Demo2010: policing and the philosophy of protest - last Thursday on Police State UK
- in which I talk about the tendency of the press to report the methods rather than the message of a protest; attempt to summarise the context of Demo 2010, and offer a comparison of the Millbank occupation and the G20 protest last year.
"Warning: may contain humour" - last Friday on Police State UK
- a round-up of the online response to the Twitter Joke Trial verdict, a brief discussion of bad taste and free speech, and a couple of awkward qustions.
Remember the Suffragettes: a Black Friday vigil in honour of direct action - yesterday on Open Democracy: Our Kingdom
- publicising the Black Friday vigil I'm going to tonight, and explaining why I think it's important to honour the methods, as well as the cause and sacrifice, of the suffragettes. This was a wee post thrown together after a chat with Anthony Barnett before the Open Democracy drugs policy talk on Tuesday ("can you quickly write what you just told me for Our Kingdom when you got home? Doesn't have to be long") and then it was on the front page of Open Democracy, and the most read post on the site for a brief while this morning.
Too much politics this week, not enough paying work. Which makes a difference from the previous five months' schedule of too much pub, not enough paying work. Will get there eventually!
Demo2010: policing and the philosophy of protest - last Thursday on Police State UK
Below is the text of the talk I gave on Saturday at the dotActivist conference, with added hyperlinks. It was a really good day, and great to meet people and listen to the other talks. I was particularly pleased to finally understand the concept of the Pareto Front, and I thought the visionOntv project looked really interesting, although I didn't find time to get interviewed (have been invited to come back and do so later).
Despite my nerves and the fact that I was the only speaker who didn't use slides, my talk seemed to go okay. I spoke from the below text rather than notes, but found it easier than I'd expected to speak conversationally rather than sticking woodenly to the script (although I did have to refer to it a couple of times when I got stuck). The only hiccup was a missing page, but thankfully my lovely lady khalinche brought it forth from where it had got mixed up with some other papers, and I was able to continue after only a minor comic interlude. People listened, made notes, and said nice things afterwards about my subject matter and speaking style. Apparently all those hours improvising on camera and sitting in lectures haven't been for nothing! So I'm pleased, and next time will indulge in less terror-induced procrastination and have a go at using slides.
( The Elephant in the Room: web activism and the state )
Last week PSUK were invited to the Westminster Legal Policy Forum Keynote Seminar on the future of policing - accountability, cost and effectiveness. Which was kind of cool, and kind of scary. I went on my own as they could only afford to fund one delegate (and we couldn't afford the £90 concession ticket or whatever it was) and Denny had been to one on his own last month on DNA databases. It was very interesting, and I've written a couple of articles in response to the discussion:
( The future of policing: trust and accountability )
( The future of policing: collaboration and social media )
Now that Denny's running for Parliament, he's taking a back seat in the maintenance of Police State UK until after the election. Given I'm already running three other businesses in addition to my political volunteer work, and that I'm also helping him with his campaign to some extent, I really don't have time to step up my involvement in PSUK; I've been spending more time on it over the last two weeks, but that really isn't sustainable. This means we are looking for contributions even more than normal. If you care about politics and civil liberties in the UK, please consider writing something for us - it doesn't have to be complex. I've written some guidelines for articles to help people get started. If you're interested but there's some barrier preventing you from contributing, let me know and I'll do what I can to help.
I've just signed the Power 2010 pledge (you should too). I've been following the campaign with interest from the start, and voted on 20 or so reform ideas, three of which made it into the top five. Here's the message I sent accompanying my signature:
I support the Pledge because I think it's an awe-inspiring demonstration of grassroots activism, and sets an interesting precedent for the value of the web in democratic reform. The internet has radically altered the way we engage politically, and the future of our democracy needs to take that into account.
I voted for the following reforms:
- Introduce a proportional voting system
The two main parties, both unpopular with so many people in this country, have dominated Parliament for too long. First Past the Post in its current form is unrepresentative and undemocratic. The Government is too easily able to manipulate the system to increase their own power, as Labour did by re-writing the constituency boundaries in their favour before the last election, and as the Tories did by destroying the trade unions before that. Power should be devolved to allow small parties and independents more chance to have an impact on policy.
- Scrap ID cards and roll back the database state
I believe compulsory ID cards attached to a national database, the DNA database and several other national databases constitute an infringement of personal privacy and civil liberties. I do not think the cost in money, time and effort is worth the benefit to society, and I do not trust either of the two biggest parties to use databases ethically, responsibly and securely. While databases are sometimes essential for the provision of public services, separation between departments should be maintained, and I don't think the Government should generally have access to that data except in exceptional circumstances. We have seen enough evidence of data breaches and database-related abuses of power to know that the current Government cannot be trusted, and without a radical reform of our democratic system I do not believe future Governments will be any more trustworthy.
