Police brutality on peaceful protesters

Ada’itsx / Fairy Creek, Pacheedaht Territory:  A young man was flown by helicopter to hospital last Saturday after being injured by RCMP officers. He appeared to have a serious neck injury, after being first forced to the ground with great pressure on the back of his head, then being held on the ground by the officer kneeling on his neck. Unable to move, he was carried to the helicopter on a spinal board with his neck braced, and flown to hospital in Victoria.

Matthew Lloyd Taylor was part of the large group of about 60 forest defenders who blocked Granite Main Saturday morning, where police had installed a gate to keep protestors’ vehicles out. Their goal was to delay the arrests of other protestors who had chained themselves to devices farther up the road, in efforts to protect the old-growth forests that surround Fairy Creek.

Protestors were standing in a circle group they call a “Blob”, within which everyone had tightly linked elbows. This makes it more difficult for police to pull them out to arrest. Even though RCMP had quickly cut down a stand of maple trees in order to bypass the gate and continue up the road, they also chose to attack and break up the group with several rounds of pepper spray and violent assaults.

Taylor, a 35-year-old from Vancouver, said police pulled off his mask before spraying him with pepper spray, and then forced him to the ground with intense pressure on his neck.

“I really didn’t understand it,” he said later of the police attack. “There was no threat to their safety.” Fortunately a CT scan showed no broken bones, and he was released from hospital, but is still in great pain.

The worst part is the flashbacks, he said. “I keep seeing and hearing people screaming, RCMP grabbing at people’s faces, taking their masks off to hit them better with the pepper spray … There were mothers and daughters, and people from all walks of life in that crowd.”

Taylor said his friend was dragged through the gravel with his pants down. He could hear someone else screaming that they were claustrophobic and not to put them in the police van.

A young woman apparently suffered an allergic response to the pepper spray, and went into convulsions. She was attended by a fellow protestor. Another man suffered a broken rib during the police assault.

Many fear that the escalating violence of RCMP’s enforcement tactics could result in more serious injuries , and even death.

Stephanie von Dehn, an MD who has sometimes offered medic services at the blockades in recent months, says people should be outraged about the way peaceful protestors and Indigenous land defenders are being treated at Fairy Creek.

“We don’t want one of our Indigenous forest defenders to be killed just because they’re acting out of moral conviction,” she said. “These tactics that the police are using are intended to fight crime.

“These people are not criminals. They’re citizens that are there non-violently, out of moral conviction. So to attack them and brutally injure them, and potentially kill them, just completely discredits what’s left of respect for the RCMP.”

Many protestors, particularly Indigenous and BIPOC, have been assaulted by police multiple times over the past three months. Even small women, not resisting arrest, have been taken down violently by several officers at once.

Dr. von Dehn says she has tended protestors’ wounds and head injuries, and has seen video footage of police tactics that endanger people’s lives. She described one video in which a young man is attacked from behind by four RCMP, who pick him up and then ram him into the ground, head first.

“He could have had his neck broken. He could have been killed. He could have had a terrible head injury … Thank God he’s not dead.” That young man was diagnosed with a concussion, however, and has not yet recovered.

Another video showed a chainsaw being operated inches from protestors’ heads and necks, with nothing to protect from accidental contact. Dr. von Dehn says she is all too aware of the kinds of serious injuries that people can suffer in falls and while using machinery such as excavators and chainsaws.

“It’s completely unsafe, and it could easily go wrong. Someone could be killed. The fact that ambulances are coming every day to deal with whoever’s been injured – it’s totally outrageous – for peaceful citizens who are doing kind of nothing, other than sitting there.”

Gillian Ashley Martz, a registered clinical counsellor who specializes in trauma therapy, says she too is concerned. She watched on another day, when RCMP grabbed a forest defender who was not in the exclusion zone, and dragged him across it by a bandanna around his neck, which choked him to unconsciousness.

“Quite a few people were grabbed across the line that morning, handcuffed, dragged across gravel.  I was in a dragon [clipped into a structure that would require time for police to extract her from] and could do nothing but watch. It was terrifying for all of us.“

With 30 years of counselling experience, Martz worries about what will happen to the forest defenders when they finally go home, and are alone with the trauma of this violence without much access to the warm, supportive, highly bonded community they currently share.

“The sense of responsibility to the last of these forests is immense,” she said of the protestors.  “It is a huge burden to bear, but they can do it with each other.”

Dr. von Dehn said, “You can’t call this fighting crime, or protecting the public in any way. This is people of conscience protecting the forest and committedly being non-violent, and continuing to be nonviolent after weeks and weeks.

“This is something that outrages us when it happens in other countries. We’re outraged when Indigenous people are killed for protecting their forests. But this is what we’re doing here. We’re putting people at risk, and sooner or later, someone is going to be killed if they don’t stop.

“It could be tomorrow.”

Images:

– Chainsaw being used inches from an Indigenous land defender’s unprotected head and neck, as she screams: https://www.instagram.com/p/CSxmQG5B0zl/

– An Indigenous woman is attacked by police as she speaks to a group of people: https://www.instagram.com/p/CS01IvNrSQP/

– RCMP Media Relations Sergeant Manseau told CBC earlier this week: “There was some pushing and shoving from the protestors that actually knocked over an RCMP officer, knocking him down into a ditch area where they were actually knocked unconscious and had to be removed. Directions were again given, the crowds were failing to comply with police direction, pepper spray was used and that member was able to be removed from the area.” However, the following video clearly shows (at about 2:20) the downed officer first moving away from where he’d fallen on hands and knees, and then getting up and walking away. Then the pepper spraying started: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CS2oMmEJ9FK/?utm_medium=copy_link

– 7-minute video of the attack on the circled forest defenders last Saturday morning. A police medic is among those pepper-spraying. Despite worsening Covid rates in BC, police ripped people’s masks off before spraying them. Some people are sprayed at extremely close range: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjLRuuHnUJ8

– Four RCMP picked up a protestor and appeared to deliberately drop him on his head during the HQ raid August 9: https://www.instagram.com/stories/fairycreekblockade/2637396709166361159/?utm_source=ig_story_item_share&utm_medium=share_sheet

– August 9th raid of HQ camp: Three all-terrain vehicles are driven past a car, which is blocking access. A protestor explains that the car cannot be moved because that would hurt a protestor’s arm connected to it. At 3:09, two protestors throw themselves on the road, attempting to block one of the ATVs. The driver appears to narrowly miss a man’s head.

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