L’Affaire Jennifer Pawluk and the Nuances of Social Media

The offending image, since removed.
The offending image, since removed.

A local activist and student, the aforementioned Ms. Pawluk, was arrested after posting a photograph of the above image to Instagram. She was questioned and released on a promise to appear in court (ergo, not formally charged). She is accused of criminal harassment as the above image is of Montréal Police Commander Ian Lafrenière, the head of the police’s public-relations team (here’s his profile on the SPVM website, which lists him as a Sergeant. This may be the single most Québécois English-language webpage in the world, but that’s another issue).

He’s their spokesperson.

Not the pricks swinging their dicks and busting heads out in the street.

And the image is of him, his name, a bloody bullet hole in his forehead, and the tag ACAB (all cops are bastards).

Of course – what a logical image. Killing the mouthpiece of the police force is a surefire way to investigate and eliminate police brutality and corruption, not to mention ease tensions between cops and activists.

This is the kind of message I’d have included if I had been in her shoes, or something to that effect which could be said in 140 characters. Or maybe nothing at all.

What I most certainly would not have done would be to include hashtags of two different, common spellings of the commander’s surname, nor include the SPVM hashtag, or Montreal as spelled in two languages. I think that’s where documentation crosses the line into making a statement, and this statement advocates cop-killing.

Whether an individual would be incited to act upon seeing this image isn’t really the issue. I see it as simply being this – people have the right to feel threatened, even the cops, and they have the right to have their concerns addressed.

Put it this way – imagine an abusive boyfriend posting an image of his ex in the style of the cartoon Lafrenière. It circulates on Facebook and catches the attention of a police officer. We’d expect the police to intervene (and from what I’ve heard our police force takes violence against women and children very seriously, but I digress). Lafrenière has the right to feel as threatened as he wants; whether he can prove a legitimate threat is another thing, but I don’t think this will ever make it to court. He’ll eventually withdraw the complaint and we’ll forget about this. Pressing on would be very foolish on the part of the Montréal Police or Cmdr. Lafrenière.

Also, I certainly wouldn’t have reminded those who follow me on Instagram that all cops are bastards while also hash-tagging the cops. That’s a fight I’d rather not pick.

It’s like calling a cop a pig to his or her face. Yes, you’re technically allowed to do it – you can do whatever you want – but you can’t turn around and blame the cop who punches you in the nose in turn.

We can’t act like the cops are so far removed from society they wouldn’t pick up on these kinds of things. Ostensibly, that’s what we’re paying them to do – pick up on the details. I think it’s silly not to expect the police to react very negatively to such a thing, and if she’s already been ticketed for whatever the fuzz busts people for these days (standing, waiting, looking etc.) then she should expect the police to be watching her. They saw an opportunity to pick her up for questioning and they did so. From their point of view they’re giving her a scare that may prevent people from circulating similar images in the future (directed at anyone, for that matter).

I remember avidly reading various publications issued by the COBP and the old anarchist bookstore (among other tracts I consulted when I was an activist) concerning what to do when confronted by police. This was later confirmed by books such as David Simon’s amazing Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.

The only answer anyone should ever give to a cop’s question is: I need my lawyer.

I need my lawyer.

I need my lawyer.

I need my lawyer.

Like a mantra until the cops get you your court-appointed civil-defender.

It’s what you should do, it’s what I hope Ms. Pawluk did.

Because that at the very least would have been a smart move. Calling Lafrenière out was a foolish move, one which has now earned her some kind of an arrest record, which may or may not come back and bite later on.

And all of this is aside from the key issue – even if you didn’t articulate the message, be mindful of what you might re-articulate. In this context, even though I don’t think she was personally indicating she would consider utilizing violence against a civil servant, she nonetheless gave her appui to the notion violence (or perhaps the aesthetic of violence) can be a useful political tool.

The reason our protest movements go nowhere is because violence, be it physical or rhetorical, is all too often used as first, rather than last resort. It discredits the message and erects needless walls, isolating those advocating social change from the society they seek to change.

One thought on “L’Affaire Jennifer Pawluk and the Nuances of Social Media”

  1. Nice to see a little more of the entire story.

    Was it really posted with the persons name attached as a hashtag? Someone should point that out to CBC radio. She was claiming she didn’t know who it was at first in an interview last night.

    Heard a great point on the radio. Imagine the drawing was of your wife, sister, children, other member of your family, or a close friend.

    How would you react to graffiti that advocated a bullet through their head? How would you react to the glorification and distribution of that image to a wide audience?

    ACAB? Really? Then we’re supposed to listen when they start whining about lack of recognition for their cause and the injustices of profiling or how the violent elements in protests shouldn’t be used to stereotype them?

    It’s like the illogic of preparing for violence at an anti-violence protest.

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