Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Police intimidate blogger?

zoom! of Knitnut.net has posted an entry in her blog, aptly titled Bank Street Bully, referring to a police officer who didn't like her photographing him handling a woman on Bank street.

Zoom recounts how she valiantly held her ground and challenged the uniformed officer's demand to erase the photos from her camera. While police can be useful to some people in some situations, the officer in this case was definitely overstepping--abusing, even--his authority by trying to coerce her into deleting the photos she had just taken of him.

I'm no stranger to complaining about police, but I've never really confronted nor been confronted by an officer directly about a serious matter (there was one time when I challenged an officer after he made a snide remark he made about me to another officer).

I have, however, photographed a few police-related incidents that have set off my spidey sense, which zoom!'s post has inspired me to post tonight.

The one most similar to that observed by zoom! happened this past June on Elgin street. I was chatting with Carver, a popular downtown panhandler/artist/philosopher (who, by the way, is not an alcoholic or drug addict, and is not homeless, contrary to many people's stereotypes of panhandlers!), when he noticed a native panhandler out cold up the block, being roused by a couple of cops and a paramedic. I took a few photographs from far enough away to not attract the police's attention.

This wasn't police brutally, mind you, but I didn't think someone sleeping on a doorstep is really causing anybody any harm. Which is why I was a bit surprised when the paramedic stepped back while the police arrested him.

I'm not sure who is the guy in the blue shirt, but he seemed to play a part in the incident; he may have been the complainant, or simply a concerned citizen. He followed the officers around the corner to their cruiser, against which they pressed him before putting him inside.

I innocently asked the officer what was going on, and the officer gave me a brief overview: that they were going to put him in a cell overnight "for his own protection" yadda yadda yadda.

The next incident is from August 2007 during the Montebello North American Leaders' Summit (the one where undercover police officers were caught acting as agents provocateurs in a crowd of otherwise peaceful protesters). I had just happened to be on Cartier Street, when I discovered an odd sight. A couple police vehicles and three OC Transpo buses.

Being once again unseen in plain view, I snapped a few shots of what I saw. The windows of the buses were covered by black garbage bags, and even a garbage-bag drape was installed across the aisle.

The buses were chartered by the Ottawa Police Service to head to the Montebello Summit, as the sign in the front window (closeup below) clearly and publicly indicates. While I was sufficiently unfond of what the buses likely contained at the time--probably Ottawa Police officers with riot squad gear--I know that public transit vehicles are used during protests to detain groups of protesters en masse, and I shudder at the possibility of what could happen to detained protesters if they were hidden from public view inside these buses (paid for by OUR tax dollars!).

I wonder what the advertisers on those buses (landroverottawa.ca and Ocean's light tuna italian salad, among others not captured in my photos) think about their ads being on potential mobile holding units.

In October, I was walking home when a pair of police cruisers somewhat forcefully pulled over an OC Transpo bus that had just picked up a pair of passengers on Gladstone at Percy.

Two officers boarded the bus, questioned a young black male who had just boarded, got off the bus and let it (and the youth) go on its way. I overheard one of the officers say something along the lines of "wow, he matched the description perfectly, but it's not the guy." Just imagine being that kid on the bus and having to sit through the rest of the ride with everyone staring at you because the police thought you looked like someone they want.

This last one isn't so much police, but it's certainly along the same lines. It's also along the lines of the oft-quoted saying:
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." (Anatole France, from The Red Lily, 1894)
After the City of Ottawa literally banned the poor from sleeping under a bridge earlier this year, raising the ire of CopWatch organizer Andrew Nellis (the aftermath of which I blogged about at the time), the National Capital Commission abruptly removed the shrubs in Confederation Park behind which homeless people sleep. I walked through Confederation Park every day for five years and never once noticed a homeless person sleeping behind a shrub--much less be bothered by it.

But in the name of shooing homelessness to some other quarter, the shrubs were removed from this previously enjoyable public space, leaving a grey concrete wall for passers-by to stare at.

O, how inviting this park is now. They should pave over the grass and cut down the trees, too, just to be sure it won't attract any undesirable people. (Or any people at all!)

- RG>

No comments: