Tag Archives: police

Evaporating the goodwill.

As a Lib Dem, the past few months have been a living nightmare. And nothing comes any worse than the tumult over tuition fees. I may not be a student any more (those days are long gone) but I understand the dismay that they feel, knowing that in the future, the burden of paying for university will be placed on those that attend, rather than the taxpayer.

I also supported the protests when they were announced. We talk a good game in this country, but when it comes to direct action, we’re not always the best at walking the walk. However, it’s been astounding the size and amount of demonstrations, both in London and around the country. The sour taste that sits in the mouth though, and that will continue to do so, is the violent element to these protests.

Now trying to unpick the propaganda is easier said than done. It wasn’t hard to see there was a hardline element willing to cause as much damage as possible when they broke away to Millbank, and some of these were aiming for damage not just to the buildings, but the police, or bystanders. And once the police’s underwhelming response was noted, the stage was then set for ugly repercussions. We’ve seen it all before. In the G20 demonstrations, where the Met Police stated that trouble was ‘inevitable’ beforehand, thus giving them the perfect excuse to kick off. We all know what happened that day.

And so it came to pass again on the day of the vote. While many students were aiming for peaceful protest, the minority, just like the police’s pre-justified actions, will know that, since violence is ‘inevitable’, then they have the perfect excuse to disrupt and grab all the headlines from those trying to uphold the tradition of peaceful protest. Watching the scenes on tv it was pretty appalling. The police stated the protest strayed from an ‘agreed route’, thus justifying their first overreaction. With the violent few then pushing at the barriers, the first baton charge was their pre-prepared reaction, and after that, the rest of the events were almost pre-ordained.

Sights of a wheelchair user being dragged from their chair were disgraceful, as were those of a policeman being knocked off their horse, and the barricades being flung at riot police. Seeing Winston Churchill’s statue defaced, and idiots swinging on the remembrance day’s flags on the Cenotaph were flashpoints that will go just as far (especially with older generations) to evaporating any sympathy that students may have garnered over the last months.

There are no winners here.

The students, protesting in a battle they surely knew they’d lose (and did, just). Their futures and those of students that will see the first hit of the new fees in 2012, pitched into a system that puts the epmhasis on mere higher education attendance rather than excellence and focus on academia.

The police, who, while they are often in a no-win situation in scenarios such as this, were brutal, heavy-handed, untruthful, and have shown themselves to have learnt little since the G20 other than to make sure their ID numbers now show as they bring the batons down on the skulls. Mounted police charging a kettled crowd (students, rather than rioters) was shameful, and the myth that protesters (some young kids or old) were allowed out when this wasn’t possible is one that should be exposed. Kettling the last group until midnight on Westminster Bridge was a story that seemed to get scant coverage. It deserved more.

The press, who covered in an often hysterical and biased way, reporting on the police hurt and never the students, until much later in the day. What happened to impartiality?

And lastly, the politicians, who through their thinking got us into this ghastly mess in the first place.

This may be the death knell of the Lib Dems. Personally I hope (and think) this isn’t the case, but like the case for Iraq for Labour, this may haunt them for years to come.

And with the dire economic future showing little sign of improving, this may be the start of a very long, violent winter of discontent.

A shame on our city…..

Ian Tomlinson lies dying on the pavement at teh G20 protests

The G20 summit brought with it the usual concerns – would the day be hijacked by anarchists? Would those groups wanting to ‘hang the bankers’ really do it? How would the disparate groups be kept in one place safely? Would the protests really have much resonance across the world? But many of the press before the event nervously questioned the police’s insistence that they would turn violent. Yes, there were elements in any anti-globalisation demonstration that would be bound to hijack it for their own skewed means, but the talk up to the event seemed like it was a self-fulfilling prophecy: violence would need strong-handed police, which would result in trouble, justifying their actions.

No one would’ve guessed the events of that day would turn out as they had. While violence did erupt sporadically, and the symbolic destruction of a branch of RBS (bailout money to fix the windows, how poetic, and pointless) fed the news frenzy, one tragedy appeared almost a footnote to the day’s events. Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper seller, had died of a heart attack in the early evening in the backstreets around the Bank Of England. Seemingly unconnected to events, statements from the police called it a ‘tragic accident’.

But over the last 24 hours, as eyewitness reports of the events started to tell a different story. And a video shows most of the attack as it happened, pouring cold water on the police’s version of events. The man – not even a protester, and on his way home, and came across the remnants of a police line ‘kettling’ protesters away from the Bank of England. Walking away from a line of police, hands in his pockets and quietly, he appeared to be struck, first by a baton, then pushed from behind by the same man, falling and apparently hitting his head on the pavement. Dazed, he appears to talk to the police, who do nothing to aid him, before being helped up by bystanders. Three minutes after walking away groggily, he dies on a pavement of a heart attack.

The storm that’s been played out today, with the IPCC’s enquiry mercifully having the City of London police removed from it (would we face more ‘inquiries’ the like of which have seen no policeman from the capital convicted of any violent offence against a protester in the last 50 years?) we may yet see justice for a man whose only crime was to head home, through an area he used daily, and walk away from a line of over-zealous police. It’s hardly the scandal from Genoa, but it’s the final straw in a city and country where we should pride ourselves in our democracy and our civil protectors, but we face an ever eroding set of liberties, sacrificed to the ‘war on terror’ and the police with ever-increasing reign to ‘protect’ us. We have a right to protest, and yet even that seems to be diminished now. From Stockwell to Forest Gate, I have little faith in their ability to deal with truth any more, and the skewed statements, denying any contact with Ian Tomlinson before his death, sounded like the echo of Sir Ian Blair all over again. We haven’t learnt, it seems, a single thing.

Indeed new footage uncovered by Channel 4 news tonight gives further evidence that the officer struck Tomlinson forcefully before he was pushed to the ground. And the officer who was involved has gone to the IPCC – no doubt to tell them of his provocation. There are glimpses of hope, that process can be followed, and that the police can be held accountable, but we’ve heard it many times before, only for it to ebb away in a sea of misadventure, of ‘cannot recall who was at the scene’ or ‘details have been lost’. I hope for once they can do the right thing. If the protester had struck the policeman, we all know he would be in court before his feet had touched the ground, and it’s high time the police were treated with the same ‘respect’ we are by them.

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.

Gone at last…..

After what’s been a two year period of embarrassing stories, accusations of racism, cronyism, and malpractice and mismanangement, that cost the life of an innocent Brazillian, Sir Ian Blair is finally leaving his post as head of the Met Police.

While Boris Johnson should be applauded (yes, I can’t believe that I’ve said that) for making his mark this early in office, the reality is that he should’ve been out a long time ago. For a police for that’s been shown to be institutionally racist, to have not one but two accusations of discrimination against him and his force, not to mention the PR disasters of Forest Gate, Walthamstow, and of course the terrible events of Stockwell, as head of it, he should have taken responsibility for the position he holds, and walked. But the truth is, for someone that was so close to Blair, he was never going to give up his reign.

It’s going to be a legacy of his time in office, much like his namesake, that he’d been party to some shocking decisions, some terrible events, and huge evidence of this against him, he refused to feel blame, refused to take responsibility, and refused to believe he was wrong. Thank god that he’s finally gone, and the force can hopefully get new blood in at the top and start to change and to take responsibility for its actions. Despite some of the daft reactions to his departure (“it’s a disgrace and he was a credit to the city”, no doubt from a NIMBY Daily Mail reader in Notting Hill) it can only be a good thing for the city. But for it to be truly worth it there needs to be wholesale change, and not another crony appointed at the top. I’m not holdig my breath.