Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sniper rifle photo draws ire of social media critics

SOC Editor: The Toronto Police Properly gauge the public`s attitude (and deploy a rooftop sniper in preparation of anti-police protest.)

Was it an example of bringing lethal force to a peaceful protest or simply the police being properly prepared?

There are plenty of opinions.

With all of the social media chatter Wednesday about this sniper’s rifle photographed on a terrace at Toronto Police headquarters, you’d swear it had been fired at protesters.

This did not happen. In fact the gun, which in pictures is resting on the ground, was never supposed to be seen by the public.

However, like it did during the G20, citizen journalism has struck once again.

With government seemingly lacking the courage to properly oversee police, amateur photographers and social media commentators are taking it upon themselves.

But while some of my copper contacts question the deployment of such a weapon, many others tell me there is no story here and that it’s just routine policing.

“Our main concern is public safety,” said Const. Tony Vella. “There were a number of officers called in to assist including the ETF and they brought in their equipment.”

Tactical rifles are part of that.

“You just never know what could occur and it’s better to be well-equipped instead of under-equipped,” Vella said. “We received information that there would be a lot more people attending and that there could be violence associated with it.”

But many in the public still seemed upset that such firepower was even contemplated to deal with what turned out to be a handful of protesters.

“What justification can the police possibly provide for having roof-top snipers?” asked lawyer Davin Charney, who Tuesday served police with two G20 lawsuits on behalf of clients. “This march was peaceful. I was there as a legal observer. Was a police officer looking at me through the crosshairs? This is terrifying, intimidating, and totally excessive.”

The photographs captured during Tuesday’s Ontario Coalition Against Poverty protest by a photographer in a building near 40 College St. has already received over 321,000 views on the Internet.

“It’s Rambo on the roof,” was one comment.

“Must be poor hunting season,” was another.

Others asked if police would deploy snipers if it had been the Tamil protesters?

“We were all surprised and there is a sense of outrage,” said OCAP’s John Clarke. “One can assume by having such a lethal weapon on hand there would have been some consideration about the possibility of using it.”

Clarke called it over the top.

“Say what you want about how we on the street handle things or the way police handle things but I don’t think there is ever been any suggestion that amongst OCAP protesters there are trained assassins.”

But they will continue their fight for the poor, he said.

“Certainly a sniper rifle that could tear people apart is concerning but it also will not intimidate us,” said Clarke. “They will do what they do and we will still do what we do.”

There was a time when I would likely have dismissed Clarke and deferred to police but post-G20, neither organization can boast pristine hands.

Some of OCAP’s actions in the past have been disturbing but those were equalled in my view by police during the G20 in the many cases of unnecessary brutality and civil rights violations.

While I still have great regard for cops on the street and in the divisions, I don’t have as much confidence in the command as we await these slow moving reports on how they handled things during the G20. The jury is out on their competence and decision-making acumen.

Still I don’t know what is right in this specific incident and I invite you to decide for yourself if you are comfortable with police having a sniper at the ready.

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