Police protection, the Italian way….

Police Raid in Genoa at G8 in 2001

Some of you may know the story of the police brutality at the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa, where riot police waded into crowds (including members of the public, journalists) and then into a school where an alternative protest summit was being held by groups wishing to voice their concerns about the G8. These protests happen at every G8, some a more militant, some peaceful, but none will be dealt with with the ferocity of that day seven years ago.

And finally, a chapter has been closed on the episode, in Italy at least, where today a ruling cleared all senior police officers of any charges relating to that day. This is the day that 300 police charged into a school containing 200 peaceful protesters, and, to a man and woman, beat every single one of them. Women, men, young and old, British, Italian, German, Belgian, there was no discrimination. What was one of the most shameful days for a police force in any western country, has been swept quietly under the carpet, as if it was simply a storm in a teacup.

What does this say about Italy itself? It’s hard to guage a sentiment, as there is still so much not known about what happened that day. Did the police assume the protesters were part of the Black Bloc anarchist movement (as some witnesses have claimed) or was this just an excuse for the violence? Who orchestrated the action? Not one senior officer has been charged, so if this is the case, where did the commands come from? Following the events, one officer even preposterously claimed he “was off duty and had just turned up to make sure his men were not being injured.” Many of the police testimonies differered greatly, key evidence disappeared, and many of those officers cleared are now in high-ranking positions in Italy, some in anti-terrorism. Every single charge against the protesters was dropped, yet in the face of this, only 13 of those that took part have been sentenced. And, due to the length of the appeals, and a statute of limitations, none of them will even go to jail.

And yet the victims, including British journalist Mark Covell, who still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, have little recompense. All deported straight after the events, (cleaning up the evidence and clamour in one go) they still suffer while the police are held almost totally unaccountable. None of the police, bar one, that took part in the raid has ever been identified, as they all had masks on. They have, from this, never stood trial.

While we in Europe like to pride ourselves on our liberal and forward-thinking approach to law and order, it’s clear that, even now, this view isn’t one that’s held, or at least acted out, throughout our society. The acts of that day in Genoa, and the resultant disgrace that took place in its courts shows that there are those that are still far from civilised. In Italy, the spectre of the far right still looms, and with Silvio Berlusconi still in power, the recent shame of the persecution of Romany gypsies is still a warning to those that feel it is now a thing of the past.

Let us not forget this shameful episode. Italy’s police, it seems, may seek to uphold the law, yet they may also be above it.

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