Culpability V: That which is seen

“Police brutality is not new”, say the right-wing blogs. Well, no. “Police brutality is worse elsewhere”, say the trolls. Well, yes; so what? We’ve been doing this Enlightenment thing longer than any other continuous democracy: we’ve had more chances to learn from our mistakes, and therefore we as a people cannot be excused from civilisation because we forgot to do our homework. So if police brutality is neither new, nor local, what has changed in the last ten years? After all, the police started a riot at Gleneagles and then violently subdued it, and there was none of this fuss.

What’s changed is that we are much, much better at gathering evidence and getting the word out than we used to be. At Gleneagles, the camera-phone revolution had not got off the launch-pad, let alone the development of mass-market, affordable mobile internet. If there was any equivalent to the well-resourced, well-briefed legal observer presence that was organised for this time round, I never heard about it. We’ve learned in the last ten years. Evidence is king; get time-stamped logs, get camera-phone pictures, get video if you can, organise, get accredited, get MPs in your legal observer team; know what the hell you’re doing. These are the lessons we have learned this last decade, and it was systematic police violence and harassment that taught us.

Unfortunately, the politicians and the policy-making senior officers aren’t stupid either. Which is why we now see this:

14.25 One Legal Observer has had her notes ripped out of her notebook by police

Also, this:

20.08 Notice there has been no live TV coverage of camp since 19.17 when the [masked, numberless, riot police — Ed.] police moved in. Odd as coverage was continuous until then. (Report on TV that satellite trucks requested by police to be moved “for safety”)

And several instances like this:

[…] at one point I saw a woman with a camera approach the Camp while the police were still trying to move in … a police officer hit the camera while she had it held up to her face. She appeared injured.

As with the identity debacle, the shopping-lists approach to citizen intimidation and the decision to punish rather than police dissent, a picture builds very quickly of systematic abuses. These are not out-of-control officers in difficult situations: this is a comprehensive attempt to suppress evidence, particularly video or audio recordings. Evidence: “that which is seen”.

This is mirrored by the way the police dealt with the Tomlinson story. They said he was a protester (he wasn’t): they said brave police medics were pelted by the crowd (they weren’t, and in fact they refused to help him at all, initially), they said he’d died of a heart-attack (after hiring a dodgy pathologist to do a hurried autopsy), they claimed very tellingly that CCTV did not cover the area (which it did). They think they can get away with anything if they can suppress the evidence. Unfortunately, it can no longer be denied that if we don’t catch them on video, Parliament will let them get away with manslaughter.

This has nothing to do with the assaulting officer, who is being appropriately dealt with. I trust the judiciary enough to let the law take its measured course. This is about systematic policy. This is senior officers and politicians. This is everywhere throughout the protests, not isolated incidents of evidence destruction.

* * *

I mentioned James Lloyd here and said I’d be coming back to him, because his case provides one of the clearest narratives of systematic evidence suppression in the dossier. Let me set the scene for you. Camp legal observers wore hi-viz jackets with Legal Observer or LO on them. They were pre-identified to Gold Broadhurst, Silver and Bronze commands. In the case of Mr. Lloyd, he was a Police Liaison and had been given a liaison phone, which he had on him when he arrived at Rampart Street to observe the police raid there.

12.46 […] No warrant seen when requested, no senior officer’s name given when asked for. I was taken aside at the point when I asked for the warrant by about five FIT officers. Had a camera pointed in may face and photo taken. Held onto and surrounded and shouted at. Immediately my video camera was removed from my hand. As soon as they seen the dictaphone in the other hand it was ripped from my hand, I was told ‘we are not having any of that’. I protested and said that I could record this and was told that was not going to happen. [ CC Legal’s emphasis — Ed. ]

“I had my notebook and stuff in pocket thrown on the floor where it remained […] I was taken about 20 meters up the road with my back to the wall. I was told clearly that I was about to be arrested […] ‘If I do not give you my name and address will you arrest me?’. I was then answered by the officer ‘If you do not give me your name and address I will arrest you’. I was told it was under a section 60 and I would be arrested for anti social behavior. At which point I gave him my name and address. He then left, I had no camera, no recorder, no notebook and was held away with the WPC who was not allowing me to move. This was important because at this point the building was being raided I could not record or see what was happening. [ My emphasis — Ed. ]

Not much I can add to that. An official legal observer is: prevented from observing, threatened with a shopping-list of offenses, physically abused, has their property confiscated, and is specifically, carefully, prevented from documenting a police raid. Now, why on earth would they want to do that? I wonder what was happening inside the building?

“At this point, somebody was filming with a video recorder but a policeman grabbed it out of his hand and threw it against the wall.”

“One person who had been taken out of sight was shouting in pain and distress […] Several of the officers had tasers […] I could also hear people asking to see medics and being refused”

“One of our lot tried to run across the room to join us in the big group but a riot cop caught up with him and hit him with his baton. The guy who was being hit cowered against the wall with his arm up to protect him but the cop hit him a few more times.”

None of these things will result in the assaulting officers being punished, because there are only eye-witness reports. No video; no pictures, no independent legal observer. The reason for that is that the police detained the observer and smashed the cameras. There’s more; I counted fifteen other references to police destroying evidence before I gave up in disgust.

From the first couple of days there were unconfirmed reports of police raiding Climate Camp who targeted orange jackets. Now we can substantiate those claims [1]. The police were explicitly, as a matter of policy, trying to suppress evidence so that they could lie about what happened later.

We fought this battle in the 70s and we won it because dedicated journalists wouldn’t bow to police intimidation. Yet still it remains true that if you don’t have the picture you don’t have the story. The government, via the police, have successfully white-washed three decades of violence through private law, because they only had to break the cameras of the guys with the press passes. But now they’ve got a serious problem: in the modern, high-bandwidth world you can’t be certain you’ve smashed every camera. You can’t intimidate every witness, there’s too many people who can get the word out: and now we’ve got the pictures, too.

[1] Which is very, very disturbing, since the same report also claimed the police were specifically targeting people wearing red crosses as well as people wearing LO tabards. I was really hoping that wasn’t true, but in the context of police medics actively assaulting people and police strike teams targeting observers, I’m finding it harder to discount.”


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