Weaponizing safety in the new Alberta

Weaponizing safety in the new Alberta
Police donning riot gear gather before assaulting unarmed students at the University of Calgary on the night of May 9, 2024.

I was arrested at the University of Calgary anti-genocide protest on May 9 after standing with the students assaulted by Calgary Police. The move reflected an old but expanding reality in Alberta, where threats to the safety of the state dictate police violence.

One week ago, I was sitting in the back of a cop car for the first time in a couple decades. My head hurt, my face was bloody and my left index finger felt broken. I wasn't OK, but nobody was interested in asking about that. Knowing how badly the student next to me got it, it was a bit weird to see University of Calgary President Ed McCauley rush out the next day and declare "CPS reported no injuries."

On the night of May 9, I stood with the university students protesting the genocide of Palestinians and was brutalized by Calgary Police. I'll give the short version of the arrest: two of us were at the right flank of the protest line, facing down at least 40 cops in riot gear. Being at the end, we were among the first to get picked off. While we were trying to maintain footing amid an utter chaos of bodies, one cop took the opportunity to step in and punch me squarely three times in the face.

I'll leave out the rest of the details of the arrest for now. But it left me with a concussion and I'm recovering more slowly than I had initially hoped. I might be a bit subdued the next little while, so – well done, Calgary Police.

I won't try and recount the night's events or issue my take on things, as I'm still too close to it and still traumatized. I'm exhausted, and there's so much to discuss it's entirely overwhelming. If you're curious about what happened that night, I recommend watching the footage posted to Instagram by the following accounts: Treaty 7 Student Movement, Communist Revolution Calgary, and Mark Litzenberger.

Most local media got it wrong, very quickly, by absorbing and repeating police and university perspectives and talking points. Calgary Herald's Bill Kaufmann did good reporting on the ground, and the Herald's Matt Scace gathered excellent perspectives on the constitutionality of the police assault. The Progress Report has closely covered the fallout from UCalgary and similar police brutality on students at the University of Alberta.

Topping all of it, Jeremy Appel and Shama Rangwala published an incredible critique on how state power operates in the context of the student protests. Rather than chipping away at them one by one, it utterly upends the university administration talking points.

I wrote and recorded a song for the heroes of May 9: the students who led the resistance against the Calgary Police assault. I've had trouble sleeping since the incident, and woke up late the second night with the song half-formed in my head. I crept to my guitar at 1am and put most of it on paper.

Matter of Time

If you feel like recording your own version, here's the sheet music – I just ask that you share it with me!

Finally, I'll take the lead from others in Edmonton and point out the parallels between the violence enacted by these universities and the ongoing violence perpetrated by our province and cities against unhoused campers. As a society, Alberta let this form of violence grow to the current moment, where students are no longer safe to express their constitutional rights. (It doesn't look as though it will stop them.)

It might be a little while til I'm fully ready to write again. Until then, please get behind the students and all people protesting this state-sanctioned genocide. The dominoes are falling – nowhere more visibly than Alberta.

After being released from custody at the police staging area, McMahon Stadium, home of the Calgary Stampeders and Calgary Dinos.

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