Last week, Pidgin co-owner Brandon Grossutti stole the satirical mascot known as “the People’s Pickle” from the protest picket outside his restaurant. According to one witness, picket organizer Kim Hearty attempted to retrieve the mascot from the back of the restaurant when Grossutti physically assaulted the community organizer.
Grossutti then relayed his own version of events to the Vancouver Police Department. Based on his allegations, on Monday of this week the VPD arrested Kim Hearty outside her home in East Van. After being held in jail, Hearty was released on condition that she not go within a two-block radius of the Pidgin picket.
Hearty is one of the main organizers of a legal picket action that the VPD have been seeking unsuccessfully to shut down for months. In April the police moved to arrest Pidgin picketers, announcing plans for an undefined number of premeditated arrests at the site of the picket. After a public outcry and strong show of support for the picket by Downtown Eastside residents, the VPD was forced to temporarily shelve their arrest plans.
Account of events
The Mainlander has been able to identify one eye-witness to last week’s encounter between Grossutti and Hearty, which occurred in the alley beside the Pidgin restaurant. The witness said that Kim had asked Grossutti to return the protest mascot he was holding in the back room of his restaurant. When he refused, Hearty picked up a bucket of dirty water and taunted that she would give back the bucket only when he gave back the mascot. The bucket was being used as a door stop at the time.
The eye-witness of the altercation told The Mainlander, “I did witness Brandon assault Kim by pushing her back and grabbing his bucket of slop.” This is consistent with Hearty’s account of the event. When police came to Hearty’s apartment the following Monday, they arrested her for “theft” of this “bucket of slop.”
The People’s Pickle is a satirical papier mache mascot that has been a fixture at the picket (pictured above next to Hearty). Early in the first days of the picket, Grossutti responded to claims that his restaurant was exclusionary and expensive by pointing to a dish of pickles on the menu for “only” $6. Since then the pickle has been a tongue-in-check symbol of the daily protests that has helped to keep spirits high in an otherwise serious situation of gentrification and heavy policing.
The law’s double standard
After the incident, several picketers immediately made a report to a police officer that Grossutti had stolen the mascot. Picketers say that the officer, who is known in the community as “ticketmaster” (#2427) for giving out the most jaywalking tickets to low-income residents, dismissed them and refused to take their report.
Grossutti and the police department have also refused to give their version of events to the public. However, in the comments section of a Georgia Straight article about the incident, Brandon Grossutti wrote on June 5th, “I didn’t want to give specific details of an incident going to court.” However, he proceeds to mention one specific eye-witness of the events. This eye-witness is the same person who told the Mainlander that it was Brandon who assaulted Kim, stating, “I did witness Brandon assault Kim by pushing her back and grabbing his bucket of slop.” A few days later, Grossutti, who was with two police, confronted this witness on the street with an “angry tone.”
Grossutti made his own allegations against Hearty directly to police, allegations Hearty says are “totally hypocritical.” Many accounts suggest that Grossutti stole the mascot, but he alleged to police that Hearty was a thief. The main eye-witness to the encounter says that Grossutti physically pushed Hearty, but Grossutti alleged to police that Hearty assaulted him. Amazingly, the police department arrested Hearty based on these allegations alone, without first speaking with Hearty herself or other witnesses.
A further “mischief” charge has been laid against Hearty, which come ostensibly under the VPD’s unconstitutional interpretation of the Criminal Code according to which protesting commercial enterprises is an criminal offence because it interferes with the consumer’s “enjoyment” of private property. Mayor Robertson has publicly given his blessing to this interpretation. Given the current leadership at city hall’s favoritism for private property over low-income people, it is another irony that Hearty’s phone and computer were confiscated by the VPD and to date have yet to be returned.
Criminalization of poverty and protest
A statement from picketers about the events this week said, “Grossutti’s actions are pathetic and his allegations are absurd, but the fact that the police department is using its resources to do Grossutti’s dirty work is not amusing. Gentrification is taking an increasing and serious toll on the neighbourhood, with over 400 low-income housing units being lost within a one-block radius of the Woodward’s development in the past year.”
The arrest of Kim Hearty comes as the latest incident in a series of targeted attacks, launched by corporate media and VPD, against the Pidgin picket. It shows the extent to which the VDP will seek to protect Pidgin and its pivotal role in advancing the gentrification frontier in the DTES. Longtime picketer and SRO hotel resident Fraser Stuart said, “It’s about money privilege, that the rich matter and the poor don’t. The police attack us because the Pidgin Picket has the audacity to challenge money privilege in the Downtown Eastside. Brandon Grossutti’s money and privilege is why Kim is arrested and he isn’t.”
The VPD’s approach is not reserved for Pidgin alone, but unfortunately extends to all property owners and gentrifying businesses in the DTES. Police harassment, arrests, and ticketing is an integral part of gentrification and is strategically used to silence dissent and push low-income people out of sight and off gentrifying blocks.
A recent Pivot Legal Society report reveals that in the last 4 years 95% of all Vancouver’s bylaw and traffic violation tickets were handed out in the Downtown Eastside, despite having the lowest rate of jay-walking. On the gentrification frontier, a person can be arrested for almost anything. Being poor, having mental health issues, dealing with addiction and simply not being white are among the most common causes for arrest and police harassment.
Kim Hearty sees the VPD’s increased targeting of low-income people and the attacks on the picket itself as mutual processes. “This week there was a ticketing blitz on the United We Can bottle depot block. The police swept the block and gave bylaw and traffic violation tickets to everyone who didn’t flee. That’s how the police get rid of the low-income community from the sidewalk, by creating tickets, criminalizing people, for being poor,” she said.
“And this is how they are trying to get rid of the picket, by criminalizing the picketers one by one. But if we’re persistent it will have the opposite effect, like the anti-gentrification protests in Istanbul. The more the corrupt government tries to use repression, the more the resistance grows and grows.”