- Draw up a written constitution
England's government has historically operated based on tradition and precedent. Our society has seen radical changes in the last century, with the rise of social equality and the information revolution, and the onset of climate change. How things were done in the past is not always the best way to proceed. We should draw up a new constitution that reflects modern values going into the 21st Century, which should enshrine and protect such things as equality for all and the rights and liberties of the citizen, and prevent future Governments from undermining these basic principles. A written constitution is particularly important in a system with proportional representation, which lacks the conservative safeguards of FPTP.
I did not vote for English Votes for English Laws, as I think the United Kingdom is strengthened by being as united as possible.
I also did not vote for an elected second chamber, as I feel the value of the Lords is in their ability to engage in long-term thinking without having to play popularity games. I think the hereditary and class-based aspects of the House of Lords are deeply flawed, and would like to see a second house with a more diverse membership and equal representation from different sectors of society. However, any second house should be set up so that it can continue to offer checks and balances to the Commons - the two houses should not be identical. I might be in favour of an elected second house with a substantially longer term, but I think there are other options. Still, I would like to see reform of the Houses and would be happy to see the question put to a referendum.
I'm still thinking a lot of this stuff through; it's incredibly thorny and complicated and I don't pretend to have all the answers. I think that reflects more or less my current state of thinking on these specific issues, though.
I made some cheeky icons based on this gallery of CCTV-inspired art. Also one based on a graffiti from the G20. Feel free to use them if you like! It would be courteous to credit me/the source gallery/the original artist (if known), but if you only do one the latter two are more important.
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? )
Police State UK have just run a special series of articles on public order policing, surrounding the inaugural public meeting of the new MPA Civil Liberties Panel last Thursday.
Holding the Met to account - by me on Wed 4 Nov 2009 at 23:40
The key issue in the wake of the G20 is accountability. Of the 276 complaints made to the IPCC, very few cases have been investigated or upheld. The IPCC has instructed the MPS to discount any complaints where the officer in question cannot be identified. This is enormously problematic: in what appeared to be a deliberate and calculated effort, hundreds of officers removed their identifying numerals during the policing of G20. This alone constitutes grounds for complaint - Paul Stephenson has called it "completely unacceptable" for police on duty not to wear their numerals - but it also allows the IPCC to dismiss any allegations of excessive force made against officers who removed their ID. Any police inclined to use disproportionate force in a public order situation is thereby given a "get out of jail free" card. Read more »
A mandate for change? - by me on Thu 5 Nov 2009 at 18:17
"Today is all about listening to you - we're not here to speak for the Met, nor to defend them," said Victoria Borwick, chair of the MPA's newly convened Civil Liberties Panel, opening this morning's public meeting. The scope of the meeting - an evidence gathering session on public order policing, and more specifically the G20 demonstrations in April - had been unclear to some. Many people had brought questions demanding immediate answers, but instead their concerns have been 'noted', with no clear idea if answers will be forthcoming. Read more »
Whatever happened to peaceful protest? - by Anna Bragga on Fri 6 Nov 2009 at 14:04
After yesterday's inaugural public meeting of the panel, I am left with an all pervading sense of gloom that no matter how well presented our arguments, no matter how much documented evidence we produce (from citizen journalists to accredited professionals), and no matter how many lawyers and experts we bring in, little will change. Read more »
Deterring Peaceful Protest - by denny on Sun 8 Nov 2009 at 20:33
There's been some good news lately as far as the policing of protest is concerned... the well-established public-order policing policy of 'hit them until they stop, then hit them a bit more' seems to be going out of favour. This is certainly a good thing. Nobody likes being hit over the head, and any reduction in such violence is to be celebrated. However, one of the important concerns such violence raised was that people would be (and have been) put off attending protests due to the possibility of police violence - and while this one issue is now being addressed, there are still plenty of other factors being used to deter protestors from showing up to any given protest. Read more »
Damned if they do, damned if they don't - by me on Mon 9 Nov 2009 at 19:16
Anonymity is increasingly difficult to maintain in the UK. We are tracked and recorded everywhere we go, and the police have access to national databases. The basic precautions necessary to try and slip through the net of police information-gathering require a level of personal inconvenience which many would find off-putting. And yet the alternative is being entered into the FIT/NECTU/etc system of harassment; I can see how facing a choice between the two would put people off attending demos at all. Read more »
We've also updated the site design a bit to add our Twitter feed and hopefully make the articles a bit easier to read. We're still working on the changes - we eventually want fluid width articles, I'm nagging Denny for the option of longer lead text on the homepage, and I want to improve the usability of the sidebar links. But we're at the "it'll do" stage with a lot of this due to having no time at all.
