It’s been an incredibly hectic few weeks in Hamilton, and the situation here has been constantly evolving. Things have been beyond enraging and occasionally heartbreaking, but also quite inspiring and frequently heartwarming. For all the bullshit, stress, and violence, folks in the city have been radicalizing, conversations have been shifting (suddenly it’s not so controversial to hate the police or to condemn city council!), and broad support for queer anarchists, including the politics they hold and the actions they take, has been growing.
Our Day of Action on Friday far exceeded everyone’s expectations – close to 50 solidarity actions took place across several continents and in Hamilton our night demo was a wild success. Somewhere between 150-200 queers and supporters took the street for a night march that was explicitly anti-police and anti-state. Folks screamed incendiary chants against the cops, the mayor, and celebrated trans, queer, and non-binary existence as necessarily political and irrecuperable. After snaking downtown, the demo concluded with a dance party and firework show that overtook and shutdown one of the city’s busiest intersections.
Against this backdrop, repression has unfortunately continued to intensify and expand outwards to focus on more people and criminalize additional activities. As part of this trend, organizing in the city has been met with a growing police presence – the numbers of police officers present at rallies and other events has far exceeded what is usual for Hamilton. This statement is intended to provide an overview of the most recent developments and give some brief updates on where folks are at.
The Gage Park Pride Defenders
The number of people who have been arrested and are facing charges related to the confrontation that took place during Hamilton Pride on June 15th have grown. At present, there are 4 people being charged in relation to the event. Cedar who was arrested the Saturday before last (this one is tricky though and will be covered more below) for a parole violation; another who arrested that following Monday for two probation violations; another who was arrested last Wednesday, similarly for two probation violations; and a fourth who was arrested last Friday for an assault charge.
Neither prisons nor the police have anything useful to contribute to confronting the far-right and dealing with violent homophobes, and we are not (nor have we been) calling for the arrests of any of those who attacked Pride. That said, it is probably worth mentioning that while 4 people have been arrested for their role in defending Pride, only 1 person has been arrested for their role in attacking it.
Lions, and Tigers, and Lawn Signs? Oh My!
So much of this situation has been ridiculous, however, the still developing “lawn sign debacle” likely takes the cake. As part of Friday’s Day of Action, a group of approximately 20 people held a home demo at the house of Fred Eisenberger, the mayor of the City of Hamilton. In an action that was far more comical than aggressive, hot pink lawn signs that read “The Mayor Doesn’t Care About Queer People: Drop all the Charges Against Pride Defenders NOW!” were placed on the lawn as several people dressed in gay masquerade attire played over-the-top, out-of-tune music (it was described by one person as the sounds of a kindergarten class learning to play the recorder while banging on kitchen items). The whole thing went off without a hitch and was done within 15 minutes, at which point everyone left. To fully grasp the hilarity and the obvious harmlessness of the action, we highly recommend checking out this short video.
Everyone involved assumed this would a low risk activity and acted accordingly (i.e. little attention was given to concealing identity). However, our mayor clearly has ZERO chill and at this point we can only assume zero public relations advisors. Within an hour, the mayor was on T.V. and in the news decrying the action as a violent attack against himself and his family. According to Fred, this action went too far and it crossed a line – some observers even suggested it may have crossed into terrorism territory. After referring to those involved as fake queer and trans agitators, he promised that immediate action would be taken against these “serious” offenders and everyone involved would be prosecuted “to the full extent of the law”. All of this on the very day marking the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.
The same guy who largely refused to comment on fascists attacking Pride; who refused to label a growing far-right presence in the city as a serious issue; and who routinely defended police inaction because things “take time”, are “complicated”, and must follow “established processes”, came out publicly without any hesitation to call for city-wide action to protect the safety of himself, other city councillors, and their families (from lawn signs?). The irony of this indigitation, from a mayor who refuses to take the issue of trans, queer, and non-binary safety seriously and ignores the intensifying violence that such people deal with on a daily basis was not lost on many.
