We moved too; so did three others with us. The five of us linked arms and sat down on the tent. This is where the climax to the day would happen.

An officer, several times, informed us that we were obstructing the duty of the police and we would be arrested if we didn't move. I, personally, acknowledged the officer each time, letting him know that I heard and understood what he had said. I can't say for sure, but he appeared to have this look of supreme respect; for at least a moment. After the final warning, things entered that surreal dream-like state that happens during high stress situations.

I don't know everything that was said, nor everything that happened that day but what I can say with the utmost certainty is that violence was initiated by the Halifax Police Department. As we sat there in that moment of uncertainty not knowing what would happen, suddenly something did. A large line of officers came crashing through the standing protest line; someone literally walking on my back and neck; as well as the others sitting on the ground. I watched as one officer punched a young, teenaged boy in the face as he was just standing there. I saw another officer as he slapped a young lady, grabbed her by the hair and slammed her to the ground. My eyes were horrified and I think perhaps I might have been in shock; this did not last.

The mayhem came to a brief pause for a moment; too brief. It was as though no one knew exactly what to do next. Then it erupted into full fledged insanity. Police officers pulled one of us away; another began pulling at me, digging his fingers and nails deep into my flesh through my clothes, leaving bruises. Another came down and began repeatedly punching my wrists; trying to break my hold. Another one of us was loosened and pulled away. As we sat there, now down to three, we realized that we would not last much longer.

They finally managed to break our hold on each other. As they pulled us apart, I did that which I had been saying for the few hours leading up to this moment: I remained non-violent and allowed myself to be arrested without resisting. In fact, when I was pulled away, I turned my head to the officer who had me and spoke: "I am not resisting. I am letting you arrest me. Please, I am not resisting. Here are my hands, cuff me." And he did; alone. It took only one officer to cuff me and then he helped me to my feet and permitted me to walk without force to the police van.

On my way I saw one unidentified occupier being tackled by four officers; four. When I arrived at the first police van, it was full. I was then brought to a second police van and helped into the back with three more occupiers. As we sat in the back of the van, waiting, suddenly a body came flying in. As his head bounced off the floor of the police van, his body began to twitch. I knew who it was, we all did. We begged him to speak, to let us know he was alright. He lay there, unresponsive, moaning and twitching. We begged and screamed to the police, asking them to get help for our friend. They ignored us. They then slammed the door on the right foot of my friend who lay unconscious on the floor of the van. The van started to move. I know the ride must have only taken two or three minutes but it felt like an eternity to us in the back as we screamed for medical help the whole way for our friend. As we screamed, the van suddenly came to a stop.

And this, my friends, is where today's blog entry will stop. I have done my best to recount to you the events that happened, from my point of view, on this day. There is still one more part of this Remembrance Day story that needs to be told: The Detainment. I will share the story of our, my, detainment in a future post coming soon. I'm also aware that there is information that is missing that will only be made available to you in my blog in later posts; like for example a complete explanation of by-law P-600. I hope you will reserve any judgements against myself and the Occupy movement until I have been able to completely re-tell my story. 

Part 3