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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teens against Tasers

September 27, 2011
Jennifer O’Brien and Craig Glover, London Free Press

Taunting police and chanting obscenities, a crowd of rowdy youths took to London streets for nearly eight hours Monday, protesting against last week’s caught-on-video police Tasering of a city-high school student.

“F--- the police,” the protestors — most of them students at Beal secondary, near where the incident took place — chanted, dozens of them thrusting their middle fingers up at a handful of police officers who stood outside police headquarters.

Occasionally, the crowd changed its chant to “peace and love,” “shame on you,” or “stop police brutality.”

But the overriding message was against the police.

“It’s taking a bunch of teenage kids to tell the police they are doing a bad job,” shouted one protestor by megaphone.

“We had a 17-year-old shot in the face with a Taser, and we want accountability.”

The protest started about 9 a.m. in front of Beal, then grew in size and volume as protestors marched to the nearby police station, before heading west again on Dundas St.

The crowd sat down in the middle of the intersection at Dundas and Richmond streets, one of the city’s busiest downtown crossings, then moved on to City Hall before turning back to hit the same stops.

Though fueled mostly by peers of the teen who was Tasered after a fight on Dundas St. last Thursday, the protest was organized by a non-student group via Facebook over the weekend.

“We all watched the YouTube video of a Beal student being Tasered in the head without warning last week. It’s outrageous,” said Anthony Verberckmoes, one of several organizers encouraging students to join the protest early Monday.

“People are fed up with police brutality,” he said.

The crowd generated support, even as protestors held up traffic.

“I don’t mind waiting,” said Brea Felton, whose car was stopped on Richmond St. during the downtown sit-in.

“That was uncalled for,” she added of Thursday’s Taser incident.

The Tasered youth, 17, is charged with assault with a weapon in the dustup with two other young men before the officer arrived, subduing the 17-year-old with a shot from his stun gun.

Many protestors said they were proud to stand up for their beliefs, but didn’t like all the vulgarity.

“It looks like we’re the aggressive ones,” said Dylan Wilson, 18.

Several students said they were told protesting would mean a one-day school suspension, but a Thames Valley District school board spokesperson said no students were suspended for taking part.

Police cruisers followed the marchers and at stops, officers stood as some youths waved fists, screaming obscenities at them.

“Today, it’s not a matter of preventing them from having a voice,” said Police Chief Brad Duncan. “Some of them were doing things I would term as silly . . .

“Many of these protestors were very up and close and screaming in our officers’ faces and they showed the utmost professionalism.

“When dealing with protests and . . . with young persons, one thing you want to be very careful about is allowing them the opportunity to exercise that right (to protest),” said Duncan. The chief said he stands by his officer.

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