Cops, Tasers, and Collateral Damage
Insurrectionary Anarchists of the Coast Salish Territories
(British Columbia, Canada)
September 8, 2004
On June 23, 2004, Robert Wayne Bagnell died in a Vancouver hotel, having been shocked with 50,000 volts of electricity by a police officer using a taser gun. Less than two months earlier, Vancouver resident Roman Andreichikov died in another hotel after he was tasered while three police officers were on top of him, holding him down. Andreichikov said that he couldn’t breathe, but an officer responded by saying “If you’re mumbling, you’re still breathing.”
The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) decided to keep Robert Bagnell’s death out of the public eye for exactly a month, as they scrambled to find excuses and prepare a press conference. The timing of Bagnell’s death was inconvenient for the cops, since on that very same day a coroner’s inquest into Jeff Berg’s in-custody death had begun, and police chief Jamie Graham was holding a press conference to defend the two cops who randomly assaulted two men during the Guns N Roses riot. The VPD claimed that Bagnell died because he had lethal levels of cocaine in his bloodstream at the time, even though Coroner Stephen Fonseca reported that the cause of Bagnell’s death had yet to be determined.
Over the past year, the VPD has upped its taser arsenal from 30 to 50 weapons. They claim that tasers “save lives”. At the press conference that revealed Robert Bagnell’s death, Jamie Graham said a benefit of tasers is that “police officers do not have to resort to deadly force when dealing with people who can’t think straight because of drugs, alcohol or mental illness.” But obviously tasers are potentially lethal, and there is no reason to physically assault people who simply “can’t think straight”. Tasers actually provide the police with a useful tool in administering force with the built-in justification that this new technology is “more humane”, that deaths connected to the use of tasers are merely coincidental. The level of brutality increases overall, because the use of tasers and other “less-than-lethal” technologies has become generalized.
With the economic and political restructuring of B.C.’s Liberal government (the dismantling of welfare and other social services), overt social control has become more necessary. Globalization was made possible by developments in technology (computers, robotics, communications, etc.), and now new technologies are being applied to manage the poverty that globalization has deepened.
Yet, we are supposed to believe that the police are not an occupying military force, just as we are meant to blindly accept that the U.S. Army is now merely policing Iraq. The reality is that less-than-lethal weapons are being designed and developed for military purposes, to be used both in imperialist wars of expansion and domestic social control. Along with communications technology and the collaboration of the media, military operations can be politically justified and public opinion can be managed. Less-than-lethal weapons can be used interchangeably by either police or military forces, and will become increasingly useful in the context of urban warfare and the presence of large numbers of non-combatant civilians. The technology is “media-friendly”, leaving little in the way of visible damage or destruction.
At the same time, police forces in the wealthy G8 nations have been thoroughly militarized, with the development of “tactical units” and Emergency Response Teams trained in the use of lethal force and military methods. In Canada, this became most obvious during the indigenous rebellions at Gustafsen Lake and Ipperwash in 1995. After analyzing the Oka Crisis, Canada’s political elite determined that their use of the army in 1990 was a political error, in that it revealed the true nature of the Canadian government as an occupying colonial power and led to widespread sympathy and solidarity with the Mohawk Warriors. At Gustafsen Lake and Ipperwash, the police took on the military role, using armoured personnel carriers, explosives and snipers, and concocting disinformation campaigns with the help of the corporate press, portraying the conflicts as domestic “criminal” matters.
Currently, Canadian police officers are taking part in the occupation of Haiti, having already helped train the police force of the puppet Iraqi government.
In January of this year, the Canadian government attempted to utilize its own puppet Band Council regime at the Mohawk reservation of Kanehsatake to bring in 67 new Native police officers from outside the community. The police invasion was part of Grand Chief James Gabriel’s ongoing efforts to sell off Mohawk land and further incorporate Kanehsatake into the nearby municipality of Oka. Fortunately, the traditional people of Kanehsatake have mounted a fierce resistance, deflecting numerous police incursions and shutting down the Kanehsatake Mohawk Police station, maintaining the reserve as a “no-go zone” for agents of the Canadian government, Mohawk or otherwise. Nonetheless, several Mohawks still face serious criminal charges for the resistance in January, and some have been prohibited from returning home to Kanehsatake.
It has been said that oppression is most easily recognized through resistance, and if we accept this as true our task becomes clear. If we want to live our lives free from constant surveillance, control and exploitation then we must actively disrupt the functioning of the dominant system. We must create and expand “no-go zones”, kicking the police out of neighborhoods and destroying the infrastructure of capitalism, piece-by-piece. The alternative is nothing more than the pathetic and degrading monotony of obedience.