Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 141: The Billion Dollar Question


The photograph above is one of the most iconic of the Vietnam War era. Protestors facing phalanxes of police outside the Pentagon in Washington, placing flowers in the muzzles of loaded guns. It epitomized not only the "Peace, Love and Groovy" vibe of the time, but just how far the paranoia of the establishment had drifted from the reality of those questioning their actions.

Photographs like this one convinced many that maybe it was those who controlled the police and not the protestors who were out of control. And it lead to a mass awakening with regard to the freedoms we were losing and led to the birth of a kinder and gentler society.

And look how far we've come…

The above video was shot during the G20 demonstrations in July in Toronto and immediately went viral creating an internet sensation of "Officer Bubbles", Toronto Police Services Constable Adam Josephs.

In reaction to the video, several people posted mash-ups and cartoons riffing off the event. And now Constable Josephs is suing Youtube and trying to get the names of those he claims have brought him “ridicule, scandal and contempt both personally and as a member of the (Toronto Police Service)”.

I don't know if Const. Josephs is a really good cop who had one unfortunate moment caught on camera. I don't know if he's what good cops and criminal defense lawyers call a "cowboy" letting his possession of a badge and uniform get the better of him at times. I don't know if he's just a guy instructed that morning by superior officers to "send a message" to anyone opposing the conference.

I just know that whatever world of shit he's been living in since this video was posted probably just got a whole lot worse.

He's probably been the butt of jokes from fellow cops. He might have the brass wishing he'd just go away. It can't be pleasant interacting with any member of the public who now recognizes him.

Certainly his career scrapbook would look better without clippings from all the major Toronto papers and magazines calling him all kinds of derogatory names.

Our feelings we with difficulty smother

When constabulary duty's to be done

Ah, take one consideration with another

A policeman's lot is not a happy one.

                       -- "The Pirates of Penzance" Gilbert & Sullivan

But he didn't sue any newspapers for libel or fellow cops for slander. As far as I know he hasn't demanded the backing of his union or from his Chief for what went on.

In a lot of ways this guy may be as much a victim as the young woman he appears to victimize.

Maybe suing Youtube is the only alternative Constable Josephs felt he had under the circumstances.

And if it was, although the laws governing satire likely have him whipped, I hope he gets the money he's after. Because in re-opening this can of worms, I think he might have turned the spotlight back on what really went on at the G20 and some people might not want him being a cop anymore because of it.

I spent four years writing and producing true police stories for the CBS series "Top Cops", in the process spending hundreds of hours on police ride-a-longs and many hundreds more in the company of good cops and bad both on the job and off.

Many of the cops I profiled became close friends. A few became people I interacted with professionally and left behind as quick as I could, hoping they soon wouldn't have the powers and privileges of cops anymore.

Like I said, I don't know what kind of cop Adam Josephs is and I certainly have no idea what he's like as a person. But I get a lot of clues to how his fellow officers may be treating him now from watching the reactions of the female officer standing next to him in the infamous video.

She's the one initially confronting Courtney Winkels, the young woman eventually arrested; not for blowing bubbles but for wearing a bandana and knapsack and having a lawyer's phone number written on her arm -- meaning she fit the criminal profile of violent activists (as well as many of the activists sworn to non-violence).

She was officially charged with "Conspiracy to  Commit Mischief" because she was carrying a bottle of eyewash in her knapsack, a knapsack that had its contents previously searched and okayed by other police officers and which she was carrying as a member of the Toronto Street Medics.

You can tell the female officer doesn't like not getting a straight answer from Ms. Winkels, but she knows that is the woman's right as a Canadian and deals with her with reserve and even a little good humor.

"Yeah, we've got somebody who doesn't like the police presence or maybe even me in particular but nobody is even disturbing the peace here let alone committing a criminal offense".

This is the kind of cop you want around when people are emotional, tempers are frayed and somebody just needs to chill everybody out.

