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Those not in the UK (and not on my Twitter!) might have missed the death of a passer-by, Ian Tomlinson, from a heart attack at the G20 summit protests last week. The police claimed they didn't have any contact with him, which was contradicted by witness statements last week. Yesterday video footage emerged showing him being violently shoved to the ground by a policeman from behind, while he was walking away with his hands in his pockets, and today another video has emerged, this time from a Channel 4 camera that was broken at the protest (which is why it's taken so long), showing him being batoned. The police claimed that they tried to give him first aid but were pelted with bottles by protestors - but in the first video there, they ignored him while protestors helped him up. (The first video in particular is just appalling. Even if he had been a protestor, there is no justification for that kind of unprovoked violence from the police, and even cynical me is sort of stunned that it can happen in this country - and be defended by the police and by other people.)

There had been a hasty post-mortem (natural causes, guv) and promises of an internal inquiry, but now there is to be another post-mortem and an independent inquiry. The pressure was mounting on the Met, yesterday, and particularly today. Until this afternoon, none of the policemen in the vicinity had come forward to their bosses to answer questions about it. (I think all of their badge numbers were covered up too, which is kinda scary.) Late this afternoon some of them have come forward, including the one who was seen lashing out in the video footage. The ex-mayor of London's called for him to be suspended, as well as a full inquiry, etc etc, and even the papers which had been happy to follow the police line last week ("Earlier officers were pelted with bottles as they tried to save a protester dying on the street") were starting to get outraged ("New post mortem on G20 victim as Met faces claims he was attacked TWICE by riot police" - hello, Daily Mail, can we hope you won't be printing police claims as fact so quickly in future?)

Then today, the most senior counter-terrorism officer in Britain wandered into Downing Street with detailed plans for a top-secret high-importance terror raid under his arm, easily readable on photographs by the paparazzi who are always outside Downing Street. So the police were forced to move their operation forward, and have now arrested ten men in the north of England on terror grounds, apparently foiling a major Al Qaida plot.

Just more incompetence? The raid having to be moved to today certainly takes some of the news time away from the Tomlinson death, makes the police look good (er, to an extent), and reinforces the idea that We Are All In Danger, and really shouldn't be complaining about little things like police brutality against the general public. But would they stage something like that on purpose? Would they be that calculating and have that little regard for the public? Would our top terror cop get involved in a stunt like that? I'd like to think not - but up until yesterday, I liked to think that generally, they wouldn't beat up innocent British civilians and then lie about it.

Comments

( 20 comments — Comment )
zagreb2
Apr. 8th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
Just more incompetence? The raid having to be moved to today certainly takes some of the news time away from the Tomlinson death, makes the police look good (er, to an extent), and reinforces the idea that We Are All In Danger, and really shouldn't be complaining about little things like police brutality against the general public. But would they stage something like that on purpose? Would they be that calculating and have that little regard for the public?

I don't think there's anything in the notion that the anti-terrorist operation - a very specific operation which will have been planned well in advance - was re-scheduled in order to "hide" a bad news story; anti-terror police won't like their (very important) work being jeapordised for the sake of the Met. Apart from anything else, the controversy over what happened to this man isn't going to go away, it's not the sort of bad news that can be "buried".

but up until yesterday, I liked to think that generally, they wouldn't beat up innocent British civilians and then lie about it.

Really? Much as I distrust the "fascist police" line that's trotted out from the protester side (some of the protesters went with the intention of kicking-off and although they were undeniably a small minority I can't help but wonder how the protest movement plans to deal with them itself as it's spectacularly failed to do in the past) in instances like this the police (riot police in particular) can be twitchy, bullying and even downright yobbish (as occurred in this instance). And when they do overstep the mark they tend to close ranks over what happened.
pickwick
Apr. 8th, 2009 09:33 pm (UTC)
Meh, I hope you're right - but I just don't trust them enough to bet on it any more. And this can't be buried, but it can be overshadowed.

And yeah, I know you're right about the police, especially about the closing ranks bit. I'm not sure how much I can even blame them for that. But...I dunno, I expect this to happen in tense situations, I guess, but this one was only tense because they made it tense. There were very few people there with the intention of kicking off, as far as I can tell - most of the disruption came after they'd been kettled.
zagreb2
Apr. 9th, 2009 10:30 am (UTC)
There were very few people there with the intention of kicking off, as far as I can tell - most of the disruption came after they'd been kettled.

