The Brutality of Policing in Vancouver
by Steve Rogers
Insurrectionary Anarchists of the Coast Salish Territories
(Vancouver, Canada) March 7, 2004
“Law enforcement is a form of social discipline and may be equated with the scaled-down situation of family life. Without humane, meaningful discipline by parents of their children, there will be no orderliness and little happiness in a domestic household.”
– The Vancouver Police Department, “A Century of Service” (1886-1986)
Brutality is an essential component of policing which is put into practice on a regular basis. It is not an element external to the police or the political and economic system which they are part of and are enlisted to protect.
As the majority of the population is pushed down further and further into conditions of degradation and poverty, police brutality becomes a more frequent part of people’s daily experience. The police attacks on the tent city and Woodwards squatters directly profited the many temporary labour employers in the city, perpetuating instability and desperation in the lives of the poor.
Over the past year the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) has occupied an unprecedented place in the corporate media, as many particular incidents of brutality have been exposed. Although this extensive media coverage has obviously outraged the VPD it has not significantly limited their brutality. The vast majority of police attacks, of course, go unreported. The corporate media has no interest in preventing the “excesses” of the police, and are only going about business as usual, selling sensational news stories to the buying public. The media can even call for a public inquiry into the VPD’s actions without threatening the current state of affairs at all. In fact, the whole spectacle only props up the democratic illusion that police brutality can be countered by the same institutions that benefit from it. Politics is the art of convincing people that problems can be solved on the one hand, while sweeping the mess under the rug with the other. Citizens can even bring themselves the joy of participating in their own exploitation by sending in angry letters to the editor!
At times the media will promote false solutions to the problem of police brutality, but more often than not they will actively assist the police in covering up brutality, as we have most recently seen with the cruel beating and attempted frame-up of eight East Vancouver residents on February 29. Immediately after clubbing, pepper-spraying and breaking the ribs of the residents as punishment for having the audacity to question why the police were arresting someone, the cops ran straight to all the corporate media outlets in town, clearly showing that they understood the transparent nature of what they had done and the need to cover their asses by building up a bullshit story in the public eye and the courts.
The police operate in an atmosphere of near-impunity, because brutality – the illegal use of force – is part of their job description. Maintaining this oppressive society would be impossible without the police, without their batons, pepper-spray and hand-cuffs.
The VPD can fire two of the cops involved in the Stanley Park beatings while the pigs who killed Jeff Berg and Frank Paul and beat Kulwinder Parhar remain untouched. Politicians and political activists can whine about how “nasty” these “awful” police are until they’re blue in the face, and VPD gangsters will continue to cruise around busting skulls without fear of any real consequences.
The structure of the police force demands that its individual officers think and behave in a certain way. The position of authority and isolation from the rest of society promotes a particular attitude towards the exploited. Most police officers openly express their hatred of the poor and derive a sadistic pleasure from harassing them. Corruption is inherent to the force, and many cops in the Downtown Eastside have been known to jack people up just to steal their money. While for years the police couldn’t be bothered to investigate the cases of the dozens of missing women in the Downtown Eastside, at the same time they were picking up sex-trade workers, using them and dropping them off on the outskirts of the city without paying them.
The Vancouver Police Department was specifically formed as an instrument of colonial domination. In May of 1869, Constable Tomkins Brew, the first police officer of the Granville township that would later become Vancouver, wrote to the Colonial Secretary of British Columbia saying “At present the Inlet is a scene of drunkenness and savage violence on the part of the Indians, they continually threaten the lives of the whitemen, and have recently committed one murder and attempted another on whites besides innumerable acts of violence on each other.” He requested that a police station and jail be built to deal with the “Indian problem” and was granted it.
Vancouver’s first Police Chief, John Stewart, had originally been hired by shopkeepers as a private “Merchant’s Patrolman”.
It’s painfully clear that the only way that police brutality can be effectively challenged is through direct struggle and action. Hatred of the police is very widespread in the ranks of the excluded. The potential for spontaneous conflict with the police is always present, and we should prepare ourselves for these kinds of clashes. But we can also act within a revolutionary project of our own creation and organize attacks on the structures of the police state.