Please do create a free account on the site so you can post comments and submit articles. We welcome all contributions from anyone interested in civil liberties in the UK.
The Defend Peaceful Protest meeting last week was exciting. People are still talking about policing and protest: the so-called "media storm" following the G20 looks like it might turn out to be a shift in consciousness after all. And, of course, the police and the state are still struggling with the issue of accountability as it applies to them, so there's work to be done there. denny is running a mailing list for discussion, news and updates - let us know if you'd like to be added to it (there's also a facebook group).
I seem to have volunteered to write up the public MPA meeting on November 5th for PSUK/LibCon/OurKingdom etc, so I want to get my head properly around the issues in advance of the MPA meeting, and if I'm linking people to PSUK it would be nice if there was some recent content on it. (On which note, anyone want to talk about civil liberties, dissent, privacy, surveillance, or policing in the UK? We'd really really love to hear from you - it was never intended to just be me and Denny.) So I'll be at the meeting in the morning, writing in the afternoon, and then then there's a civil liberties protest that evening in Parliament Square: what better way of remembering the fifth of November? Anyway, you should come to the protest if you care about such things, it'll be good.
All of which has motivated me to get back into political blogging again. It was one of the things to be sacrificed this summer in the name of Not Being So Exhausted All The Time, which was fair enough, but now I have an enormous backlog of issues I want to talk about. I've literally spent the whole day sorting through my open tabs, filing links and articles into topics, jotting down thoughts, running ideas past denny and bard and getting them to fill in the gaps for me. (JQP calls me his Chief Research Otter, but I reckon they're both mine.)
So now I have a big pile of Things To Write About, which is a bit overwhelming but I feel better for organising it all a bit. Quite a lot of it doesn't really fit on PSUK, so I might end up shoving stuff on here unless I can write something good enough that I wouldn't be ashamed to submit it to the news sites.
I won't always have lots to say about stuff, in which case it'll end up linked here as well (although the best way of following what I'm reading/interested in is my twitter, which sees far more activity these days than this journal). Like the three excellent articles I've read today on the role of the internet in democracy:
How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet by the late Adams, Douglas Adams. Originally published in 1999 and still relevant and true.
‘Interactivity’ is one of those neologisms that Mr Humphrys likes to dangle between a pair of verbal tweezers, but the reason we suddenly need such a word is that during this century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television. Before they came along all entertainment was interactive: theatre, music, sport – the performers and audience were there together, and even a respectfully silent audience exerted a powerful shaping presence on the unfolding of whatever drama they were there for. We didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.
I expect that history will show ‘normal’ mainstream twentieth century media to be the aberration in all this. ‘Please, miss, you mean they could only just sit there and watch? They couldn’t do anything? Didn’t everybody feel terribly isolated or alienated or ignored?’
‘Yes, child, that’s why they all went mad. Before the Restoration.’
‘What was the Restoration again, please, miss?’
‘The end of the twentieth century, child. When we started to get interactivity back.’
The end of Adams' article dates it somewhat, so here are two articles from this week, continuing the theme in light of the recent events surrounding Trafigura and Jan Moir, to bring you up to speed:
Poles, Politeness and Politics in the age of Twitter by Stephen Fry, October 19th, 2009
A tweet is a 140 word expression of what’s on one’s mind, what one is doing or dreaming of. No one, not Biz Stone and the other founders of the service, not you nor I and certainly not anyone in the mainstream or techno press, ever had the faintest idea what Twitter would become. We still do not know what it will become. Some of those who dismissed it as it rose in popularity will now be slinking embarrassedly to the sign-on page, while political ginger groups of all kinds, right left, religious secular, fanatical and mild, will be sitting around wondering how to harness its power. ‘Political consultants’ who had never heard of the service six months ago will be hiring themselves out as experts who can create a ‘powerful, influential and profitable Twitter brand’. And the moronic and gullible clients will line up for this new nostrum like prairie settlers queuing for snake oil and salvation.
“If a twazzock like Stephen Fry can wield such influence,” the mainstream parties and their think tanks will be saying, “just imagine what we can do if we get our Twitter strategy right.”
