helenic: (CCTV - big government)

The Home Office has just announced its revised plans to keep the DNA profiles of innocent people on the National DNA Database, despite an EU ruling that this constitutes a breach of human rights. The new policy, under which DNA samples can be taken from any individual stopped by police for an arrestable offence, permits retention of these samples for six years regardless of whether the individual was convicted or released without charge.

This directly contravenes the decision made by the European Court of Human Rights in the S and Marper case last December, in which all 17 judges unanimously ruled that the UK policy of indefinitely retaining DNA samples from people who had not committed a crime was illegal under EU law.

The Association of Chief Police Officers claimed that this ruling would seriously limit their use of DNA technology. They therefore advised chief constables to ignore the EU decision, and since the Strasbourg ruling, while the Home Office drafts new legislation in response to the EU's decision, police have added DNA profiles of over 90 000 people who have never been convicted of an offense to the database. Various proposals have been submitted, condemned by human rights organisations, rewritten, resubmitted - and no response to the EU ruling is yet to pass through Parliament. The current set of plans, if passed, are likely to be in contempt of the EU court, and will no doubt provoke another long-winded round of litigation. The Home Office is clearly making every attempt to avoid the strongly-worded recommendations of the ECHR, and while the UK legislators drag their feet, every day more innocent people are added to a criminal database.

So what's the problem? )
helenic: (every turn of the wheel is a revolution)

Couple of good articles on the sacking of David Nutt, which I find abhorrent for all the obvious reasons, plus those articulated by JQP in his two "Expertease" articles written at the start of this year.

This isn't the first time this issue has been on our radar. Drugs legislation is one of the easiest targets. Then there was the debate about Green Party science policy earlier this year. Now this, which some commentators have compared to the way policy on ID cards continues to ignore expert advice. Detecting a bit of a theme?

[Democracy] relies on one very important variable, which British society has utterly failed to deliver: accurate information.
In theory, democracy works for the benefit of mankind because the government responds to public demands. This requires two things to be fulfilled. The public have to be rational, which sometimes pertains, and it has to have access to reliable information, or else its demands rest on false assumptions. But the media, its main source of information, does not deliver. It provides truth, yes, but it also spews out myths and nonsense to substantiate its editorial agenda.

(Drugs policy and the death of reason, politics.co.uk, Monday, 02, Nov 2009 12:00)

Ah, everyone's favourite rant about democracy and the media! Excellent: I always enjoy having someone else do this one for me. It even includes references to Plato, if not to the process of Athenian democracy itself.

You all know this already, but just in case: Athenian democracy worked because it was tiny. Something in the region of 60,000 adult male citizens had the right to vote at any one point in the mid-5th century BC - a figure that dropped during wartime. Start with a small city-state and then exclude women, children and adolscents, immigrants, slaves, criminals and anyone who hasn't completed military training. The result is a direct democracy, where those involved are small enough to sit in a single assembly, watch political speakers and satirical theatre as a single audience, and participate in the same big debate. More oligarchy than democracy by modern standards. (Is more complicated than this, but you get the idea. Feel free to comment if you think I'm misrepresenting.)

Modern democracies which aim at representing the demands of the whole population - including, even more recently, women - can't be directly representational (until we develop secure tech for remote voting) and they can't be directly informed. Our representation is a mess, and so is our information. I mean the internet is great and all, but so far it mostly seems to be resulting in more people sharing opinion than data. (Peer-reviewed science has massive class and accessibility issues - is wikipedia the closest thing we have to democratic information?)

Anyway, so I'm sure you all know my feelings on policy and the meeja. What I found kind of interesting reading the post-Nutt-sacking commentary (har) is the fact that no-one's thought to relate this issue to climate science. Which seems a bit odd. Look at this paragraph from that Nutt vs ID cards article:

That's not to say politicians should blindly and slavishly heed scientific advice without any other considerations. Of course not. The whole nature of politics is about balancing various constituencies of interest. But politicians should be able to explain the reason for their decisions when they choose to ignore independent expert advice and press ahead with proposals that potentially put the UK population at greater risk.

O RLY?

Governments have been ignoring expert advice on climate change for, gosh, several decades now. I'm outraged about that, but I'm not surprised. It's not even really news, apart from in the "shit continues to hit fan" sense - but that's not unusual either.

If the outrage over the Home Office not only disregarding the recommendations of its chosen experts, but actually punishing those experts for telling the truth, leads to it happening less, well, great: perhaps they'll start listening to expert advice on environmental policy. Drugs legislation is a relatively quiet issue - you don't get many people willing to protest about it, and most public figures avoid speaking out on it unless they're happy to be branded a filthy munter.

Climate change should be a considerably less risky thing to talk about: surely most people believe that saving the human race from extinction is a generally good thing, even if they're not willing to act personally to help the cause. I mean, to oversimplify dramatically, this is one of the reasons we have laws, right? To encourage people to do the right thing even if they might not always want to?

