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The Occupy Toronto site outside Osgoode Hall, Tuesday April 2.
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Youtube video of Angela Turvey being arrested by police.
The Youtube video is tough to watch. In the distorted amateur footage, two police officers hold down Angela Turvey, trying to handcuff her as she screams and bleeds profusely from the face. Around her, protesters shout in anger.
The bloody arrest of the Occupy Toronto demonstrator outside Osgoode Hall last Friday was exactly the kind of scene that many feared would unfold at the original protest site at St. James Park last year, but never did.
Despite the powder keg of high tension between cops and protesters and the lingering shadow of the G20, when officers swooped in to dismantle the St. James camp last fall, the occupation had largely come off without incident.
So what happened last Friday? Why did the violent confrontation that left Turvey with a fractured orbital bone and broken nose come then, when relations between Occupy Toronto and the police were less potentially explosive than at any point during those five weeks last fall?
Occupy member Jegundu Richardson was present both during the final days at St. James Park and last Friday when Turvey and three others were arrested outside Osgoode. He says that there were marked differences between how the police reacted at the two locations that may have led to the violent incident last Friday, which is now being probed by the Special Investigations Unit.
Richardson is one of Occupy's police liaisons, who throughout the protest at St. James Park served as go-betweens between protesters and law enforcement. The liaison system was key to defusing potentially violent situations, but last Friday it appears to have been ineffective.
Richardson was off-site when he was alerted by text message that police had arrived at the camp outside Osgoode to serve protesters with trespass notices. When he arrived, he was surprised to find only two officers attempting to clear the site, a contrast to the overwhelming numbers the police sent to evict occupiers at St. James Park.
While the Osgoode camp is much smaller - only five or six campers and a handful of supporters were present - the officers were easily outnumbered.
"The police officers didn't respond in the proper numbers. So they put themselves in danger and panicked," Richardson speculates.
As protester John Erb began shouting at the police, Richardson says he tried to intervene, but as he attempted to speak to the police one of the officers moved in and put Erb in handcuffs. Richardson was surprised at how quickly the officers decided to make the arrest.
"It got very chaotic, but this is because they escalated the situation. I was actually completely calm, and if they had given me five more minutes I probably could have talked John Erb away."
As protesters reacted to Erb's arrest, the situation became increasingly enflamed. In video of the incident posted on Youtube, Occupy supporters can be heard shouting as Erb is led away in handcuffs. Officers then allegedly arrested Turvey as she filmed them with her phone.
More officers were called in, and two more people, Craig Poirier and Alice Evonic, were arrested and charged with obstructing a peace officer. Richardson says these last two arrests, which occurred after more police had arrived on the scene, were orderly.
Richardson believes another contributing factor to incident could have been the police division involved. At St. James Park, occupiers fostered good relations with 51 Division and the Public Safety Unit, but the officers sent to Osgoode were from 52 Division. Whatever lessons 51 Division learned over the course the St. James occupation may not have been transferred throughout the force.
"I don't know if we trust some police officers and don't trust others.," says Richardson. "Do we have to go division by division?"
Other Occupy members have their own theories about what went wrong at Osgoode. Taylor Flook, who served as an ad hoc spokesperson for the St. James Park occupation, believes that the identity of the Osgoode protesters-Turvey is a trans woman and several others are reportedly homeless-and the lack of media attention at the site were contributing factors.
"[At St. James Park] there was a very large contingent of university and college kids, older people, retired people. There was a community that was observing the behaviour of the police and everybody else," Flook says. "We had less people present [at Osgoode] and the people who were there are people who are more marginalized."
"If there's no one around watching, the cops are going to do what they're going to do."
While protesters wait to hear the outcome of the charges against their comrades and the SIU investigation, one thing is clear. Any trust that accumulated between police and the occupiers at St. James has all but vanished, and Turvey's arrest has become a fresh rallying cry for Occupy Toronto as the spring protest season approaches. A rally is planned outside 52 Division headquarters on Friday (April 6).
"The goodwill that built up is now almost completely dissolved," Richardson says.
Turvey is charged with obstructing an officer and assault with intent to resist arrest, while Erb is facing five charges, including causing a disturbance, assault with intent of resisting arrest, and possession of marijuana.
Police are not commenting on the incident because it is the subject of an SIU investigation.