People have been talking recently about the legacy of the Miners' Strike of 1984-5 and one aspect that we have been reminded of in the past fortnight is how it made it seem permissible that the police behave as if they were putting down a peasants' revolt when suppressing legitimate protest. Though we have moved on 25 years the attitude seems to have reawoken. The police have better surveillance equipment and a whole host of weaponry to suppress protests but they do not seem to have learned how to keep their tempers any better than they did in the 1980s.
Perhaps it is the new generation who feel they missed out on the exciting riots of the 1980s. It is always incredible when you talk to the children of police officers or immigration officers thinking of following their parents into the force at how already they are inculcated with the bigoted attitudes. I suppose we all learn from our parents, but never have I been so startled at how ingrained negative, violent attitudes are in these people. There is no reference to serving the public or protecting society, just to the chance to suppress people. In other contexts, such as those moving to football hooliganism it is condemned, but somehow violent police are exempt from such censure.
Commentators used to speak of how the television series, 'The Sweeney' (1975-8) encouraged police to drive fast and smoke and drink heavily and 'The Bill' (since 1983) police series has tried to encourage more responsible policing as you know every police officer and his/her family watch it religiously. However, it is clear that a culture is still running deep with in the police service which sees any protest no matter how peaceful as illegitimate and in need of being put down violently. If there is no violence present, the police try to provoke it, if they fail in doing that they simply wade in and beat people.
We have a new legitimacy for attacking protestors which was given to the world by the USA following the 11th September 2001 terrorist attacks in that country. The Bush government built up an attitude that we are in constant and sustained danger which permits them to do anything (as anyone who has had their suitcase opened when it was being loaded on to an aircraft out of the USA knows, they leave a nice slip of smiley people saying how necessary it was to break into your luggage and how you must understand this), notably abductions and torture. Such attitudes foisted repeatedly on the UK by its US ally which often feels we are not sufficiently paranoid, spread widely throughout society. In the USA people were even beaten up attending the celebrations are around Barack Obama's inaugural ceremony, because despite the change at the top, the hostile attitudes lower down the hierarchy have not changed an iota yet. In this kind of attitude, the UK police, feel as they have not done since the 1980s, that they have a green light to be violent and that they will get away with it.
In the weeks leading up to the G20 protests we were told how they were going to be violent and the police would have to act forcefully. As it turned out, of course, the violence came from the police, frustrated that they had not got the battle their bosses had promised. Of course the knock-on effect and presumably the one desired by broader government was to scare off legitimate peaceful protestors from doing anything of this kind again. Stamping on legal protest is accelerating very quickly in the UK. Yesterday 114 people were arrested before they even began protesting and were 16 Km away from the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station. They were said to represent a 'serious threat' to the power station. Anyone who, like me, has been inside power stations, knows they are not that easy either to get into (certainly beyond the reception) or to damage. If they were that vulnerable to protest, surely the security should be look at.
What these police do not understand is that real terrorists, not the part-time protestors they try to portray as terrorists, real terrorists would be in there and blowing up the place while the police were mucking around arresting middle-aged protestors many kilometres away. Real terrorists would not be as ineffectual as these protestors and it is alarming that the police do not recognise this. Of course, their real agenda is not really that bothered about protecting power stations, it is more about fostering a society in which there is no protest and we meekly accept all that the government and big private companies tell us, no matter how damaging it is to us and the wider world. Police officers and their families are just as prone to suffering from the consequences of global warming, the collapse of banks that have behave recklessly, GM crops, nuclear weapons and so on, as the rest of us.
The stepping up of the suppression of protesting in the UK has come in the past fortnight. As the days pass more and more evidence has come to light of how violent the police were at the G20 summit protests. Despite their predictions the most virulent assault by protestors was on a branch of the RBS bank which was broken into and ransacked. However, only a few out of the 124 people arrested were associated with that incident and it looks like charges will not be pressed against the rest. So why did the police go on the hunt around the different protestor encampments on 1st April and simply beating up people who had generally stopped their protests by the time the police had arrived?
I know the police like football hooligans get very excitable and are looking for 'action'. They had been telling protestors this throughout the day, clearly in a desire to raise the tension and hoping to provoke a reaction which of course did not come. As no full-scale riot had manifested despite what their seniors had promised, they had to work out their desire for beating people with truncheons. Certain units were even throwing people men and women through the air. At least 120 people have made complaints about the violence by the police. The units were involved were from the Metropolitan Police (which covers almost all of London), the City of London police (which is a weird tiny unit that only covers the financial district of London) and the British Transport Police (a new departure for them, they are not usually known for such violence but clearly wanted to get a look in at how to break arms with truncheons).
