Earlier this summer, a 23-year-old Italian named Carlo Guilliani was shot dead in Genoa. As tens of thousands protested a summit of the G-8 powers, the young man was captured on film raising a fire extinguisher above his head, apparently poised to smash the window of a police jeep.
A moment later, Carlo was shot at point blank range by a terrified officer in the vehicle. One bullet entered his left cheek below the eye, while another pierced his neck. As the life left his wounded body, the jeep drove over him before speeding away.
Carlo would never again see the light of day.
‘Protesters get their martyr,’ newspapers proclaimed. “What would you have done if you’d been in that jeep?” a leading Canadian academic asked a caller on CBC Saskatchewan.
To me, who was right and who was wrong hardly matters. Deploying a police jeep into a crowd of protesters in inherently provocative. Threatening to smash the vehicle with a fire extinguisher is brave but ill-conceived when the passengers are armed.
Regardless of where blame lies, Carlo Giulliani’s death exposes a troubling reality: we say we live in a democracy, yet our leaders cannot hold meetings without the police using lethal force to protect them. The newspapers tell us the problem is “violent protest,” but this line of argument is beginning to wear thin.
“Trade protest turns violent,” the Times Colonist proclaimed the day after the WTO demonstrations in Seattle two Novembers ago. I was there, and witnessed a military campaign where US Special Forces troops, National Guardsmen, and Seattle police used concussion grenades, tear gas, armoured personal carriers and rubber bullets to reclaim a city from a disobedient population. Corporate property was damaged as protesters fled the police onslaught.
Even if smashing the front windows of Nike Town and Starbucks qualifies as violence (a claim I believe to be suspect), the Times Colonist failed to identify the violence perpetrated by the state against the thousands of peaceful citizens.
Then protests spread to a meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington, DC. The Organization of American States was targeted in Windsor, Ont. and the World Petroleum Congress in Calgary. From Prague to Nice to London this new “anti-globalization” movement came into being.
Quebec City was tranformed into a warzone last April for the Summit of the Americas, when 34 leaders met to draft the contentious Free Trade Area of the Americas. A wall was erected around the city to stifle the people’s movement. When a group of courageous individuals tore down sections of the wall, they had somehow acted “violently,” justifying the deployment of 20,000 cannisters of chemical weaponry in the city. NDP MP Svend Robinson was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet.
Then a meeting of European leaders turned ugly in Sweden. Live ammunition was used and three people were shot, none fatally. A pattern was beginning to emerge, with the police upping the ante against a movement that refused to go away.
On July 20, 2001 in Genoa, Italy, Carlo Giulianii was shot and killed.
Call him a martyr. But Giulianni is less a martyr than a symbol. Dozens of people die at the hands of the state every week in the more oppressive nations on earth. But for some reason Carlo’s death was different. To people in the sheltered and privileged societies of the West, it challenged to the core their understanding of “Democracy.”
Anyone who had ever protested an issue understood that it could have happened to them. Conspiracy theorists will say that Giuliani was shot for this very reason, to stifle the growing support for the new people’s movement: if allegiance to corporate capitalism cannot be maintained through reason or gentle persuasion, a good dose of fear may be order.
State violence remains the ultimate mechanism for preserving the status quo. It is the last resort of the powerful in their war against popular empowerment.
The “anti-globalization” movement seeks to end corporate domination of the world’s people and resources. It seeks co-operative community solutions to global problems. And it rejects the profit motive as the organizational principle of society. It is a revolutionary movement that fundamentally threatens the interests of the individuals and institutions that presently run the economy and reap the rewards.
Slave revolts have always been bloody. But the challenge of this movement is to achieve radical goals on the basis of a broad and hopeful consensus. When force is used against the movement citizens may respond in kind. But my vision of a brighter future doesn’t involve clashes between police and protesters and more bodies piling up.
Armed with the memory of Carlo Giuliani, I am working toward the day when police officers throw down their guns and raise their fists in solidarity with their community. This is what democracy look like.