Well, I contend that I do not wield influence. I contend that Twitter users are not sheep but living, dreaming, thinking, hoping human beings with minds, opinions and aspirations of their own. Of the 860,000 or so who follow me the overwhelming majority are too self-respecting, independent-minded and free-thinking to have their opinions formed or minds made up for them in any sphere, least of all Twitter.
Perhaps the foregoing is the most fatuous and maddening aspect of the press’s (perfectly understandable) fear, fascination and dread of Twitter: the insulting notion that twitterers are wavy reeds that can be blown this way or that by the urgings of a few prominent ‘opinion formers’. It is hooey, it is insulting hooey and it is wicked hooey. The press dreads Twitter for all kinds of reasons. Celebrities (whose doings sell even broadsheet newspapers these days) can cut them out of the loop and speak direct to their fans which is of course most humiliating and undermining. But also perhaps the deadwood press loathes Twitter because it is like looking in a time mirror. Twitter is to the public arena what the press itself was two hundred and fifty years ago — a new and potent force in democracy, a thorn in side of the established order of things.
And, published today, Can't stop the blog: what the internet has done for ideas by Laurie Penny (aka steerpikelet.
The American abolitionist Wendell Phillips once said that '"What gunpowder did for war, the printing press has done for the mind." The internet has had the equivalent impact of the advent of atomic warfare on the world of ideas, making individual thinkers part of a chain reaction whose power can be immediate and devastating. Marshall McLuhan observed in 'The Gutenberg Galaxy that "societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication". The British are desperate to see our creakily ancient institutions - newspapers and political parties dominated by wealthy Oxbridge graduates and a parliamentary system where official communication between the two houses is still overseen by the hereditary figure of Black Rod - reshaped by the internet.
Which leads me neatly to the two new ideas I've seen this week to ise the internet as a tool to "reshape democracy". The first is PartyStarter.org, an as yet embryonic idea rejected by the 4ip call for ideas, but published to see if anyone else wants to pick up the baton.
Membership of the main UK political parties has steadily declined since the 1970s. Disaffection with parties and politicians is at an all time high. Yet despite this, the big parties have hardly changed their structure since being formed in the 19th and 20th centuries (see http://www.paulmiller.org/partypoopers.
htm for background on the slow demise of political parties in the UK and internationally).
Rather than focusing on getting more people to join the existing parties, PartyStarter will encourage and help people to set up their own political parties. It is based on the belief that innovation in the way that parties organise and operate is more likely to come from new ’start-up’ parties than from existing parties.
denny has pointed out that we already have lots of political parties (including enthusiastic and lively new parties like the Pirate Party), but they don't stand a chance of gaining power under the current first past the post system. So perhaps not that useful, although it's good to see ideas being shared, and I think this sort of thing is indicative of the general mood for electoral reform and grassroots political change.
Open Up Now is an exciting new campaign for just that, based on small steps which seem fairly credible.
The way Parliament is run and government does business must change - and getting the best possible people into office is the starting point.
That's why we want the people, not the politicians, to select who stands for election. That's why we want Open Primaries in every constituency, where the people select their own candidates, and where anyone can put themselves forward to be a candidate. That's why we want all current MPs to agree to stand for re-selection in an Open Primary. We want this before the next General Election. And this is what Open Up is calling on every political party to do.
You should read Heather Brooke's excellent article on transparency, MP nominations and party whips. I don't know if Open Up will acheive their aims - it seems a stretch, although I've signed the petition and it seems to be gaining a decent amount of momentum for a new campaign. But I seem to be seeing an increasing number of calls for reform, and they seem to be getting increasingly credible. Or am I just looking properly for the first time? Either way, it's excited. Now we just have to make a few of them start to stick.
Last August, thousands of people camped out at Kingsnorth power station to protest against the continued use of coal power in the UK. Despite eye-witness reports and video evidence that police abused stop and search powers, removed their badge numbers, employed sleep deprivation tactics, harassed journalists, arrested any protesters who tried to demand their legal rights, and engaged in unprovoked violence against peaceful protesters and their private property, the police were not meaningfully challenged by anyone with the authority to do so. In fact, it wasn't until after events were repeated at the G20 protests in April 2009 that official questions were asked about the policing of dissent in the UK.
Early this year, cyber-liberties activist Cory Doctorow wrote an article for the Guardian about the Kingsnorth camp.