I don't think that was the case. I was reading a twitter feed from a Guardian journalist at the time of the protests and he seemed to suggest that the first signs of trouble were a few violent protesters attacking police lines followed by the notorious smashing-up of the RBS branch. It was after that the kettling seemed to start. Interestingly, he also mentioned a few of the hoolie element showing-up at the climate camp before the kettling and seemingly trying to cause trouble which might have lead to the police deciding it was a "trouble spot". Whatever, a handful of yobs lead to a largely-peaceful protest being hemmed-in by police lines and simply made trouble more likely and ultimately to the tragedy we've seen unfold.

I think there are a number of issues here. First and foremost is how the police conduct themselves with disorderly crowds: it's simply not acceptable to conduct this type of collective-punishment and arguably makes the situation worse. Another issue, as I mentioned before, is what the protest movement is going to do about the yobs. I can gather from heresay that most of the protesters can't stand them but there seems to have been no effort to disassociate with them. Part of the problem, I think, is the movements self-consciously anarchic makeup which is simply an open-door to hooliganism; like some naive kid holding a house party and saying "anyone can come!" which inevitably leads to people trashing the place.
pickwick
Apr. 9th, 2009 01:51 pm (UTC)
See, I thought they only reason they were down at the RBS branch in the first place was because they'd been kettled there. They'd been moved away from the Bank of England, down the street, but then not let out at the other end. I never heard anyone suggest that the RBS was the target in the first place, although many people did point out that they'd been herded towards the only un-boarded-up building in the street. I haven't heard anything about hoolies at the climate camp, can't have been reading that particular journo's twitter!

Totally agreed on the problems with collective punishment. But I have issues with the "what are the protest movement going to do about the yobs", partly in a knee-jerk way, I admit, because it reminds me of people bitching that the moderate Muslims aren't speaking out enough and doing enough about the extremists. Partly because...yeah, the protests are open, but the whole point of protests is that you want lots of people to come. I don't see any way you could make it less open to hooligans without putting off a whole lot more non-hooligans who might have come along.
zagreb2
Apr. 9th, 2009 02:01 pm (UTC)
See, I thought they only reason they were down at the RBS branch in the first place was because they'd been kettled there. They'd been moved away from the Bank of England, down the street, but then not let out at the other end.

Yeah, I re-read the twitter feed (http://twitter.com/paul__lewis) in question and what seems to have happened is that the police blocked access to the Bank of England (for obvious reasons) and some protesters tried to break through. The protesters were subsequently "kettled" and moved further along which lead to RBS being attacked as, presumably, an alternative target to the Bank of England. I'd assumed RBS was targeted because of the Sir Fred controversy. I was also wrong about the kettling coming after the attack on the bank, it seems to have happened instead in response to protesters attempting to break through police lines. Whatever, this seems to be a good example of police actions arguably making things worse - moving protesters along because it looks like they're going to attack a bank and leading them into a situation where they, well, can attack a bank.

Totally agreed on the problems with collective punishment. But I have issues with the "what are the protest movement going to do about the yobs", partly in a knee-jerk way, I admit, because it reminds me of people bitching that the moderate Muslims aren't speaking out enough and doing enough about the extremists. Partly because...yeah, the protests are open, but the whole point of protests is that you want lots of people to come. I don't see any way you could make it less open to hooligans without putting off a whole lot more non-hooligans who might have come along.

I know, I'm trying to avoid the suggestion that the protesters in general have some sort of duty or responsbility for the violent elements. Unless they are aware of who they are and let them carry on (and I've seen no evidence they do) then it's best to assume good faith and that they don't want them there. However, as I said, if they really want to stop the yobs ruining their protests then they're going to have to be more pro-active. The example of moderate muslims is a good one: of course it's unfair to say that it's their job to deal with people who fall under the same general banner but whom they have nothing to deal with but it's still their mosques, their communities that these people infiltrate and so ultimately it's something they have to deal with or see the problem get worse.
pickwick
Apr. 9th, 2009 02:24 pm (UTC)
Whatever, this seems to be a good example of police actions arguably making things worse - moving protesters along because it looks like they're going to attack a bank and leading them into a situation where they, well, can attack a bank.
Heh, yeah. I suppose they have to have tactics worked out beforehand, and they have their orders, but they seem very bad at thinking on their feet and reacting to things appropriately, and working out what the consequences will be of their actions.

