On November 13th, the City of Vancouver announced that it would launch a crackdown on illegal street vendors in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). The City’s director of Social Policy, Mary Clare Zak, informed DTES community groups that “starting next week you will begin to see a larger City presence in the DTES, including VPD officers, as we continue our efforts in the area to ensure it is a safe place for everyone.” According to Zak the objective is to “support and facilitate the movement of street vendors from the [0-300] block of E. Hastings Street and surrounding area.”
In late November, 2014, Du Na Phuong (Tony) was shot by the Vancouver Police Department at the intersection of Knight Street and East 41st Avenue. Du, age 51, was waving a two-by-four plank of wood on the east side of the street. No people were nearby and nobody reported being threatened, yet police shot Du within one minute of arriving at the scene.
Last week, on November 22nd, a Vancouver Police Department (VPD) officer shot and killed a 51 year old man at the intersection of East 41st Avenue and Knight Street. The man was Phuong Na (Tony) Du. Within one minute of arriving at the scene, one of the officers drew his gun and shot Du to death. Before the shooting, Du was visibly distraught. According to eyewitnesses, Du was talking to himself while waving a piece of two-by-four wood on an empty sidewalk.
In recent years we have seen a massive bolstering of the capacity of the Canadian state to contain poor and oppressed communities. These shifts have worked to target, criminalize and incarcerate those who most actively resist neoliberal and colonial policies. This neoliberal “containment state” is grounded in new ways of criminalizing people and communities, an increase in police and police power, and an expanding prison industrial complex.
Chak’s illustrations reveal the underbelly of facilities intentionally hidden away. “Spaces of incarceration are both nowhere and everywhere, blended into our landscapes,” she writes. “But their invisibility is no coincidence. We hide the things that we don’t want to see or that we don’t want seen.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE | This article emerges from 5 years of working as a community organizer for the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU). Thank you to the VANDU Board for allowing me to lean on their community organizing work and to collaborate in developing an analysis of the ‘mass incarceration agenda.’ And thank you to all the VANDU members who shared their experiences, challenged my ignorance and encouraged me to contribute this analysis to the struggle against the drug war and the war on the poor.
The last decade in Canada has seen the strengthening of the instruments of repression of the Canadian State such that we can now begin to describe and analyse the neoliberal containment state as a specific set of policies and institutions. These policies and institutions are aimed at containing the growing social ‘disorder’ and emerging resistance that have resulted from 30 years of the neoliberal economic order.