When Constable Josephs steps in to tell Ms. Winkels she is in danger of being arrested for assault, you can see a range of emotions sweep over the female officer's face. First, there's a kind of "Oh come on, we don't need to escalate this…", followed by a look of defeat because her strategy is no longer viable and then you can see her bite all of that back and not publically question his actions.

And that's what good cops do too. Your partner may be behaving like an asshole, but you're both part of the "thin blue line" and you don't reveal any dissatisfaction with his actions in public. There will be time enough for that later.

And given the nature of video, there's a chance Josephs wasn't out of line, that something happened prior to this particular camera being turned on that gave him a reason for behaving in the manner he is.

Maybe the female officer just got there herself and hasn't been able to fully assess the situation. From this video clip alone, you can't really know.

What needed to happen here was for a senior officer to step in and either suggest Josephs "go do (something) over there" or put Ms. Winkels in his face much like a baseball manager does when one of his players has a beef with an umpire.

Cooler heads needed to prevail. And there appear to be a number of ranking officers nearby so I begin to wonder if something more is at play. Such as if there were some other orders being followed. Something perhaps revealed in the video that's also available on Youtube but hasn't gotten nearly as many plays…

Now the nature of video and the intent of those who filmed it might make you question the motivations in this piece as well. But those images of brute force and unmotivated paranoia are stunning.

Something really un-Canadian is going on here…

Following the G20, the charges against Ms. Winkle and more than 900 others similarly detained were dropped. On their behalf, a $42 Million class action suit has been filed against the city and the police forces involved. Many individual lawsuits are pending.

Maybe Constable Josephs doesn't deserve the kind of ridicule he's been subjected to since July. But some explanation is also long overdue to the rest of us for what went on. Yet I don't see anybody at any level of government either stepping forward to say the actions of men and women like Constable Josephs had their complete blessing or contravened their instructions.

Some lay the blame for all this directly at the feet of Prime Minister Harper for even agreeing to host the G20 let alone hold the party in Canada's largest city. And maybe they're right.

Some wonder if the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, a group that once insisted Tasers were completely safe and we needed a long gun registry, traded their silence on the gross violations of our civil rights in return for all the new hardware a Billion dollars in security costs purchased for their jurisdictions.

And I ask how what happened on the streets of Toronto has played absolutely no part in the city's current municipal election campaign, where people on all points of the political compass should be asking tough questions of their own chosen candidates.

Outgoing Toronto Mayor David Miller personally endorsed Joe Pantalone, a loyal member of his administration; yet few of Pantalone's supporters seem concerned that the previous administration and particularly Miller's appointed Police Chief initially denied and then confirmed that Toronto cops had used rubber bullets on non-violent demonstrators and never explained why they seemed to abandon the streets to those more violent.

Nobody supporting candidate George Smitherman seems to be questioning that the McGuinty provincial government that he was long a part of secretly granted special powers to the police just hours before the G20 began.

And if Rob Ford is as Right Wing as even he claims, why isn't he being asked if he supported the way the Toronto Police Services behaved last July?

Outside of "Officer Bubbles", everybody seems to want all of what happened to just be forgotten. 

But sweeping issues like these under a rug is what leads to our rights becoming even more curtailed in future.

Hundreds of law abiding Torontonians, including two National Post photographers carrying accreditation, a TTC employee innocently walking to work in full uniform and a one legged man sitting in a public park were dragged away and criminally charged because officers so-far-unnamed simply didn't want them where they were or felt a need to throw their weight around.

And once they can do that with impunity, nobody with even a bottle of liquid bubbles is safe.


Enjoy your Sunday.


rick mcginnis said...

Something I couldn't help but notice; this confrontation w/"Officer Bubbles" was happening at Queen West and Dufferin - literally dozens of blocks away from the G20 zone. What the hell did the police need to be doing there, in force, acting like an imminent threat was being made against diplomatic guests far from this west end neighbourhood. Add that question to all the ones I had after the misbegotten G20 summit.

Bytowner said...

Good questions, all, and a good choice of people of whom to ask them.