Police lies laid bare
Chris Strafford identifies a virtual split in the ruling class over current police tactics that we should use
Following the death of Ian Tomlinson at the April 1 G20 protest, the policing of recent demonstrations has come under close scrutiny. After their initial account of the incident was exposed as clearly false, thanks to the numerous videos, pictures, and eye-witness statements, the police now claim they were unable to help Tomlinson get medical treatment because they were being pelted by protestors. Yet this too is contradicted by the evidence.
The media originally claimed Tomlinson had died of natural causes and a hasty post-mortem declared he had had a heart attack. But the Independent Police Complaints Commission has now sanctioned a new post-mortem and is investigating the whole affair. Policing methods are under review and two officers have been suspended pending further enquiries. The second of these was filmed lashing out at a female protestor with fist and baton - she was simply trying to ascertain the reason for an attack on another demonstrator. As is now common, the officer’s number had been concealed.
The police have been further embarrassed by the revelation from IPCC chair Nick Hardwick that there was indeed plenty of CCTV evidence available, contrary to their claims. Unsurprisingly the police have tried every step of the way to conceal the effects of their arrogant contempt for the right to demonstrate and the brutal tactics which clearly played a part in Tomlinson’s death.
Two weeks after the G20 protests, the police are embroiled in fresh controversy after breaking into an independent school in Nottingham in order to arrest 114 climate change protestors. No alleged offence had been committed - not unless charges are brought under the notorious conspiracy laws, under which there is no obligation to prove that the offence the ‘conspirators’ were said to be planning would actually have occurred. In this case conspiracy to commit criminal damage at Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station is alleged.
The police stormed the building at 2am, causing damage (not ‘criminal’ obviously) to the school. They also raided at least six homes, taking away computers and documents for “further investigation”. The only thing the suspects can be guilty of, apart from ‘thought crime’, is planning a protest. The latest police action continues the recent trend of seeking to criminalise active dissent.
The arrest and detention under terrorism legislation of 12 Pakistani students in the north-west must be added to the equation. The problem the police have is that not a single shred of hard evidence, let alone traces of explosive material, has been found to back up police claims that the suspects were about to bomb shopping centres or sporting venues. But previous ‘immediate terrorist threats’ have turned out to be nothing more than a way of diverting attention away from unpopular government action or justifying encroaches on democracy.
These three incidents have drawn widespread anger and condemnation from within the political establishment. Ken Livingstone, former mayor of London, was concerned that the police had been psyched up and “were up for it” at the G20. Liberal Democrat MP David Howarth says he had worked out a deal between the police and the climate protest organisers which was ignored - the police had broken it up in similar fashion to the way they attacked the demonstration outside the Bank of England. In a Guardian ‘Comment is free’ article Howarth has cast doubt on the objectivity of the IPCC investigation, as it will be carried out by local officers and will therefore represent a clear conflict of interests. “It is all too reminiscent of the misinformation emanating from the police after the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes,” he said.1 Howarth also points out that the police were pursuing a macho strategy of talking up violence at the G20 protests - and their ability to give as good as they got.
All this amounts to a virtual split in the ruling class, as sections of the establishment worry that draconian police powers could end up catching responsible, upholders of law and order in their net. After all, any passer-by can be trapped and detained for hours by the ‘kettling’ of protestors. Anyone can be hit over the head by an indiscriminate baton attack carried out by unidentifiable police officers. Increased profiling and tracking of activists will inevitably lead to cases of mistaken identity.
We must use the current atmosphere of distrust of the police and concern about new powers to rally support for the working class fight for extreme democracy. Unless we get smart and get organised, we are going to see a repeat of the scenes from the Gaza, G20 and climate change protests time and time again. We need to get clued up on our legal rights and ensure we monitor and record police actions at demonstrations. We must be ready to defy anti-democratic laws - not only those that criminalise peaceful demonstrators and prevent free protests, but those that make effective trade union action illegal.