A large number of protestors on that day behaved badly, the smashing up of a branch of RBS is one notable reminder. What we have to remember is that the police on the front line that day are individuals who will react to aggression in the same way as the protestors did on that day, and in the same way that most people would – namely to meet aggression with aggression. The bigger picture at stake here,……
beyond the focus on minor individual cases, is the wider role of the police and how their power should be used and the way they should behave. We need an impartial monitor of individual, and systemic, police behaviour on the day that events happen. One suggestion is the introduction of ‘citizen observers’, independently vetted individuals used to monitor police, and citizen, behaviour on the day of events such as mass protests as well as within the day to day events of police stations. Police officers have powers over and above individual citizens, including the right to use violence, and this power must be visibly held to account.
Many of the protestors at the G20 protests last year were antagonists (of the non-violent kind) and are now causing a massive fuss by claiming that any police officer wielding a truncheon that day was guilty of police brutality. Take for example, the anarchist group Space Hijackers who attended the G20 protests dressed as police officers. They were arrested for this and are now suing the Met for wrongful arrest. Unfortunately, it is groups such as Space Hijackers who divert attention away from the wider issue at stake –police power and behaviour – and cause attention to fall on one insignificant event in which they set out to antagonise police and in which they acted illegally. You surely can’t be allowed to impersonate a police officer on a day where the police would play such an important, and visible, role. Oh, and too me, the photo below of the Space Hijackers in action shows they did a good job of impersonating police officers contrary to reports of innocent ‘theatrical activists’. If the Space Hijackers, or any other group, were impersonating police in order to carry out some sort of meaningful operation then so be it since such impersonation would be beneficial to its success. But in the case of a bunch of jokers like the Space Hijackers, they do it for no good reason other than to mock the police and do nothing to vindicate individuals such as Blair Peach or Ian Tomlinson – two individuals who arguably lost their lives because of excessive police power and poor police behaviour.
The Police and Government have taken allegations of police brutality at the G20 seriously and this acknowledgement will lead to the Association of Chief Police Officers releasing a ‘manual’ for policing protests. Furthermore, Home Office ministers are due to release a ‘code of practice’ for the police after the election. Besides recommended codes of practice or instructions in manuals, one suggestion which should be included as a cornerstone for future policing of protests is the introduction of ‘citizen observers’. These observers could form part of the planning, and on the day policing, of such protests to monitor possible breaches in police, and protestor, behaviour, acting as an impartial voice/witness to any wrongdoing. The ‘citizen observers’ could also be used beyond large-scale policing events such as protests, and be present in police stations to monitor police behaviour there also.
The idea of ‘citizens observers’ should be introduced to deter over aggression of police, and other security officials, who it seems have become delusional about their powers, and permitted levels of aggression, used when dealing with the public. Indeed, this is an issue which in particular affects the police but also doorman/bouncers who act as Britain’s quasi police enforcers every Friday and Saturday night.
The G20 protests were policed in a negative and wholly unnecessary way. It was unfortunate that the British media substantially increased the tension in the lead up to the protests with inflammatory headlines such as ‘We’re braced for wave of disorder’ warning of planned widespread violence. This certainly impacted on the judgement of police officers on the day who, in response to a very small minority of violent protestors, were largely over-aggressive towards the majority of peaceful protestors. Tactics such as ‘kettling’ – the cordoning off of large groups of protestors for sustained periods – were a response to small incidences of violence and further inflamed present tensions. What we should be focussed on is ways to monitor police power and behaviour. Introducing ‘citizen observers’, within a wider ‘community’ approach towards policing, would bridge the present widening gap between the police and the public, and could provide independent observation of citizens and police when things go wrong.
First published March 27th 2010