Street Blockade Against Police Brutality in Vancouver
by Street • Monday May 26, 2003
On Saturday, May 24, at the end of the Vancouver City Council sponsored “Woodwards Ideas Fair” police violence and harassment provoked a night of resistance to the Vancouver Police Department’s occupation of the Downtown Eastside.
The lying hypocrites of Vancouver City Council had spent thousands of dollars on a series of public forums on redeveloping the Woodwards building, with only 100 units of social housing proposed. Former Woodwards squatters and members of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and affiliated Housing Action Committee (HAC) showed up to demand that all units in Woodwards become social housing, recalling the long physical struggle for the Woodwards Squat and the police brutality that squatters were subjected to. Two arrogant and aggressive Vancouver Police officers harassed a former Woodwards squatter who was sitting outside the “Ideas Fair” rolling a cigarette. Trevor, a member of the Anti-Poverty Committee who had also been actively involved in the Woodwards squat, attempted to observe the police harassment of his comrade, but was grabbed and thrown up against the wall by the police. Many more people came out to witness what was going on and to demand that the cops release Trevor. The police became more agitated and assaulted a man who walked up to see what was happening. An undercover cop arrived to observe the situation. Several more cops with a police van arrived and started to carry Trevor away. The crowd followed the police and continued screaming for the cops to let Trevor go and the police responded by hitting and pushing people out of the way. The undercover cop grabbed a bike and positioned himself behind the other officers. As the police van drove away people marched up Hastings Street to the police station on Main Street, recognized the undercover cop along the way and yelled, “Fuck you pig!”
Anger at the occupying force of 50 new officers in the Downtown Eastside and the escalating harassment and brutality of the Vancouver police had reached a breaking point. People were ready to take a stand.
About 10 police officers came out to defend their station as the small crowd of Downtown Eastside residents showed up at their door. People chanted “No more pigs in our communities. Fuck the pigs!” and “Let Trevor go!”
People blocked off the street in front of the station from around 5:00pm until 10:30, waving black flags and “Free Trevor” signs. Runners brought food and blankets and police called city workers to bring sawhorse barricades to block off the street. Trevor’s mother arrived and expressed her outrage to the police, which seemed to embarrass some of the officers. Police told blatant lies and contradictory stories to the protesters regarding Trevor’s condition and location. Protesters made “Free Trevor” banners and signs saying “No more martial law in the Downtown Eastside.” Protesters used pylons to block off the north side of Main Street themselves, and when a cop appeared on the roof of the station with a video camera the crowd responded by chanting, “Jump! Jump! Jump!” A few people made annoying screeching sounds through a megaphone to taunt the police and the confused faces of few cops appeared in the windows of the station.
At about 10:30pm the police said that they would soon release Trevor if the protesters dispersed. People held a meeting in the street and decided to leave for half-an-hour and then return in full force.
The cops didn’t release Trevor by the timeline and so the protesters walked up to the detention centre next to the police station on Main Street. After about 10 minutes people became increasingly sick of the cops lies and took barricades out from behind the police station and blocked off the street. The crowd then marched with the barricades up to the busy intersection of Main and Hastings and blocked off all four directions, chanting “Liars! Liars!” at the cops. The protesters held the intersection for about 5 minutes, chanted “No more pigs in our communities” and then got word that Trevor had been released. The crowd victoriously walked up a block to meet Trevor, as the police removed the barricades from the street. Protesters taunted the cops by yelling “Fuck you!” and “Let that be a lesson to you pigs!”
The indigenous protesters, many of them former Woodwards squatters, made up the majority of those blocking off the street, were the most militant among the group and the most willing to blockade the intersection at Main and Hastings. The Vancouver Police Department is also a colonial, settler military force on indigenous territory. The native people of Vancouver have never stopped resisting oppression on their land.
The night of defiance to the cops showed that even a small group people can take effective direct action to confront the police. It was an empowering and militant expression of resistance to the defenders of the rich and part of a growing spirit of rebellion in the Downtown Eastside.