We are being engulfed by a world in which policing spreads like a virus, with private security guards everywhere, surveillance cameras on the street corners, and yuppies with cell-phones looking to score points by ratting out the slightest social deviation. We can’t expect these structures to abolish themselves, or the class in power to abandon their position. We have to intervene in the struggle ourselves.
Vancouver Police Brutally Assault Eight Eastside Residents
Kulwinder Parhar – In February of 2004, Vancouver Police Constable Michael Stewart was found not guilty of beating Burnaby cab driver Kulwinder Parhar while off-duty in June of 2002. Parhar testified that he picked up four men, including Stewart, from a hall in Burnaby, that they smelled of alcohol and started yelling racist slurs at him when he asked them where they wanted to go. He says that he was punched in the head a few times by one of the men in the back seat, knocking off his turban. When he threatened to call the police, Stewart allegedly said, “You bastards come here from Punjab and kill people. I’m going to kill you.” When Parhar began dialing 911, Stewart punched him in the face and the chest, and when Parhar stopped the car, Stewart crawled out the passenger window and began walking away. Parhar says when he tried to stop him, Stewart gave him a hard punch to the head. Several witnesses saw Parhar’s state after the attack and Burnaby RCMP officers showed up and found Stewart staggering around drunk. A judge found Stewart not guilty in trial. Stewart was kept on active administrative duty during the trial.
Frank Paul – On December 6, 1998, the body of Frank Joseph Paul, a Mi’kmaq from Big Cove, New Brunswick, was found in an alley in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. He died of hypothermia while “in custody” of the Vancouver Police Department. Officers dragged him out of the police station and into a van, even though he was obviously unconscious, and then dumped him in an alley. The Vancouver Police Department imposed a two day suspension on one of the officers involved for discreditable conduct and a one day suspension on the other for neglect of duty, and decided not to lay criminal charges. Former Police Complaint Commissioner Don Morrison advised the Vancouver Police Department that a Public Hearing would not be appropriate, citing “extended delays” and “other public interest considerations”. In 2001, he changed his mind and recommended an inquest, but BC Solicitor General Rich Coleman disagreed and rejected the request, stating concerns about “racial discrimination” and “public acrimony”. On March 18 of 2004, it was reported that Coleman had again rejected a request from the Police Complaint Commissioner to hold a public inquiry into Paul’s death. The next day, indigenous people held a small protest in the alleyway behind the Main Street police station. Jeff Berg’s sister also spoke at the event.
Frank Paul – Turtle Island Native Network
Jeff Berg – On October 22, 2000, there was an allegation of a marijuana grow-op rip-off which may have involved Jeff and three others. Jeff was in a vehicle in a rear alley near the scene, and as the car started to leave the area, a police vehicle rammed the car, causing it to spin, pinned against a garage. Jeff exited the vehicle, and according to civilian independent eyewitness reports, stood behind the vehicle, hands and feet spread, motionless. It is alleged the officer advanced towards Jeff from behind, gun drawn, while Jeff was frozen in surrender mode. Witnesses claim he was struck in the head / neck area with the officer’s gun, and while Jeff was laying motionless on his side, the officer continued by kicking Jeff repeatedly “soccer-ball style” in the head, testicles, and torso. This is cruel and unnecessary force by any estimate. One eyewitness alleges the officer then chose to drag Jeff’s lifeless body face down across the pavement, and was so appalled he began videotaping in case other violent episodes erupted. The tape clearly shows the police standing idly by while Jeff lies motionless bleeding on the alleyway, showing no concern whatsoever for his traumatic condition. Jeff’s family believes it is grossly negligent for the attending officers to withhold immediate assistance to aid a victim. Jeff was revived later at the scene by paramedics, but died of his injuries on October 24, 2000 after being removed from life support. The internal investigators assigned to this case were, in the family’s opinion, biased and insistent on minimizing the event. The police maintain that Jeff was violent, a scuffle ensued and as a result Jeff just “collapsed”. The family was not satisfied with this explanation so they assembled a team of licensed private investigators to knock on doors and look for eyewitnesses, which were found. They now form part of the Police Complaint Commissioner’s file. VPD concluded their internal review late December 2002, after Crown Counsel reviewed VPD’s file and ruled there would be no charges laid. The family alleges the VPD’s internal investigation was flawed.
– excerpt from the “Justice For Jeff Berg” website