Not only does policy fly in the face of scientific evidence when it comes to climate change, those who complain loudly about this are treated far worse by the state than those outraged at scandal of David Nutt's illegitimate sacking. Climate change doesn't seem to make it into any of the commentary on governments ignoring their experts. Is the issue becoming so marginalised that no-one's willing to include it in their analysis? Perhaps they're all just trying to avoid being labelled domestic extremists. In which case, the re-branding of climate activists as a marginal, undesirable group by the police is clearly starting to take effect.

helenic: (book; graffiti)

I've written a couple of articles this week for Police State UK:

Connecting the Dots

While some writers have linked the policing of the G20 to the history of policing and political dissent, even the independent media have mostly failed to situate this connection in a wider context.

How about this for context: The last couple of years has seen a stream of increasingly repressive legislation, denying the conscience of the individual moral agency and responsibility, and curtailing the rights of the many to protect the few. (So the excuse goes; but do we, the public, really need legal protection from people who look at kinky porn or photograph policemen?) Scare-mongering propaganda urging people to report suspicious behaviour among their neighbours. Ubiquitous surveillance enhanced by new technology; endless strategies designed to make it easier to keep tabs on people, such as centralised databases; internet surveillance; making Oyster cards the cheapest way of using the Tube. Exaggerating the threat of an illusory enemy as an excuse to treat the general public as guilty until proven innocent. Terrorism is less dangerous than bird flu or sunbathing; and yet Section 44 uses it as the excuse to grant the Met stop and search powers which intimidate and inconvenience countless members of the general public.

Call me paranoid, but there's a pattern here. And it's getting worse.


MPA defend peaceful protest
Tim Godwin and Chris Allison accepted responsibility in vague terms for events, while denying any specific culpability, and persistently washed their hands of the actions of "individuals". They couldn't give detailed answers on the subjects of any pending investigations. But they were also reasonably conciliatory, and accepted the need for a review of police strategy, to "learn lessons for the future".

However, I'm cautiously optimistic that if the Members of the MPA have anything to do with it, the investigation will be sympathetic and conscientious.

helenic: (troubled; sea; red sweater)

FOR THE ATTENTION OF
David Lammy MP
Labour MP for Tottenham

Dear Mr Lammy,

I am sure by now that you are aware of the allegations of police brutality against demonstrators during the G20 last week. This week, enough evidence has come to light surrounding the death of Ian Tomlinson that an independent inquiry has been launched, a fact for which I am very thankful.

I remain concerned, however, that the case of Ian Tomlinson's death may drown out the other incidents which took place on April 1 and 2 2009. This case has already demonstrated the willingness of the Metropolitan Police and the IPCC to cover up the truth. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/apr/09/g20-police-assault-ian-tomlinson-g20 provides a good summary of the many attempts by the police to close down the investigation, prevent crucial evidence from being published, and deflect blame away from themselves.

Since the protests last week, eye-witness accounts have flooded online media with convincing and consistent reports of police brutality. The tactic of kettling protesters has already, quite rightly, been publicly questioned. Batons and shields were used aggressively against peaceful protesters inside the Bishopsgate kettle on April 1. Even police medics joined in the fray, enthusiastically hitting demonstrators with full-arm swings from a position of safety behind police lines.

Around midnight on April 1, teams of baton-wielding riot police with dogs were sent to clear hundreds of peaceful protesters from the climate camp in Bishopsgate while the national media was absent. Not only were demonstrators injured and intimidated, but the police wilfully destroyed their personal property - a particularly hypocritical act given that the police used the vandalism of RBS by protesters to excuse police actions earlier that day.

All these eye-witness reports have, over the last week, been substantiated by an ever-increasing number of independent sources, including photographs and video footage. (http://london.indymedia.org.uk/articles/1068 provides some useful links.)

Contrary to the narrative presented by most national media, most protesters were peaceful, and the police response was violently disproportionate. I have been appalled by the biased reporting of this case in the BBC and other national media, which I assume can only be the result of police pressure. I am concerned that this suppression will allow the bigger picture of police conduct and strategy to go unchecked.

I hope that justice is met regarding Ian Tomlinson's death, and that not only the individual officers, but also their superiors, will be brought to account. I also hope that the countless incidents of unprovoked police brutality against hundreds of peaceful demonstrators will be publicly accounted for. Ian Tomlinson was not the only innocent person to be assaulted by police, and the survivors of aggressive policing deserve justice as much as the victims.

I urge you to raise this matter in the House of Commons, and put pressure on the police for an independent inquiry into the wider issue of police conduct and strategy during law-abiding demonstrations. Police should enable peaceful protest, not impede it. The strategy of kettling is more likely to cause violence than contain it, and the use of riot shields and batons against peaceful protesters is unacceptable.

Many people in this country are unhappy with recent decisions made by this government, and have legitimate fears for the future. Personally, I am concerned by a pattern of increasingly repressive legislation curtailing our civil liberties and personal agency. In a party system our power to effect change is limited, and public demonstration remains one of our best options for making our voices heard. If exercising our democratic right to protest results in us being intimidated, unlawfully detained, and physically assaulted, then this country is more police state than democracy.

