VANCOUVER COMMEMORATES THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE
GRASSTOWN POLICE RIOT OF 1971
Text by Karlis, [email protected]
On Wednesday, August 7, over a thousand people gathered in Maple Tree
Square, at the intersection of Water, Carrall and Powell Streets in
Vancouver’s Gastown, to commemorate the ‘Grasstown Police Riot of 1971‘ and
protest the viciously prohibitionist Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Traffic at the busy intersection was effectively blocked off from when the
event began at 2pm to its end at about 10pm. Police rerouted traffic around
the area while live bands and drum circles shared amplifier time with Master Anarchist and
Chief Protagonist David Malmo-Levine, along with speakers such as Ed
Rosenthal, Marc Emery, and Dana Larsen. As well, many of those in attendance who took
advantage of the open microphone to express their experiences with
marijuana prohibition and their thoughts on the drug war, including some
veterans of the original 1971 street jamboree.
The event went off without any serious negative incidents.
Police kept their distance and were generally friendly and respectful.
As it dawned that traffic was not going to get through the intersection, the police blocked the street off, but not before several tour and transit busses, and many cars were enveloped by people while attempting to pass through. Fortunate drivers with open windows recieved the Grasstown 25 leaflet handed out in the crowd. At one point an ambulance needed to pass through, and sucessfully did (in the 1994 Vancouver hockey riot, the police moved in and sparked off the property damage after an ambulance could not pass through to an injured person).
This was the second time this summer that police have assisted a cannabis related event; the July 1st Cannabis Day parade was protected from motorists by the VPD. Also in attendance were the bicycle police, a paddy wagon, and reportedly a squad of riot police. Several people reported seeing a squad removing their riot gear in a bar up the street, and putting on normal clothing.
Some officers were mischevious, and attempted to cut the power to the PA system, but stopped when the crowd asked them to leave the plug alone. A battery-operated microphone and portable amplifier removed the possibility that lack of power would lead to a lack of voice.
Police propagandist Constable Anne “…the seeds grew very well” Drennan was there amidst a scrum of reporters.
The event received significant media attention, and by 3pm handfuls of newspaper, radio, and television people were on the site, including a CBC mobile video feed. It was noted that the media presence may have held the police at bay, in a location where 25 years ago police were beating reporters alongside with demonstrators and bystanders. These days, police constables and news anchors have friendly chats on the scene.
Unfortunately, many of the media items
played down the rally, quoting the attendance at 200 (our estimate was over 1000 people)
and failing to mention the stopped traffic. Some newspapers ran the standard “smoke-in” article, featuring close-ups of some “hippy”-type folks working a big fat joint amidst clouds of smoke, while failing to show the whole crowd, and failing to mention the industrial, ethical and medical angles alongside the recreational aspect of “marihuana”. However, many articles actually mentioned the
negative aspects of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to explain the actions of the crowd.
Most importantly, people got together as a community, and had a good time. Young and old people came, with diverse styles, attitudes and orientations. Some Great Bands played between the Guest Speakers. A notable performance was given by Web, whose heavy yet delicate bass and flute melodies stand out in a refreshing way. Several Cannabis Capitalists made the scene, and along with the usual pipes and necklaces you could get seeds and “Eco-Hemp Smoothies”.
The event worked. There was no trouble, but there was a lot of fun and learning.
What follows is the text of a leaflet that was produced and handed out to
people, police and automobiles at the rally.
THE GRASSTOWN SMOKE IN, STREET JAMBOREE AND POLICE RIOT OF 1971
Twenty Five Years Ago
On August 7, 1971, activist youth promoted a ‘Smoke-in and Street Jamboree’
to be held in Gastown, (nicknamed Grasstown) in reaction to ‘Operation
Dustpan’, a police operation to harass and arrest pot users and dealers in
the Gastown area. Operation Dustpan included police tactics of searching
everyone found in certain bars and clubs, making mass arrests, and trashing
youth hang-outs and centres.
At eight thirty that night there were over a hundred young people in Maple
Tree Square, playing drums, smoking pot and discussing issues surrounding
the drug war. An eight foot joint was passed around and a good time was
being had by all. By ten o’clock there was over two thousand people of all
ages blocking traffic and enjoying themselves on Water Street.
And the Pigs Went Mad!
The Chief of Police asked the crowd to disperse through a broken
loudspeaker, and then immediately sent in the riot squad. The police went
berserk and violently attacked the crowd with three foot batons, some of
them beating peaceful protesters from horseback. To avoid identification,
none of the police were wearing their badge numbers, and they also chased
reporters and broke their cameras.
The Vancouver Sun reported that police entered shops and restaurants to
chase fleeing protesters, and officers on horseback pinned people in
doorways and then lashed out at them with their sticks.
Although no charges were ever laid against any police officers, the photos
in the newspapers the next day were enough to put Operation Dustpan on
hold… for awhile.
NOW, 25 YEARS LATER, OPERATION DUSTPAN IS GOING NATIONAL
Welcome to the Drug War
The recently passed Controlled Drugs and Substances Act will permit police
to actively sell drugs, drastically increases their powers to search
Canadians and seize their possessions, and also streamlines the court
system to allow for mass arrests. This new drug law does nothing to promote
medical marijuana or industrial hemp, and in the words of the Canadian Bar
Association, ‘this bill will result in a significant increase in rates of
incarceration and in lengths of sentences.’
The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act was passed despite public opinion
and the testimony of experts, and received almost no attention in the mass
media. This draconian new law will most likely be put into effect in early
Truth or Consequences
When the bill was passed a number of lies were reported about it, like that
it would eliminate criminal records for possession or that it permits the
cultivation of industrial hemp. Both of these claims are completely untrue.
To get the same amount of attention that these lies have received, it is
necessary to have a really big party, twice the size of the one in 1971. We
have chosen to risk an obstruction charge now, on our own terms, rather
than be taken from our homes in the middle of the night later on, in the
middle of the drugwar nightmare.
A Vicious Cultural Genocide
There have been over one million marijuana related convictions in Canada
over the last 30 years, and one hundred thousand Canadians are arrested
every year for simply possessing marijuana.
This is a pogrom of extraordinary proportion, a vicious cultural genocide
in which our homes and possessions are seized, our tax dollars are spent to
demonize us on billboards and on TV, our children are turned against us, we
are regularly harassed and beaten by police, and sentenced to jail terms
which exceed those of violent criminals.
Our concern is that the prohibition of cannabis hemp marijuana is turning
our world into a police state and an environmental wasteland.
Our demand is that the Canadian Government immediately end its senseless
persecution of Cannabis Canadians. The Minister of Health must provide us
with just one defendable reason to continue cannabis prohibition, or at
least agree to a televised debate on the issue with Eugene Oscapella of the
Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy.
If the Government can’t meet this quite reasonable demand, then they will
have to remove us from the square by force, because we’ll be holding onto
each other as if we had no choice… Because we don’t!