there’s no easy way to say ‘manifestation’ in english. it is a noun rendered of a verb without object: it is not a protest (against) or a demonstration (to). it is an idea, a feeling- a chorus of emotions made manifest in shared public space. one person can manifest and indeed often does- pouting, screaming, singing, dancing, (fucking) and fighting are all physical manifestations of emotional states.
But just as there is a difference between drizzle and downpour, there is an important difference between these fleeting emotional manifestations and the more durable ones which have rolled through downtown montréal every night for the last month. The police, as we understand them, are mostly able to manage small ‘domestic disturbances’ or some drunks slugging each other on the Main, but how do these police responses scale?
For example, when the cops roll up to a suburban house because the neighbours heard screaming, they are walking into a situation dominated by emotion. They have no way of knowing the dynamics at work in the home they are visiting, and these dynamics are heavily influenced by cultural, linguistic, and historical factors. The police have only one real weapon in their arsenal which could avoid setting off a powder keg (if one were to be present); this being capital-R reason.
The badge, the hat, the patrol car- the sigils and signifiers of the police- all make appeal to the law of the land, which, in our constitutionally democratic belief system, is the product of sober reflection and Reason only. They make clear the legal consequences of any actions which may be taking place, and enforce those consequences as necessary. As always, for the safety of all concerned, a responsible police officer will seek to de-escalate the situation at all turns, dialling screaming down to shouting down to talking down to calm.
Again, how does this scale? It is first important to point out that the night marches are the emotional manifestation of a generation malaise- a creeping terror of the future which is being strip-mined as we speak, paired with institutions which ridicule their concerns. A sign last night read ‘nous sommes devenus des bêtes féroces d’espoir’. When you ignore a child, the child will act out- the solution is neither to cave completely nor to continue ignoring, but rather to identify the problem and consider solutions.
In this context, consider now the effects of certain possible police measures on a crowd of 10 000 young people who already feel marginalized from their society’s political discourse:
1. Ignore the manifestants: they will manifest harder. Certain radical elements will commit acts of violence to call attention to their demands, and as the silence from the institution persists, more and more people will join in their frustration. This will inevitably lead to:
2. Meet them with force: sound cannons, tear gas, water jets, rubber bullets- the kit. This again will do nothing but radicalize the group- as acts of physical violence are committed against individual manifestants who have not personally aggressed the police, the violent sentiment will escalate. If de-escalation promotes everyone’s safety, what does escalation do?
The only sensible option is 3. Don’t Panic. Encourage the main bulk of the march to keep together and keep moving, while isolating trouble spots off to the side where possible, or farther along the route if necessary, Commit to meeting violent elements with less violence than they themselves have used, in the hopes of de-motivating further violent acts by others.
It is imperative to note that the police themselves can do nothing to address the demands of the protestors. The only folks who can do anything to calm this situation are the government- they should annul the Loi 78 before it is struck down by a Charter Challenge and freeze tuition at present levels until at least Fall ’13, while calling a Public Inquiry into the management of Québec’s universities and the future of their funding to decide the question permanently.
Failing that, Charest démissionne- call elections and find a job up north.