Culpability IV: Punishment and Crime

Assaulting officerspolice_medic_and_his_big_stick1Victim

The previous two posts have laid out a disturbing impression of police policy and culture. The culture and direction from senior officers is explicitly encouraging the avoidance of accountability, which is scandalous in armoured riot troops. Officers are systematically misusing the law, engaging in deliberate intimidation through the assumption that the public can’t follow the law, and engaging in both disingenuous and frankly laughable attempts to turn the innocent into an excuse for violence. These things are true of British policing across the country, all the way from football fans in Manchester to middle-class anglers in the Home Counties. The question I want to examine based on the Climate Camp report is whether there’s more to it than that when it comes to the policing of dissent specifically.

1. Action

Everyone has now heard what happened to Mr. Tomlinson. The Nicky Fisher story is all over. Most of the people who were battered by the police have done the right thing: submitted formal reports either to the IPCC directly, or through the Climate Camp Legal Team dossier in which over 400 distinct reports of police brutality were detailed. Even the head of the IPCC has now made it clear the the policing of Climate Camp was ‘unacceptable’. Let’s look at some details:

19.04 Kettle formed, camp being sealed off.
19.05 Riot police marching a short ways into camp. Jumping on bikes, hitting people. 2nd line of riot police has held back.
19.07 People have their hands in the air. Not fighting the police. Shouting “this is not a riot”. Police hitting them.
19.10 Police have stopped advancing.
19.12 Camp reports police say they have moved in due to ‘breach of the peace’

In fact, they’ve moved in to create one because the Climate Campers weren’t obliging. Not 20 minutes earlier the Met were happy to leave vans and officers in the middle of the crowd as they did not feel threatened. But, ooo look; riot police had claimed someone was pouring petrol on those same vans, and tried to use it to justify a baton charge at 17.23… and when it was investigated were discovered to have been lying. That is indicative of an agenda; the police planned to go in, and were looking for an excuse. By 19.05 they have still not been given one, so they go in anyway. This is a pattern you’ll see over again.

19.22 Reports of campers beaten up by police half-way up Bishopsgate

So, your attempt to start a fight at South End has failed; people just sat there and took the batons, you over-ran them, then had to go back because nothing was happening. Now, then, what’s next? Of course; attack a different part of the crowd and see if you can locate those terribly illusive ‘violent elements’.

19.26 South: Riot Police entering the camp, pushing against campers who are in the way. People being pushed and atoned. Everyone has sat down to show they’re not being violent. Lots of people injured. Police have come in about 5‐6 m and then stopped.

See what I mean? Now, we’re talking about paramilitaries, here: TSG units, trained and experienced at how to take and hold ground, break an enemy formation, advance and cover. So what does this look like to you? Attack: drop back. Attack: drop back. Never push forward to actually take ground. It looks to me (being an historian) like an attempt to draw out a shield-wall. Or in this context, an attempt to get the crowd to fight back. Foiled by the pacifists: how embarrassing.

20.52 Passive resisters between police lines at south end have been removed. At least 1 was assaulted by 3 officers behind police vehicles, was told during assault “tell your friends how this feels, you’re lucky we don’t break anything” (statement taken and contact details logged).

00.18 Camp Tranquility person told by an officer they are going to beat up the campers because they’re not leaving. Was recorded on video

I think there’s little I can add to this. A clear picture is now available of the police trying time and time again to elicit a backlash from the campers, and time and time again failing to do so.

2. Intent

There have been references throughout the media (and even in the CC report) to officers who were ‘out of control’. That description was used of the assaulting officer who took on Tomlinson: apparently they didn’t notice the other coppers watching him and making no move to prevent. When we look at the eye-witness accounts we can see a very different picture, one of systematic violence and aggression.

“Two of them bent my arms back and pushed me down, telling me to start walking. [ incoherent orders? –Ed ] I explained that it was very painful. […] They finally relaxed their grip a little bit and shoved me out into the street, telling me that if I knew what was good for me I would not come back – I would immediately be arrested.” — Hero Austin

“One of the police officers joked, ‘We’ve got a surprise for you’ […] they pressure-pointed me on my neck and held my arms behind my back whilst threatening to break my wrists; dragged me outside the cordon, one on each side in a wrist lock laughing and joking and saying ‘what shall we do with her now’ … ‘let’s chuck her back in’ before shouting ‘coming through’ and hurling me face-first (hands behind my back) through the police cordon” — Louise

Isn’t that interesting? So, they’re ripping people out of the crowd (that, theoretically, they want to ‘disperse’): they are beating them up, making specific threats and intimidatory references, and then … just throwing them back in again. There’s only one reason you would ever do that; to spread personal fear into mob fear. Mob fear is what starts mob violence. These instances are explicit evidence of the police trying to light a fuse which would turn Climate Camp violent. And I say again, with reflected pride, that they failed.

“I was appalled to see one riot policeman push foward out of his line and literally beat people in front of him with his baton. […] this particular man looked as though he were enjoying himself and then returned to his line as if nothing had happened.” — Roxanne

This is the kind of thing that gets people to refer to out of control officers. The officers who broke the sound system (the only way to get the crowd moving in an orderly fashion, which is what the CC people were using it for) are described as ‘out of control’; there’s even a report of one officer losing it so badly he was hitting other officers as well as his rightful victims. What I am debating is that this is really an indicator they were out of control; I think they were just following orders. I think this because he ‘returned to his line as if nothing had happened’; because officers did not prevent the assaults on Tomlinson or Fletcher. I think it because if officers are out of control, responsible fellow officers stop them. This was not accident; this was policy.

