Is the Whole World Still Watching? Explaining Police Violence During the Toronto G8/G20 Meetings
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In recent years the G8 and G20 Summits have become important sites of protest and conflict. Extensive planning by police and protesters have transformed the public meaning of these yearly assemblies into large-scale events characterized by what many see as threats to public order. The summits have also provided a world-stage for the economically and racially disadvantaged as well as globalized free trade dissenters to voice their resistance and opposition. At the same time, police have been placed on the opposite side of the conflict, ordered to “control the masses.” This conflict situation can sometimes lead to collective violence, especially on behalf of the police. In attempting to explain the police collective violence witnessed at the G8/G20 protests in Toronto in June of 2010, Neil Smelser’s (1962) value-added model of collective behaviour can be employed. This model demonstrates how processes involving structural conduciveness, structural strain, the spread of a generalized belief, the mobilization of participants and finally the utilization of social control can lead to an event such as collective violence. Recent revisions to the value-added argument by Fine (1997) have shifted attention away from the functionalist assumptions of the model and toward a more social constructionist stance. Thus, for Fine, belief itself does not create action. Rather, the use of the belief by claimsmakers can lead to a call to action, through media or other outlets. Finally, Randall Collins’s (2008) theory of forward panic is useful for illustrating the finer details of precisely how police mobilize for violence. In order to analyze the police collective violence witnessed over the weekend, a combination of participant observation, semi-structured interviews and ethnographic content analysis methods were employed. The findings support that because of the placement of the G8/G20 meetings, the conflicting relationship between the police and the protesters and the construction of the protesters as troublemakers, meant to be approached with suspicion, the police were able to overcome the tense conflict situation and attack the protesters. I conclude by suggesting a community-policing model for future protest situations.