However, as I said, if they really want to stop the yobs ruining their protests then they're going to have to be more pro-active. The example of moderate muslims is a good one: of course it's unfair to say that it's their job to deal with people who fall under the same general banner but whom they have nothing to deal with but it's still their mosques, their communities that these people infiltrate and so ultimately it's something they have to deal with or see the problem get worse.
And as it's the innocent protesters who suffer most from the way the police try to deal with the hooligans, it definitely seems like they should do something even if it's unfair that they have to. I think it's hard, precisely because it's so fragmented and so casual. It would help if protesters sided with the police against the yobs, or at least handed over photos and so on, but it's easy to see why it doesn't happen with the combination of the "solidarity" ideal and the (justified) distrust of the police.
datura800
Apr. 9th, 2009 11:34 am (UTC)
What would you expect ‘the protest movement’ (which I think isn’t a very helpful term – there were multiple protests happening at the same time and many people who were legitimately there to protest who had nothing to do with any group whatsoever) to do about the tiny (and it was tiny) minority who go to cause trouble?

The fact of the matter is that the police and the media were talking up the expectation of mass violence for a week preceding the protests and, predictably, jumped on the tiniest bit of trouble. I know people (civilians and journalists) who were there all day and they said that there was no more trouble than you would expect from a gathering of that size, and it was when the kettling started that tensions really began to rise.

Regarding the top-secret document thing – a cock-up, obviously, but if the media were so concerned about it then surely they could have bought the photos and handed them immediately over to the police instead of splashing them all over the internet and newspapers? It surely couldn’t be that they’re more interested in whipping up hysteria and selling papers than the’ national security’ they have been foaming at the mouth about?
zagreb2
Apr. 9th, 2009 11:59 am (UTC)
What would you expect ‘the protest movement’ (which I think isn’t a very helpful term – there were multiple protests happening at the same time and many people who were legitimately there to protest who had nothing to do with any group whatsoever) to do about the tiny (and it was tiny) minority who go to cause trouble?

I'm not sure what else I can call it. I know perfectly well that these protests are made up of numerous groups but from what I can gather the hoolies made their way through all of them. This is a problem they collectively have and collectively must deal with if they want to avoid more of this trouble in the future.

I think it's comparable with the problem with football hooliganism in the 1980s. Most supporters were not hooligans but the clubs had to make a collective effort to deal with the problem. It's not fair that they had to, but given that the trouble had inflitrated the masses of supporters, it wasn't something they could ignore.

Obviously, better suggestions would come from within the protest movement itself, but what they probably need to do is identify the troublemakers (as individuals or groups) and actively freeze them out, force them to protest separately, stop them from infiltrating. As I said above, though, I think the movement in general shirks from any sort of "authoritarian" measures and so isn't, at the moment, politically capable of dealing with the hooligans.

The fact of the matter is that the police and the media were talking up the expectation of mass violence for a week preceding the protests and, predictably, jumped on the tiniest bit of trouble

Because there was previous form of this sort of thing happening at previous G{whatever} protests so naturally both the media and police were expecting violence (and they were right).

Also, it wasn't the "tiniest" bit of trouble. All I've heard suggests that the people who started the violence were a very small minority of the crowd but with protests there's a mob mentality. I saw some footage of the RBS attacks and it was clear that a few of the people who were joining-in hadn't come to the protests to be violent (they weren't even hiding their faces) but, conjecture would suggest through a mix of booze and youthful hormones, they joined-in once trouble started. If the hoolie element hadn't been there they probably wouldn't have done anything. The Guardian journalist who I referred to earlier described the earliest signs of trouble as around two dozen people trying to charge the police; that's two dozen in crowds of thousands. Later he said the police were having to fight a small riot, pushing it across the Thames. I doubt very much that all the people who ended up rioting came to do so, all it takes is a little trouble to kick-off more trouble especially when the police respond and the mob mentality kicks in on both sides.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 9th, 2009 12:18 pm (UTC)
It *was* the 'tiniest bit of trouble'. Even the police and media admitted this after the event. I work 10 minutes from where the protests were and couldn't be there all day because of work, but I have many friends who were there all day. And the video you speak of had one person smashing a window and about a hundred people surrounding him with cameras. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy where the media look for something and when it happens, even in an isolated incident, they descend on it like a pack of vultures and blow it out of all proportion.

