A definite mob of several hundred was forming now at the barricades, chanting something over and over that sounded like “democracy now, democracy now”. The volume of the word ‘now’ seemed to be rising with each repetition. Ainsley looked up to see that Eleanor and her OCAP gang were joining them. The road west towards the university and a possible escape route was slowly filling with a string of police cruisers, pulling up along the curb. She looked at Brecht. He too seemed to be reappraising the situation, his eyes darting around. His forehead was shining despite the coolness of the air. The police appeared to surround them on all sides.
They began to walk towards the legislature building. Something made Ainsley turn around. That’s when she spotted the cops, fanning out behind her in full riot gear — black padded body armour, full-face visors, plexiglass shields. They were not dressed to supervise a peaceful protest. Ainsley nudged Brecht and pointed. The crowd was slowly being penned in on all sides — kettled — the latest tactic used by riot police.
Brecht lowered his head and glanced back. “Scheisse. Polizeitaktisch.” He tapped Ainsley's shoulder.
She started at the sight and her jaw tightened. She began to sing an old Dylan protest tune they’d rehearsed earlier. Brecht began to sing along, unsteadily, as they walked towards the barricade.
A man with a bullhorn was addressing the gathering crowd. “We are here today to send a message to the Premier, the Prime Minister and the heads of state at the Summit today. The poor of this city join the poor of the world. We have rights too.”
A cheer broke out and people began applauding. Every few moments, an arm shot up holding a cellphone to take pictures or movies of the protest. Ainsley averted her face whenever a camera pointed her way.
Brecht glanced at the line of mounted police advancing to their left.
“Repeal the Safe Streets Act. It’s the Unsafe Streets Act if you’re homeless.” The bullhorn was clearly audible. Another cheer broke out. “We demand – ”
The crowd surged forward, as though driven from behind. Ainsley stumbled and almost lost her footing. “Brecht!”
He turned to Ainsley, an indescribable look on his face. She’d mistakenly blurted out his real name. An instant later, she saw another reason for his look. The police were squeezing the crowd from all directions now into the middle. Brecht’s face was grey with fright. He was walking, half-crouched, trying to hide behind Signe and the other musicians in front of him. The police on horses were advancing from the left in one long line of black. People began to push on either side of Ainsley to get clear of the advancing lines of riot police on one side, horses on the other. Escape was being cut off.
Brecht threw her a look of raw terror as people surged towards them from all directions.
Ainsley grabbed Brecht’s hand to pull him away. She’d lost sight of Eleanor ahead of them. People were turning in confusion now to the advancing line of police beating against their plexiglass shields with their riot batons, their visors lowered. This park had been designated by the authorities as a safe area. Why were the cops turning it into a battlefield?
Brecht threw her a look of raw terror as people surged towards them from all directions. Their hands were torn apart. Brecht seemed to dive under the feet of the people in front of him and Ainsley lost sight of him for a moment as the sea of legs pressed forward. He reappeared to Ainsley’s left and suddenly she found Eleanor too and grabbed her by the arm. The three of them pushed through the crowd and stood together as a pair of policemen broke off to approach them. One cop swung his baton and knocked Brecht to the ground.
“What are you doing?” Eleanor shouted at the policemen.
“Leave him alone. He’s not well,” Ainsley screamed. Brecht was curling into a writhing ball, on the ground, his hands around his head.
“Pigs! Pigs!” Eleanor shouted.
The two policemen swerved towards her. “You’re under arrest, Bitch,” one of them shouted.
“For what?” Eleanor stepped back involuntarily.
One cop took hold of each arm. “Resisting arrest and spitting at an officer.”
“What?” She yelled out to Ainsley. “They’re lying. Tell them.”
Before Ainsley could respond, one of the cops holding Eleanor pushed her to the ground and knelt on her back, pulling her head back by the hair. The other cop cuffed her with plastic restraints.
“Goddamn it, that’s too tight. You’re hurting me!”
The cop hauled Eleanor straight up by the hair and hit her with his baton. She dropped to the ground. Ainsley watched, speechless with fright. Eleanor looked dazed, her eyes blank. She looked about to faint. Ainsley covered her mouth in horror.
Brecht hissed to her from the ground, “Get out. Go. Now!”
Ainsley stepped back, watching as Brecht and Eleanor were dragged to their feet and pushed towards a police wagon at the curb.
Yuri, one of the Poor Opera musicians, ran up to Ainsley and pulled at her arm. She started back at his touch. “My friends. They did nothing wrong.”
“Get away from here. You can’t help them now.”
Ainsley turned and ran to join the other protesters fleeing the park. Safely across the road, she broke to a walk and merged with the flow of pedestrians heading to the subway.