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Small bands of violent anarchists disrupted larger peaceful protests at the G20 summit in Toronto Saturday, destroying shops and burning police cars. Police said they expect more violence Sunday on the last day of the gathering of the world’s wealthiest countries.
Between 5,000 and 10,000 people gathered to march in protest of the summit, were met by 5,500 police officers. Most were protesting for social causes, and say G20 policies favor the rich at the expense of the poor. But small bands of violent protesters in black clothes and masks broke off from the main protests and rampaged violently through downtown Toronto, reports The Toronto Sun.
The violence came despite the $1 billion price tag for security at the summit, which followed a G8 summit outside Toronto. Violent protests are common at such meetings, but fewer protesters showed up in Toronto than have congregated at previous summits. Nonetheless, some were able to inflict extensive damage by using a tactic known as “Black Bloc.”
What is 'Black Bloc'?
The Toronto Star reports that the tactic, common in international protests, involves protesters dressing in black and moving as groups to perform violent acts, then removing the black clothing to blend in with the larger protest crowd to avoid apprehension by the police. On Saturday, dozens of such protesters huddled together in a park to change into their street clothes, leaving the black garments behind and disappearing into the crowds.
The Star reports that many of the “Black Bloc” protesters Saturday were anarchists. Many have attended protests peacefully throughout the week before their rampage Saturday, reports the Star.
Expressed through an assortment of chants, the group’s causes are many: They’re anti-capitalist, anti-police, anti-colonial. While the labour members marched to have their voices heard, the anarchists are resolute that world leaders aren’t listening and don’t care.
Any change has to come at their own hands.
For the most part, their targets are specific and symbolic: As the crowd tore across Queen St., they hammered police cruisers, attacked banks and other corporate companies. Yet they left a record store, a local tavern and an independent hardware shop untouched.
The protesters were not able to break through the barrier surrounding the area where world leaders are meeting, and instead turned to smashing windows and looting banks and other stores; setting fire to at least four police cruisers; and throwing bricks, rocks, and bottles of urine at police. According to CNN, police used tear gas, pepper spray, and bean-bag pellets against the protesters. Many had soaked their clothes in vinegar in anticipation of tear gas.
Toronto’s police chief said some of the attacks were meant to draw police away from the barrier surrounding the summit area so protesters could attempt to breach it, reports CBC News. He also warned that the hard-core, violent anarchists would be back Sunday.
Smaller protests this year
Despite the violence, the protests in Toronto are markedly smaller than previous years. A G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, in 2001 drew as many as 200,000 protesters; dozens were wounded and one person was killed by police. Tens of thousands protested at the G20 summit in London last year, and a bystander died after being shoved by a police officer.
But some in Toronto complained that the police were protecting the location of the summit at the expense of the rest of the city. A columnist for the Toronto Sun said the objective of police was to stop people from getting through the barrier. “Much of the rest of the city was, however, left on its own,” he wrote, calling for a “frank discussion” of why police at some points stood by while protesters smashed property.
A security specialist quoted by The Canadian Press, however, says police handled the protest correctly.
But security expert John Thompson, who has studied demonstrations for 25 years, said police handled the mobs the way they should. He said officers will often let demonstrators tire themselves out and then slowly push them away. By keeping them moving, police prevent tension from boiling over into intense violence.