Originally posted to North Shore Counter Info, the following text looks at the recent sentencing of several comrades in the aftermath of an anti-gentrification riot in Hamilton, Ontario.
The What and Why
On November 29th 2018, those facing charges in relation to the so-called “Locke St. Riot” accepted a non-cooperating plea deal. The deal does not mention or otherwise implicate anyone outside of the group of people pleading guilty, and was agreed upon collectively by everyone involved. From the beginning, it was a priority for us to engage with this situation in a manner that went against the tendency for the legal system to individualize and to pit people against each other. Our focus was collective and outward-oriented – we took into consideration the wellbeing of the entire group while negotiating this resolution, as well as the wellbeing of the struggles of which we are a part. This was never about any one individual, nor was it just about those being criminalized.
In terms of the specifics of our plea, one person was sentenced to a year in prison, of which they expect to serve 5-6 months, and is now in jail; another will be sentenced to a shorter jail term in the new year; and one person received a 9 month conditional sentence entailing house arrest and a curfew. On the ever so slight brighter side of the plea deal, two people were sentenced to a conditional discharge and 3 others had their charges withdrawn in exchange for signing a peace bond. This means 5 out of the 8 us will come out of this without a permanent criminal record. Everyone’s sentence also include a period of probation and some amount of community service.
For those wondering why we chose to plea instead of going to trial, there are a number of different reasons. The nature of state repression is such that there really are no pure victories or clear-cut wins. When dealing with it, you are put in a position where all of the avenues available to you are bad ones – each is just bad for different reasons. Within the context of no good options, it becomes a matter of trying to choose the least-worst one, and for us this was accepting a plea deal.
There is no justice to be found in the legal system, just as there is no innate correlation between legality and justice. The courts are rooted in and fundamental to the settler colonialism that defines Canada; they prop up a system of white supremacy here just as surely as they do more famously south of the border. The courts provide a veneer of respectability and “fairness” while distracting attention from the naked violence of the state, like Hamilton police killing multiple people this year alone or there being countless deaths and incalculable suffering in the Barton Jail. Along with prisons and police, the courts are a crucial tool used by the ruling class to enforce inequality and maintain their power more broadly: the courts are run by and for the rich, operating to protect them and their property. For an action like this demo, one clearly targeted against the rich, what positive expectations could we possibly have for engaging with the legal system? We are their enemies and they hate us as much as we hate them, plus they get particularly upset when someone fucks up their Audis.
We’ve never had any interest in evoking the discourse of democratic rights or the concepts of guilt and innocence to navigate the violence of the state. We refuse to place ourselves within it and do not want to do anything that props up the frameworks that create and perpetuate divisions like the criminal vs. the law-abiding citizen, the good vs. bad activist, peaceful vs. violent protester etc. – these serve the interests of power and only harm us.
Even if we were to play this game at a trial and “win” there would be a cost. The trial process would take years, and in the meantime this case would continue to place a strain on people and relationships, and be a huge drain of time and resources. The process itself is a punishment, involving restrictive bail conditions (like house arrest, non-associations, and banishment from the city), and the immense financial burden of needing to raise tens of thousands of dollars for lawyer costs. This is probably worse than what we’re getting in this deal. Such pressures are completely routine and are faced by almost everyone dealing with the courts. The idea that you have some “right to a trial” is a joke: the legal system is a guilty plea machine and we are not immune.
In addition, we were very much concerned with the issue of a trial setting precedent that would influence future cases. As the first group of people being charged under Canada’s 2014 anti-masking law, if we were to have been found guilty of that charge, it would have set the precedent on which future sentences would be based. The events on Locke St. sparked a pretty intense public backlash and a period of what can only be called hysteria (e.g. news articles talking about the threat of anarchists hiding in bushes, the city declaring the circle A a hate symbol, dramatic press conferences about the anarchist “manhunt” etc.). Beyond that, the action targeted an area where judges, lawyers, and their friends live and go to dinner. Needless to say, we would likely face a quite hostile court, and if convicted our sentences would likely be on the harsher side of things. We’d then be involved in setting a bad precedent that would be applied to others and negatively impact social movements, other anarchists, and the like.
Resistance and Repression
Repression happens. It’s not an unchanging force like the wind or rain, but as long as the state exists those who oppose the actions of the powerful will face its violence. It’s not a matter of “if”, but “when” and we can’t say it’s surprising. In Hamilton, those charged are involved with public and visible anarchist projects that try to maintain a fierce antagonism towards exploitation and oppression in the city. Gentrification is one very visible form. Tension has been building – anarchists in the city have refused to just let class war be completely one-sided and calls for repression against us have been building for years.
We reject any division between ideas and actions, and we stand by all the activities that took place on the weekend of March 3 – the bookfair, the demo, and more – all those acts that were criminalized and all those that weren’t. While we have no interest in making distinctions between those who broke shit and those who didn’t, it’s important to note that this was not (and it rarely ever is) just about a singular action. Those of us facing charges in Hamilton weren’t primarily targeted on the basis of breaking anything, but rather were targeted because we visibly and persistently push anarchist ideas and practices – ideas and practices that are fundamentally at odds with the vision the ruling class and their lackeys have for the city.