“As I was holding my head in my hands [ after being beaten to the ground by an officer with their shield. –Ed ] another policeman who was behind me grabbed me from my hair (on the front right side of my head) and immediately started dragging me on the pavement. He hit me with his baton around 4-5 times on my back and then reversed my body to face up and hit me on my abdomen and appendix area.” — Natalie

This isn’t policing. This isn’t public order, or control of a violent crowd. The image is immediately recognisable to anyone who’s lived with domestic abuse: this is a power-drunk man beating a woman who has been ‘naughty’.

In my analysis, this dossier develops a compelling picture of a police attitude which can only be described as ‘punishment’. The police were primed, briefed, psyched up and armoured to punish dissent. Not stop; not control, not ‘police’, not monitor. Punish. Break their stuff; break their heads, make ’em bleed. “Tell your friends how this feels”. There are too many reports, too many different instances in too many places for this to be a few bad apples in a barrel. This is a barrel which has been deliberately poisoned from the top down.

This wasn’t accident. This was policy. There is only one conclusion; senior officers, with political cover (anyone that high up isn’t dumb enough to take unilateral action on one of these) have internally revoked the right to protest. Dissent has been redefined under their private law as a crime. This was not policing; this was punishment.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Culpability IV: Punishment and Crime

  1. Pingback: Topics about Bar » Blog Archive » Culpability IV: Punishment and Crime « The view across the bar.

  2. Pingback: Culpability VI: Law or Order? « The view across the bar.

  3. This policy has been in place for some time. It’s not even new at Climate Camp, both the Heathrow and Kingsnorth camps had violent police incursions.

    Whilst the Campers are to be applauded for standing their grounds and doing the ‘this is not a riot’ thing, those in other times and places who’ve reacted by throwing stuff should not be condemned.

    The police are trying to get a rise out of people. They are deploying tried and tested tactics that can get a rise out of any crowd, anywhere. what happened at the Bank of England on 1st April could just as easily be done at any park or shopping centre any time.

    Another point is that the intimidation, the ‘fuck you up so you don’t come back’ action, isn’t limited to the protests. Witness the April 2nd raids on building where G20 protesters were staying – beatings, threatened with tasers, cuffed and dragged into the street, then released. Only to go back in and find possessions had been stolen. And at the ongoing social centre Ramparts, the floorboards had been taken up.

    Witness also the response to the pre-emptive arrest of 114 alleged climate activists in Nottingham a couple of weeks later. Suspected of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass, many had their houses raided and computers seized. It cannot be right to smash your door in (and bill you for the board-up) and take away your possessions because they suspect you of planning something that – even if you actually did it – would be unlikely to get you a prison sentence.

    Such raids are now common for environmental activists. It’s another way of discouraging people from participating.

    Certain protests and causes are clearly deemed politically unacceptable and get treated this way.

  4. Ooops, that’ll teach me to comment before reading all your posts on the subject. In Culpability V you do indeed talk about the April 2nd raids.

  5. johnqpublican

    I’m aware that the police tactics are not new: what I’m high-lighting is that we finally got organised with an effective answer to them.

    Whilst the Campers are to be applauded for standing their grounds and doing the ‘this is not a riot’ thing, those in other times and places who’ve reacted by throwing stuff should not be condemned.

    Condemned, no. Disagreed with, yes; fighting back is a provably ineffective tactic. They’re better trained, have armour and weapons, and we’re pacifists. We lose. Sitting down and getting battered while making damn sure you get the evidence is a provably effective tactic. Bleeding girls on the evening news.

    The police are trying to get a rise out of people. They are deploying tried and tested tactics that can get a rise out of any crowd, anywhere. what happened at the Bank of England on 1st April could just as easily be done at any park or shopping centre any time.

    I know. That’s why I’m so proud of the fact that in the assault on Climate Camp they failed.

    Another point is that the intimidation, the ‘fuck you up so you don’t come back’ action, isn’t limited to the protests. Witness the April 2nd raids on building where G20 protesters were staying

    … I believe you just debunked your own point?

    Such raids are now common for environmental activists. It’s another way of discouraging people from participating.

    Certain protests and causes are clearly deemed politically unacceptable and get treated this way.

    I don’t believe it’s certain protests and causes: I believe it’s any dissent. Evidence suggests that if you are disagreeing with the government, of either leading party, you will be punished by violent and explicitly targeted police responses. Accountability will be suspended and unless you are really good at collating evidence, you will lose. That’s the message. No-one really demonstrates to tell the government they agree….

    I do agree with you, though, that certain types of dissenter are going to get hassled worse than others, but I believe that’s a function not of their politics but of their identity. The Thatcherite doctrine, as I’ve said before, was that you can win with violence provided you pick your target. In ’84 the target was travellers, which to most Britons means gypsies and thieves. In fact, it was hippies, single mothers and Druids: mind you, to most Britons those three groups are also deserving of a good kicking.

    Currently, a great wealth of animosity has been generated against middle-class youth and educated liberals, partly by infection from American fundamentalist politics but mostly because those groups opposed the Iraq war, and a vast number of British people have been convinced (through propaganda) that disagreeing with the government is the same as attacking the troops in a time of war. Therefore, any protest which can be categorised as by ‘trustafarians’ can be safely attacked by the police. Unless we video it.

    That’s the lesson; don’t fight back and get it on video.