The 'protest movement' (which I still disagree with) is not comparable to a professional football club. As I said, many (perhaps even a majority of) people there had no affinity to any organisation. Suggesting that before people want to protest en masse they need to ensure there won't be any violence at all sounds like something the Daily Mail would suggest. It's completely unworkable and only serves to act as a limit on the right to protest. Don't you think it would help matters more if the police and media did not create the conditions for violence beforehand and did not glamourise it when it occurs? If they focused on the 99.9% of protestors who were peaceful instead of the dozen who weren't?

The 'charging of the police' which you describe sounds something like what a couple of friends told me about, pre-the kettling. But they described it as the police attempting to prevent the protestors from proceeding as planned and divert them into the area where the kettling later occurred, and because of this some people tried to force their way past them. They didn't just decide they were going to attack the police.
zagreb2
Apr. 9th, 2009 12:33 pm (UTC)
It *was* the 'tiniest bit of trouble'. Even the police and media admitted this after the event.

A bank being smashed up isn't a "tiny" bit of trouble. I agree that, in the main, the protests were peaceful (which is why I disagree with the police's response) but we can't really pretend that a bank being attacked is something that should just be shrugged off, especially when these things can escalate (as I described, and as appeared to be happening).

I work 10 minutes from where the protests were and couldn't be there all day because of work, but I have many friends who were there all day. And the video you speak of had one person smashing a window and about a hundred people surrounding him with cameras.

It definitely wasn't just one person (or even a handful) smashing a window. The reports I read from the ground (the journalist appeared to be in the area at the time) said that the bank was actually attacked by a small group of protesters and subsequently people were climbing in, one even tried to set the place on fire. As I said, the video footage suggests that those joining in were had not gone there with the intention of causing trouble, they were merely joining-in. Once that has happened you no longer have a peaceful protest, you have the beginnings of a riot; if there's no police response you'll get an escalation. Riot's aren't just dangerous because of the violence, they're dangerous because of the mob mentality that goes with them. Many people who become violent in a riot would not in any other situation, they just go with the crowd mentality and relative safety they feel in numbers.

For me, it wasn't a question of "the police were wrong to respond to the violence" it was a question of "the police were wrong to respond to the violence in the way they did and the extent they did". The police are as prone to "mob" mentality as anyone else. The tactic of penning protesters in is perfectly sensible if they're rioting, it's not if they just happen to be a small part of a general protest where some rioting has broken out. The police are public servants - they have the right to deal with violent protesters and the right to prevent an escalation of violence but they also have a duty of care to protesters (and non-protesters who just happen to be there) who are not being violent. They failed in that second regard, literally fatally in one instance.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy where the media look for something and when it happens, even in an isolated incident, they descend on it like a pack of vultures and blow it out of all proportion.

I don't think the violence happened because the media said it would, I think the violence happened because a few people went there with the intention of causing trouble. A few years ago there was some bloke on Newsnight who's group had been agitating for violence before a protest and when pushed on this he simply avoided the issue. I think, by moving the focus onto the media, you're arguably ignoring the problem of violent elements within the protest movement who attach themselves to it and pull the peaceful majority down with them.
zagreb2
Apr. 9th, 2009 12:47 pm (UTC)
The 'protest movement' (which I still disagree with) is not comparable to a professional football club. As I said, many (perhaps even a majority of) people there had no affinity to any organisation.

I know, but if the protesters seriously want to prevent violent infiltrators then they have to do something about it.

I'm not, incidentally, arguing that the protesters in general are responsible for the violence, the violent element alone bear responsibility for that, what I am saying is that they ought to deal with . It's similar to saying "if you walk home at night and are mugged then it's never your fault, but it does well to take certain precautions)

It's completely unworkable and only serves to act as a limit on the right to protest.

People have a right to protest peacefully and since the majority of protesters are clearly peaceful there's no issue of "rights" at stake here (the violent protesters have forfeited their right to peaceful protest but, of course, only do so after the event).

I don't think it's unworkable at all. I can see it would never work 100% but there are various things the different protest groups can do to prevent infiltration, I've already suggested some. Additionally, since some of the hooligan element seem to form specific groups of their own, actively distancing the peaceful protests from these groups would be one idea (there seems to have been some attempt to do this at the G20 protests but a fat lot of good it did when the climate camp was "kettled" because of something that happened at a separate protest).