Hand in hand with Fred’s media interviews, the Hamilton Police were also interviewed and highlighted the seriousness of the action; stated that an investigation was already underway; and that they would be going after those responsible. Before going further in this story, now would probably be a good time to mention for those who don’t already know that our “honorable” mayor sits at the top of the Hamilton Police Services Board. Needless to say, it is more than likely that Fred has the chief (amongst others high up) on speed dial and was very busy making calls. Within less than 5 hours of the morning action, the police had already identified suspects, gotten warrants, and were scouring the city to make arrests.
Moving into the afternoon, a friend’s car was surrounded in a parking lot by no less than 8 cruisers and several unmarked vehicles. The car was impounded and 1 person was arrested in relation to the early morning action. After being processed at one location, she was escorted by police with assault rifles out of the building to an awaiting car and a convoy of police vehicles transported her to central station where she spent the night. You’d think the Hamilton Police were dealing with a member of Revolutionary Struggle, and NOT someone accused of putting up lawn signs. The person was released on bail on Saturday, and is facing a total of 4 charges: criminal harassment, causing a disturbance, theft, and mischief.
We have confirmation that another person will be facing similar charges, and will be turning themselves in this week. We’ve also been told that more arrests will be forthcoming and the goal is to arrest all who participated. Throughout the past weekend, police were at it once again harassing queer anarchists – banging on doors, surveilling our spaces, trying to intimidate our friends, and cornering people.
Adding insult to injury, the mayor in a staggeringly tone-deaf move concluded the day by releasing a statement on “the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and 2SLGBTQ+ communities”. A few days earlier at the last city council meeting, Fred kept stumbling on his words and just couldn’t get the acronym quite right (L…B…G…D…T?…P? anyone?) so I guess it’s progress that he’s finally figured that one out. In the statement, Fred celebrates the riots that launched important civil rights struggle that continue today and announced: “On this day, and every day, I stand in solidarity with our 2SLGBTQ+ communities and allies and celebrate the immeasurable contributions 2SLGBTQ+ people have made to our society. Today, we continue to take the steps necessary to increase inclusion and respect for all”. Sure thing Fred, you’re doing a crack job so far.
It’s has taken us quite a while (too long!) to be in a position where we can offer updates on Cedar and their situation. But, finally we can and we have lots to share. After their arrest on Saturday, June 22nd Cedar was taken to Hamilton Wentworth Detention Centre on Barton St. In line with Cedar’s experience last time they were incarcerated in that jail, as a trans person they were kept out of the general population and in segregation. This notoriously inhumane and harmful practice that is routinely used as a disciplinary measure to punish inmates, is Barton Jail’s primary method for “dealing” with trans prisoners. Trans inmates awaiting trial at Barton can spend years in solitary confinement.
Cedar was kept at Barton until this past weekend when they were transferred to the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton. During their stay at Barton, Cedar was denied access to a phone and was kept from communicating with their lawyer. Once it became clear that they were being stonewalled and any appeal process would be drawn out for weeks, they made the decision to go off of hunger strike (last Wednesday). For over a week they had no contact with any legal representatives, and were only able to speak to their lawyer for the first time yesterday (that’s 10 days since their arrest) after being transferred. While at Barton they faced targeted harassment from the guards, and in one such instance, guards turned over Cedar’s cell and while conducting a strip search scrawled “You’ve been governed” on the wall. As if a strip search isn’t enough of a violation and isn’t enough of a degradation, the guards felt it necessary to include a rather unoriginal quip referencing Locke St.
Since being moved to Vanier things have somewhat improved – they are no longer in segregation and are able to communicate with people. With this change, we’ve gotten some unsurprisingly, but oh so infuriating news. From the moment Cedar was arrested, the police have said publicly that Cedar was arrested for being at and participating in the confrontation that took place at Pride and in doing so, had violated the conditions of their parole. In official statements, in several television interviews, and in countless print articles, Hamilton Police Services have claimed ad nauseum that they positively identified Cedar through video evidence as a participant in the incident and made the arrest exclusively on this basis. As more and more “respected” community members have come forward to the state that they were at Pride and can confirm that Cedar was in fact NOT there, the police have been questioned almost constantly about this. Some have questioned whether or not they just made mistake, and some others have questioned whether or not this could be a case of politically-motivated targeting. Some others still, speculated that the arrest could be related to a speech given by Cedar in which they spoke out against the police. In response to all of these questions and speculations, the police have maintained that Cedar was arrested for one reason and one reason alone, participating in the confrontation that occurred at Pride.