Yours sincerely,
Helen Lambert

Sent via Write to them. Given David Lammy MP's track record, I'm not particularly confident that he'll speak out on this, so I've also sent letters to Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer and Lord West of Spithead, who debated the use of force against protesters before the G20 last week.

I've also signed this petition against the use of kettling at peaceful demonstrations. And I'll be at the Memorial Protest tomorrow.

helenic: (atonement; sitting on city steps)

I've been continuing to add links and quotes to my previous post, trying to keep everything in one place. I do want to call attention to a couple of things though.

You probably all know by now that yesterday evening, additional footage was released of Ian Tomlinson's assault, clearly showing the full-arm swing with a baton which was directed at him from behind. The officer in question has now handed himself in.

This is positive. It means that people are beginning to accept the undeniable reality of disproportionate and unprovoked police violence on that day. It means that the individual accepts culpability, perhaps even feels remorse - although that seems unlikely given the late hour of his confession. And it means that justice, of a sort, will hopefully be served.

But it's also worrying, because if all the blame falls on a single officer or officers, it may deflect attention from everything else that happened. Ian Tomlinson wasn't the only person to be assaulted and injured by police. The peaceful protesters who were assaulted were no less innocent. Hell, even the protesters who started shouting and shoving might have had a point, after being threatened and unlawfully detained for hours with no food, water or medication.

Ian Tomlinson's death, while tragic, is not the whole story. I am glad that this case is being given the attention it deserves. But it's not the only case. The problem here is systemic.

Every time photos or video is released which corroborates the eye witness accounts, which have been many and consistent since April 1, it makes the rest of those accounts seem more plausible.

Eye-witnesses claimed that Ian Tomlinson was shoved and batoned by police.

Eye-witnesses claimed that police made free with their batons, attacking unarmed people who were protesting peacefully.

Eye-witnesses claimed that in the Bishopsgate kettle on the afternoon of April 1st, police medics were among the most violent with their batons, reaching over the front line to attack protesters.
"We turned to see the police hitting people. A whole line of them lashing out indiscriminately again and again. Two officers close to me who had “Police Medic” written on their back were walking up and down behind the line of their colleagues, protected from direct assault, reaching over and thrashing with the most gusto of all."
(from Indymedia, Saturday 04 April 2009)

Police medics doing exactly this can be seen in this video, 2:07-2:09. (Look out for the green patches they're wearing.)

Also in this video can be seen police baton-charging seated, unarmed protesters - at the Bishopsgate demonstration on April 1st (05:30-05:44). Climate Camp had not been charged yet; this was in broad daylight, in the middle of the kettle outside the Bank of England. This was people responding to the police assault passively and peacefully by choosing to sit down, have a smoke and look them in the eyes. They were attacked with batons and shields.

So, while I haven't yet seen any video evidence confirming the stories from Climate Camp on the evening of the 1st (beyond the footage of the initial swoop), an increasing number of independent sources are telling the same story about Climate Camp. And thus far, the eye-witnesses have been proved more right than wrong. Their accounts need to be taken seriously by the press, and by an independent investigation on the G20 policing.

I'll be at the G-20 Meltdown memorial and protest this Saturday, marching for our democratic right to protest without fear of police brutality. It'd be good to see you there.

helenic: (tales of gods and monsters)

Everyone in London has been following the saga of the G20 protests and the police response to it. But I keep finding things other people haven't seen, and other people keep finding things I haven't seen, and when I told my mum and dad about this at the weekend they hadn't heard about any of it, so I'm not sure how far this has spread in the national press yet.

And even if you're in London, if your sources are the BBC, the free papers or the Evening Standard, you've probably got a distorted version of events.

I wasn't at the protests; I was at work, and the evening was [livejournal.com profile] romauld's birthday, so I was spending time with him instead. I'd been invited to the Climate Camp by various hippie friends, and considered going to it, but I had mixed feelings about using the G20 as a vehicle for general protest. The G20 was convened as a financial summit to sort out global recession and world trade. I'd read up on it a bit and had a sketchy understanding of quite how complex the whole messy business was, and I felt that the world leaders would have their work cut out to curtail protectionism, and keep trade links from breaking which might take years to rebuild. Never mind world peace at the same time. President Obama has been criticised for trying to fulfil his progressive campaign promises at the same time as sort the economy out, and not really achieving either; critics argue he should fix the economy first and then deal with the rest of it. And while the Copenhagan summit is arguably too late to deal with climate change, it's only in six months' time, so I was sort of disinclined to tell the G20 they should be sorting out Jobs, Justice and Climate Change at the same time as all the complex financial stuff.

Since then I've rethought that. Not only because we should be thinking about environmental and financial crises holistically if we want to solve them, rather than compartmentalising - I don't think that's realistic with our present governmental system, but I still think it's true - but because the police response to the protests was shocking, and I wish I'd been there with a camera, been there non-violently, so I could have added my voice to the eye-witness accounts flooding the internet over the next few days and insisting that the media representation of what happened was wrong.

Okay, there's a lot to get through here, so I'm going to attempt it in roughly chronological order.
The G20 protests: attempting to see through the smoke )

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