Another is to talk to the police directly, explain why their tactics are so utterly stupid and self-defeating, make them agree to treat separate protests as just that, make sure they isolate the small groups of troublemakers, remind them of their duty of care, ask them what the hell happens when you and your family/mates find themselves penned-in by police because of something that happened at another protest.

Don't you think it would help matters more if the police and media did not create the conditions for violence beforehand and did not glamourise it when it occurs?

You're strongly suggesting that the violence happens because of the police and media. I've seen no evidence to suggest it does but I've seen plenty to suggest that specific groups plan violence beforehand (not least someone on telly dodging around the issue when it was pointed out he'd been distributing leaflets telling people to use violence and what to target).
pickwick
Apr. 9th, 2009 02:08 pm (UTC)
You're strongly suggesting that the violence happens because of the police and media. I've seen no evidence to suggest it does but I've seen plenty to suggest that specific groups plan violence beforehand (not least someone on telly dodging around the issue when it was pointed out he'd been distributing leaflets telling people to use violence and what to target).
There are definitely some groups that plan violence beforehand, but I think the police and the media do have to take some of the blame, too. If you're being constantly told that this summer is going to be the "summer of rage", and that there "will be riots" at the protests, and that there'll be tens of thousands of riot police to cope, and so on, it does a couple of things. First it creates a certain us-and-them atmosphere, which doesn't exist at all protests - most of the ones I've been on (mostly in Glasgow, which may make a difference), the police have been more like stewards, but in the run-up to the G20 it was made very clear that the Met see all protesters as the enemy. Secondly, it brings violence way up the...unconscious list of options a protester is considering, if that makes sense. It reminds me of the way that excessive reporting of suicides is proven to increase the number of suicides by that method, or how glamorising coverage of school shootings is usually followed by more school shootings.
zagreb2
Apr. 9th, 2009 12:18 pm (UTC)
I know people (civilians and journalists) who were there all day and they said that there was no more trouble than you would expect from a gathering of that size, and it was when the kettling started that tensions really began to rise.

From the twitter feed I was reading (which was by a Guardian journalist who appeared to be very much in the thick of things and commendably even-handed in his reporting), the kettling started after the attacks on RBS. The problem with the kettling wasn't that the police were reacting to nothing (they weren't) but that they were treating the entire protest movement as a single group; this culminated in the climate camp (at which I gather there was precious little trouble despite the attempts of a few yob infiltrators) being ringed by police and the protesters (and journalists amongst them) being denied exit which (naturally) fuelled anger and made violence a real likelihood.
sloopjonb
Apr. 8th, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
Police have always beaten up people and then lied about it. It's what police do.
speakr2customrs
Apr. 8th, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC)
And sometimes they shoot innocent people seven times through the head and lie about that.
pickwick
Apr. 8th, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)
Mmm, that's why I ended up with the "British citizens" in the last line. Horrific as de Menezes was, this feels different somehow, because it wasn't straight after a terrorist attack and they didn't believe him guilty of anything.

I do think the de Menezes inquiry and the complete lack of any sort of sanctions for it are a good guide as to what to expect this time, though.
zagreb2
Apr. 9th, 2009 10:33 am (UTC)
Mmm, that's why I ended up with the "British citizens" in the last line. Horrific as de Menezes was, this feels different somehow, because it wasn't straight after a terrorist attack and they didn't believe him guilty of anything.

I actually don't think what happened was especially unusual; the only reason this is making so much news is because the man subsequently died. What I expect to have real repercussions is that this man was just returning home from work, he wasn't part of the protest. Usually, the rightwing element in the press will play to their readerships prejudices by making the insinuation that leftwing protesters deserve what comes to them but that isn't going to work this time: this really could have been anyone.
pickwick
Apr. 9th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this is totally true. Hundreds of people would have been attacked like this and worse. As you say, it's only the fact that a bystander died that makes it newsworthy, really.
pickwick
Apr. 8th, 2009 09:35 pm (UTC)
True - I've been hearing a lot about the '70s police lately - but I suppose I thought they might have improved or something. No idea why. It's amazing how you can kid yourself about things...
zotz
Apr. 9th, 2009 12:26 pm (UTC)
It's the Met, in particular. They're better than they used to be, but they're still the Met.
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