The police tried to keep journalists away and even detained six press photographers. What they forgot is that these days all of us have cameras and so there is stacks of footage and stills of the police brutality. This almost immediately showed how the police were lying about the murder of Ian Tomlinson. They said he had collapsed from a heart attack and that medics were prevented by people throwing bottles from attending to him. In fact video evidence shows he was clubbed and thrown to the ground by police and lay at their feet while he died. There is photographic evidence of a whole series of truncheon wounds and police dog bites. Ironically it is likely to be the legal system and its tariff of compensation for such injuries that is going to rein in police behaviour or at least bring them to account. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is moving very slowly on these cases but at least the officer who murdered Ian Tomlinson has been suspended.
While I have been speaking on and off about the creeping authoritarian state in the UK, I remain an eternal optimist that these things are isolated, that people will realise they have gone too far and will rein back in their or their officers' behaviour. However, we keep seeing incidents like the ones outlined here which show how quickly civil liberties are decaying. It is ironic when the media of China, so renowned for its suppression of civil liberties and any protest, starts reporting our behaviour in that direction. How can we complain of Chinese government behaviour when they can simply turn round and say 'well, we are only behaving as you did at the G20 summit'. Such behaviour as we are seeing from the British police has an impact far beyond the UK and leads to suffering not just of British citizens. Of course the bulk of police officers, feeling empowered in their bigotry by the paranoia around Islamist terrorists, have no concern for 'foreign types'.
We must only hope that the police involved in the violence of 1st April are suspended and their constabularies have to pay out again and again compensation for the injuries and the murder that their officers inflicted. Of course, I fear more likely that simply police will investigate police and will come back with 'no case to answer'. Whatever happens, the police and those others who want to choke off any protest will have won a great victory. In the future most protestors no matter how mild their protest is going to be, will think twice before setting off to make a legal protest for fear that they will be beaten, thrown about like a rugby ball or beaten to death by British police officers. Democracy in the UK suffered a terrible blow on 1st April 2009 from which it is unlikely to recover in the short term.
P.P. 19/04/2009 - Other things are coming to light connected with these two incidents that highlight further worrying trends. Ian Tomlinson was not a protestor, he was a newspaper seller who worked in the area of the demonstration and happened to have his hands in his pockets while walking home. This apparently was a defiant gesture sufficient in the minds of the police to warrant him being clubbed to death. You do not have to be a protestor to be killed by the British police, just happen to be going about your business when the police are in a mood to carry out a killing. Employers should withdraw all employees from areas where such activity is going on, they have a moral obligation to keep their workers safe. I am pleased to hear that the policeman who murdered Ian Tomlinson may be charged with manslaughter. I do not use the word 'murder' lightly, it was clear that there was predmeditation, the police went out to kill someone and so are little different to an American teenager driving through town shooting at people. I accept that they did not target Ian Tomlinson until the last murder, but they had a 'mind to murder' from the start.
We must watch this carefully to see he is brought to court. I feel we are at a real crossroads. If this incident is swept under the carpet then the police will feel they have a green light to do this sort of thing again; protests will be choked off because people will fear being killed by the police at them. If the police are at least called to order then hopefully they will think twice before going on the rampage as they clearly did at the start of this month.
The other alarming development is around the power station protest arrests. The 114 people were arrested over a period of 36 hours. This sounds very much like a Gestapo round up of the 1930s or 1940s. Again, I do not use the word 'Gestapo' lightly. The sweeping down on people, handcuffing, forcing them to face the wall and bringing no charges against them is very like the behaviour of an authoritarian police force. Interestingly one of the people arrested was asked if they were 'proud to be a terrorist'. Clearly the definition of terrorism has now become a catch-all term and can be used in any way people choose to define those they seek to eliminate. This is very like what Adolf Hitler said, 'I decide who is a Jew', i.e. that there was no set criteria, he could simply define a person as someone he wanted removed. It is clear that the police now feel in that position too. Of course we have long seen this at airports where anyone who makes a complaint is deemed to be acting in a manner like a terrorist. This suppression of complaint and protest is clearly now being widened throughout society. As I have noted, in this atmosphere, all of us have been empowered to cause trouble for neighbours who annoy us by simply reporting them as 'hoarding' chemicals such as common garden products or rotting kidney beans, that could be used as a bomb or biological weapon. There is an easy equation: 'people we do not like = terrorist'.
I have no sympathy with the Conservative Party at all but agree that the arrest of Shadow Home Affairs Spokesperson, Damian Green was again very authoritarian. What complicates the matter is that Boris Johnson, Mayor of London was trying to tip off Green about his imminent arrest anyway, because of knowledge Johnson had got through overseeing the Metropolitan Police. I suppose it is not surprise that as the state moves further and further away from accountability and democracy that people will increasingly use influence and corruption to protect themselves from state power, so exacerbating the spiral of the collapse of a healthy civil society until it becomes a 'gangster-style' society. This term is often applied to corrupt military regimes such as that of Chiang Kai-Shek in China before the Second World War. The Blarite party fostered nepotism and favouritism so helping to create a structure which is now coming to fruition.
We are at a crossroads and I just hope UK society takes the correct road.