I’d like to think that the tragic death of bystander Ian Tomlinson during the recent G20 protest in London is the least of the Metropolitan Police Service’s worries. However, I fear all that will come of this, and commissioner Paul Stephenson’s promised review of police tactics during public order operations, are one or two scapegoats among the ranks, and slightly increased greenhouse gas emissions from senior politicians across the spectrum.
This is despite damning evidence against the police collated by many media organisations and individuals caught up in the violence instigated by our brave defenders of law and order. Take, for example, a series of videos compiled by the Guardian. While all of these are shocking, forgive me if I focus on those which feature violence and other unlawful activity against journalists.
Scroll down the page to “2 April, 3.46pm”, and you’ll see a gobby wee shite of a City of London police officer carry out an illegal order, and force a group of press photographers to leave the scene while he and his colleagues attempt to “resolve the situation” with the protesters. The officer threatened the journalists with arrest if they failed to cooperate, citing section 14 of the Public Order Act (1986), which is designed to disperse violent or otherwise disruptive gatherings, not groups of news gatherers going about their legitimate business. The Metropolitan Police later apologised for using this law against the press, but the damage has been done.
It is easy for the police to get away with acting illegally in this way. All they have to do is say sorry after the event, and few then give the matter any further thought.
My friend John Carter Wood of the learned weblog Salacious Puddings has in a long and thoughtful post commented on police actions during the G20 protest in London. I urge you to read the whole piece, but for now I’d like to pick out the following:
“[T]hose cops managed to turn what seemed to be a reasonably quiet protest into an enraged crowd in about thirty seconds through their physical overreactions to mild provocations.”
Whatever the intentions of those protesters who taunted the police, I would say that turning the G20 demonstration into a riot was the purpose of tactics employed on the day by the police and their political masters. It was textbook stuff.
The recent events in London come as no surprise to those of us who have followed the progression of politicised public order policing since the time of the Mad Witch of Grantham. One can compare and contrast our silly-hatted British bobbies with the thugs in uniform across La Manche who steam in and don’t bother asking questions later, or the Italians, who shoot first and then shrug their shoulders. But this doesn’t negate the fact that what we have here is political policing.
There have been a few improvements over the years. For example, the level of overt racism within many regional British police forces has been reduced, if only by diktat. The same goes for blatant corruption. On the other hand, control of public order and other police operations by government ministers appears to have increased.
The state is not your friend, even on those rare occasions when it does something useful. And one should never trust a police officer, no matter how reasonable he or she may at first appear.