We could choose to be outraged about the criminalization of protest and of routine organizing tasks (like distributing leaflets), but this would be to say that the state is wrong to perceive those acts as threats to its interests. Every reading group, public meal, gathering, march etc. is as much a part of our refusal to have our lives managed by bureaucrats and capitalists as the act of throwing rocks through a window. The state will attack whatever parts of resistance it can, and since security practices during actions are often effective, that repression tends to focus on the activity done completely openly.
On the Backlash
There have already been a number of texts discussing the backlash following the events on Locke St., but it was so hyperbolic that it’s worth returning to. What gets noticed in this city and what doesn’t? One text from before any arrests said that the eviction of a single family is far worse than anything that happened on Locke. This could just be dismissed as a deflection, but it’s worth sitting with the fact that the property of investors and business owners is consistently valued more highly than the basic needs of most people living in Hamilton. For every article that equivocates about displacement, there is a stack of crime reporting on one hand, presenting our neighbourhoods as problems to be solved, and a stack of articles celebrating investment on the other.
Everyday forms of violence carried out by the rich, like rent (and eviction) and (precarious, low-wage) work are invisible, while moments where lower class people fight back are spectacular, presented as extraordinary, requiring a denunciation in which we are all pressured to participate.
This created a dynamic in Hamilton where the far-right could openly emerge to support businesses and try to physically attack “leftists” (or whatever they confusedly decided to call us) and where the city could try to use the special legal frameworks of gangs, terrorism, and hate crimes to go after anarchists. The ambivalence of the broader city towards a far-right that tried to position itself as the violent defenders of the status quo is a troubling reminder of just how passive and reactionary politics in anglo-canadian society are. The special legal frameworks mentioned above allow for extra repression beyond what regular criminal law permits, and the city’s attempt at invoking them shows the dangers of the state’s move towards treating ideas it calls “extreme” (i.e. too far outside the mainstream consensus) as crimes in themselves. Those antifascists who seek to get the authorities to fight their battles for them be warned, the beasts you help create may one day come for you… Fortunately, the attempt at using hate crimes to push the circle A off the streets backfired and the city was covered in anarchist graffiti, a rare bright spot in an otherwise difficult few months.
These experiences show the importance of building networks of action and solidarity that are not dependant on fair-weather friends, like so-called progressives, or on the good will of those in power and their institutions. If this round of repression failed to crush anarchy in Hamilton, it’s because the autonomy we’ve built up over the years allowed us to weather the hate of those who just want to eat in fancy bistros without being bothered and the repressive violence of those who would represent them.
Nothing Stops, Everything Continues
The events on Locke St. and the repression that followed has changed nothing about our underlying commitments and none of the struggles that those events brought into focus have stopped. We still have no tears for the broken windows or cars, and developers, investors, and all their backers still deserve nothing but scorn.
Like other places in the city, Locke’s “small” businesses are a visible manifestation of a larger process of real estate and business investment, city planning decisions, bourgeois cultural production, policing, and representational politics that get called gentrification. Beneath the donuts and condos, it means displacement and increases the misery of being poor. What makes Locke different is the neighbourhood at its south end, where some of the most active players in this process live, making it “home territory” for local elites, rather than a “front” like Barton or King streets.
Our opposition to gentrification (and capitalism more generally) isn’t abstract – it can’t be when it’s a physical process with specific territorial patterns across the city. Resistance to it will continue to be territorial, whether it’s the defense of certain neighbourhoods as being for the people who live there (as opposed to those who invest there), or whether it’s offensive, reminding certain people that their pursuit of self-interest has real consequences on others’ lives.
Support and Thanks
As much as these months have been challenging, the support and solidarity shown by people locally and further afield have been crucial in getting through it. Thanks to everyone who has shown up so far to defend those targeted and to keep projects and struggles vibrant. Although the resolution of these charges does mark an end of sorts, we need to not forget about the people still dealing with consequences – don’t forget to have the backs of your friends on house arrest or probation, and definitely don’t forget those who will be doing time. Specifically Cedar is in jail starting today and will be happy to receive letters and reading material. You can send mail to them at Barton Jail (165 Barton St. E, Hamilton, ON L8L 2W6) for the next few weeks, but they will likely be moved so check https://hamiltonanarchistsupport.noblogs.org/ for an updated address. Remember that the Ontario Corrections system doesn’t allow books (wtf, right?), so print out any texts you want to send and make sure there are no staples or anything other than ink on paper.
Solidarity to the J20 defendants and their supporters and congratulations on beating the charges – fuck the courts even when they do stuff we agree with. Soli to those on the ZAD in NDDL fighting repression and recuperation to the end. Our thoughts are with land defenders to the east and west, to all those facing repression for Standing Rock, the Vaughn Prison rebels, and all who take risks resisting the many forms of exploitation and oppression.
Against the rich and the system that lets them control us,
Two Hamilton Anarchists