We've known about all this since last August - seven months and more. It was on national news. It was on the web. Anyone who cared about the issue knew everything they needed to know about it. And everyone had the opportunity to find out about it: remember, it was included in national news broadcasts, covered in the major papers - it was everywhere.
And yet ... nothing much has happened in the intervening eight months. Simply knowing that the police misbehaved does nothing to bring them to account.
Transparency means nothing unless it is accompanied by the rule of law. It means nothing unless it is set in a system of good and responsible government, of oversight of authority that expeditiously and effectively handles citizen complaints. Transparency means nothing without justice.
Ironically, the article was delayed due to an administrative error, resulting in its publication shortly after the G20 protests. It was already true, even before the same mistakes were made all over again: and in April, it could just as easily have been talking about the events earlier that month. The Met have lied, again and again, about events on the day and the strategies that led to them. The Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner have placed blame solely on 'rogue' individual officers, denying all knowledge of deliberate and systematic use of violence. Hundreds if not thousands of officers were pictured engaging in unprovoked and disproportionate violence, but almost none have lost their stripes or their jobs. The senior officers in charge of the operation have got away scot-free. No officer who illegally detained or criminally assaulted a member of the public has been arrested or charged.
Next week, the Camp for Climate Action is returning to London for a week-long gathering of sustainable living and activism training. The campers are braced for the worst; Legal Observers, MPs and journalists will be present, and you can bet that if the police engage in unprovoked violence, YouTube and Flickr will instantly be flooded with evidence. But will that transparency lead to justice?
For a host of reasons - the death of Ian Tomlinson certainly, changing media attitudes towards police seen to have 'got away' with shooting Jean Charles de Menezes perhaps, or even that battering articulate middle-class liberals rather than working-class black teenagers is always a more high risk strategy - whatever they may have been, the political landscape had clearly changed.
The events of the G20 were a turning point in public opinion. The press has largely abandoned its original campaign of misinformation, and the Evening Standard, which published some of the worst of the pro-police propaganda, has officially changed its colours, and recently ran a ssympathetic story about a woman whose complaint was upheld by the IPCC.
Although the various committees (such as the new Civil Liberties panel formed by the MPA, which seems to be more interested in future policy than justice for past wrongs), investigative bodies and reports commissioned since April have not resulted in any substantive consequences for the Met or TSG, the former does seem to realise that all eyes are on them this time.
The police's new, all-smiles approach to the August camp, conspicuously lacking any apology or admission of previous guilt, has been called a "charm offensive" by journalists. The Metropolitan Police's PR campaign includes a twitter account (presumably in response to the Campers' successful use of live social media to co-ordinate their event), a change in senior personnel, and meetings with Climate Camp legal advisors. A bitter pill, one suspects, to the police liaisons who tried repeatedly to engage with the Met before the April camp, and were not only rejected, but subsequently blamed for the "lack of dialogue" cited as a factor in the escalation of events.
Common sense suggests that the police are going to behave next week. The camp will probably not obstruct a major road or airport, and nor is it likely to take place in the heart of the City. Of course, similar circumstances didn't help the Kingsnorth protesters, but the Met are doing their best to convince the activists - and the world - that "the policing will be reasonable if the Camp is reasonable". But if it isn't, nothing we've seen so far suggests that those responsible will be brought to account.
If the Met's PR campaign extends to not engaging in mindless violence, as well as just saying they won't, then the August camp could be seen by some as an anticlimax. But the primary narrative for activists is not one of a street war between protesters and police, but one of raising awareness about the issues of climate change and sustainable energy. When the media isn't pretending that nothing happened, coverage of protests gone wrong generates more discussion about policing than it does of these issues. The police have proved themselves keen in the past to silence inconvenient dissent; next week's activists can only hope that the greater public scrutiny focussed on the Met will enable their voices to be heard.
(originally posted on Police State UK)
I'll be joining the Climate Camp swoop next Wednesday with a few friends. I'm not camping (work, boo), but we'll aim to stay until the camp is established, and defend the location if necessary. I'm going half as an eco-activist, half as an amateur journalist/observer. Click here for details of how to be involved on the day, and sign up for text alerts.
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.
This is what Denny and I have been working on for the last couple of weeks. It's still a bit buggy, and we haven't fixed the theme in IE 6 or for the subpages yet, but it's functional. Readers, commenters, and contributors are very much welcomed. Please, if you care about civil liberties and human rights in the UK, have a look and pass on the link.
There's an RSS Feed here; feel free to syndicate it. DW feed is police_state_uk_feed.
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/
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/
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.
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.
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.
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 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 )