We call bullshit. Despite being kept from their lawyer and given little information about their arrest, Cedar recently got access to the paperwork associated with their case. The documents speak little (if at all) of their presence at Gage Park and their participation in Pride. To the contrary, it focuses almost exclusively on a public speech given by Cedar after the events at Pride. On the Monday following the attack on Pride, the city’s LGTBQ Advisory Committee called a special meeting at City Hall. Billed as a “Community Conversation”, members of the public were invited to speak – to discuss the weekend’s events and give a space for the broader queer community to come together to raise concerns, express anxieties, and begin to strategize a response to the increasingly hostile environment we find ourselves in. At this meeting, Cedar put forth a scathing critique of the role and function of police, and passionately argued that cops have no place in queer communities. It is this act – of speaking out publicly against police and arguing for queers to consider community self-defence – that has Cedar currently sitting in a cage.
The documents that outline the rationale for Cedar’s parole being pulled, explicitly reference this speech and even include direct quotes taken from in it. As far as we can tell, it is being argued that the speech constitutes some form of a breach of the peace or incitement. A large portion of the transcribed speech can be read below.
With less than 2 days’ notice, Cedar was informed that their parole review hearing will be held this Thursday morning. Up until today, Cedar’s lawyers and friends were operating under the assumption that the hearing would focus on the accusation that they were at Pride (because that’s what we kept being told!) and have focused on collecting documentation and preparing a defence that addressed this claim. However, we now know that is not the case and we are left with barely any time to develop a response to the speech accusation.
Reading the speech now it is eerie. So many of the points made have become undeniable and so many of the concerns put forward have come to pass. The speech talks about queer people being criminalized for things perceived to be “going too far” (i.e. doing anything outside of the standard channels of political representatives and the police) – there are 5 queers who currently face criminal prosecution and we are promised that there will be more. The speech talks about the particular punishment of being placed in segregation that trans folks are forced to endure if arrested – Cedar was arrested and put in segregation. The speech refers to prisons as “sexual assault factories” – those who have been arrested (and all those trapped in jail) face strip searches, body scans, and much more; they face having the hands of police officers and prison guards all over their bodies. The speech speaks of same-sex relationships being criminalized in prisons – on the range where Cedar is currently being held there is a lesbian couple who face intense harassment from guards, are subjected to disciplinary actions, and are threatened to be physically separated. These are just a few examples, and the list could go on.
At this point, its important to note that Cedar is not a hero (and they don’t want to be), and for the most part their experience is not uncommon. Trans, non-binary, and queer people face state persecution, police violence, and incarceration all of the time. This is even more so the case for poor and racialized folks. Cedar’s case is only exceptional to the extent that it is receiving public attention and has a large group of people behind it to do support work. Police and prisons are the enemy of queers everywhere, and we don’t want to lose sight of this.
Now more than ever it is clear that the police do not protect queers, they do not protect trans and non-binary people, and they most certainly do not keep us safe. If anything, we need to keep ourselves safe from the police. We need to take care of each other, to develop strategies to defend our communities, and in the process build a different world. The attack on Pride was scary and the response from the city since has been at best disappointing and at worst actively harmful. Not only have trans, non-binary, and queer folks been frequently blamed for the incident (If only they allowed the police recruitment booth!), but they have also been subjected to ongoing violence. Arguably at this point, queers in the city are facing more violence and are under more of a threat from the state than we are from the far-right.
While all of this is painful, it also presents opportunities to build new relationships between disparate struggles; to insist that being queer means being revolutionary; and to push for spaces where city representatives and the police have no place. However imperfect, we can do so much more without them and build so many more beautiful things. So fuck the police; fuck city council; and fuck the mayor.