Blind Man with a Pistol

Police on my Back

If you are a British citizen, you should be furious. The severe and brazen violence exercised by the London Metropolitan police upon its citizens during and after the G20 protests is the direct result of unbridled and rampant expansion of executive and coercive powers of the British state. The cream of the crop such expansion has sown is the alarming murder of Ian Tomlinson, a non-protestor who was batonned while walking away from police with his hands in his pockets. If you are a person of colour in Britian, this observation probably comes as no surprise. But the difference now is that the thugs responsible have been caught on tape. Indeed, one of the most disturbing revelations to come out of the profuse video evidence is that when  a police officer backhanded Nicola Fisher at a vigil for Tomlinson’s death, she remonstrated “Do you realise there are three film crews filming you?”  The police officer, who had his badge number obscured so as to evade identification, responded by swinging a baton at her knees.

There is no end to the outrage these incidents should effect. The 2005 murder by police of Charles De Menezes and the recent inquest revealed police tactics: lie, obfuscate and impede justice until the evidence is so indisputable that backpedalling becomes unavoidable. The six officers responsible remain on the force. It appears that this strategy has become standard policy. Police announced the ‘death’ more than three hours after it occured, with an additional insidious claim that protestors impeded health care workers from accessing Tomlinson. Although the IPCC knew that Tomlinson had had contact with the police, they did not inform Tomlinson’s family. An inquiry was not launched until the Guardian published a video showing Tomlinson walking away from officers with his hands in his pockets, severely beaten to the ground in an unprovoked attack by London’s finest. An initial pathologist report, also delayed, conducted by Dr Freddy Patel who, it was later revealed, was twice reprimanded for dubious ethical behaviour, concluded Tomlinson died of a ‘heart-attack’. A second postmortem discovered Tomlinson died instead of internal bleeding. There should only be one question echoing through Scotland Yard and the British public right now:  How is this not murder?

Britain is a world leader in CCTV cameras, keeping a policing and surveillant eye on its public. It has baselessly and dangerously expanded the maximum time police can detain a terror suspect, first to 28 days in 2005 (after Tony Blair requested a 90-day period), then briefly to 42 days in 2008 before it was defeated after public and opposition party outcry. The next longest detention period by a Western democracy is Australia with 12. The list goes on: national ID cards, DNA databases and municipal politicians who have access to police surveillance to spy on innocent civilians and local political rivals. The unrelenting result of these coercive policies is a police force that has come to conceive of its executive power as inviolate, boundless and absolute.

Big Brother is not only the most popular show on British television, it is the archetype by which the state models its public policy. Now that Britain has seen the fruits of these oppressive labours, it is time to take them back. Of course, the task is much more difficult now that a culture of surveillance and coercion is firmly established, but the British public has seen its closed-circuit image and it does not like what it sees. It is important now more than ever to honour the deaths of De Menezes and Tomlinson by reclaiming our right to public autonomy and show these thugs the door.

6 Comments so far
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Watching the three G20 videos the Guardian has now, I did think of the oppression of CCTV and the irony of seeing citizens turn that regime around. They’re filming us? Right: let’s film them back.

Comment by skdadl

It it not often that I have much of a chance to commend the Ottawa Police Service – but they too had a chance to break a few heads with the recent (and continuing) Tamil demonstrations in our capital.

They did not: the RCMP did not: any of the ‘other’ services did not react violently, even if there are stories of uncalled for aggression. Makes ya sorta proud.

Comment by croghan27

A few excerpts from a article, The criminalisation of political dissent in Britain:

Even before the G20 summit of world leaders began in London, five people were arrested in Plymouth under the Terrorism Act, reportedly accused of possessing “material relating to political ideology”.

All were released without charge, but the fact that political activism is considered a criminal offence in 21st century Britain was subsequently writ large on the streets of the capital.

Beginning April 1, a massive police operation was set in place around the G20 summit. Hundreds of people, legally exercising their right to protest, were “kettled”—forcibly held behind police cordons for up to seven hours—in the side streets of central London.

It was behind one of these cordons that Ian Tomlinson—attempting to make his way home after work—was attacked from behind by a baton-wielding masked police officer. He died moments later…

Downloads of film footage of the police in action at the G20 protests is said to be particularly high in Brazil—Menezes’ birthplace, and a country bitterly familiar with police savagery against political dissidents.

For good reason, the government attempted to ensure that its “public order” policy would not see the light of day. While police now routinely photograph and demand the identification and addresses of people taking part in lawful demonstrations, watching the watchers is illegal in New Labour’s Orwellian dystopia…

All the recent police operations are predicated on the more than 200 pieces of separate anti-terror legislation enacted by the Labour government over the last years, and consolidated in the Terrorism Act 2006 which criminalises the mere expression of opinion deemed unacceptable by the Home Secretary.

At the time, then Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the measures on the grounds that political exigencies meant the “rules of the game” had changed.

This established a new legal principle—guilty on the say-so of the powers-that-be. The “rules” now in operation are those where armed police swoops and the targeting of political dissent is a matter of routine. In February this year, in a move which received barely any coverage, the Association of Chief Police Officers set up the Confidential Intelligence Unit, targeted at “domestic extremists”…

Comment by Beijing York

skdadl: there is something, I think (although it may yet just be an unprovable hunch) in the suicidal prescription capitalism embeds in its development. The very tools it needs to create and render increasingly complex a globalized economy and social sphere produce an unpalatable side-affect that empowers democracy (anathema, of course, to the ruling classes): public journalism, maverick counter-cultural surveillance of the executive arm, and a tech-savvy, well connected political resistance. It is written: we can dismantle this beast yet.

Crogh: While I am reluctant (and at the same time, I’m embarrassed to say, all too eager ;) ) to pull the cultural superiority card, I do notice a difference in the wanton expansion of police powers here in the UK compared to the situation back home. Although, it has to be said that we can scarcely be proud of the RCMP’s handling of the Dziekanski murder has all too many chilling consonants in De Menezes’s and Tomlinson’s cases. Perhaps we should instead wonder the other means the Canadian state has muted activism and resistance. Is our apathy manufactured in less obvious ways?

BY: Thanks for the link. There are certainly several touchstones in the developments of these G20 protests. The way the police were so evidently spoiling for a fight weeks before the due date. The murder and cover up of Tomlinson. The odious ascendancy of ‘kettling’ and other anti-protest tactics. I attended my first demonstration in the UK in December, protesting the Israeli invasion of Gaza. A very small number of protesters the first week, but there they were: dozens of police armed with digital video cameras, brazenly and deliberately taping key activists and organizers. The effect it had on the protesters was clear: we are here watching you, and not for nothing. ‘Domestic Extremists’. What a horrible, constrictive phrase.

Comment by Blind Man

Blind Man, I attended a similar size protest outside the US consulate in Winnipeg to protest the bombing of Lebanon a few years back and I could not believe the number of police cars surrounding our staging area. The consulate also has CCTV poised on the roof top. It’s kind of chilling to think there were more cops at that event than at another protest of Child Care advocates and Aboriginal activists protesting Harper at the convention centre.

Comment by Beijing York

While have complimented the Ottawa Police Service …. here is a Citizen story about a bunch that are not quite so sanguine.

“But what happened is still unsettling for the pleasant and seemingly well-grounded young woman. Thompson-Walker was arrested, manhandled and handcuffed by OC Transpo Special Const. Chris Villeneuve, who, in the end, certainly showed her and her friends who was boss. Thompson-Walker, 21, Lucas Timmons, 25, and Phil Dukarsky, 22, were all charged with trespassing under Ontario’s Trespass to Property Act.”

Comment by croghan27

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