Having gone truncheons to tasers in a generation, I also have to wonder what purpose the current Police Service has been built for? […] It looks like we have been built to violently confront and overcome people. I am not saying that is our mindset, but it is without doubt what we are equipped to do. Once people get over the quasi military kit, we are mostly approachable and pleasant people, it’s just that we dress like Imperial Stormtroopers.
— NightJack, Winner of the Orwell Prize for Blogs, 2009
I’m going to repeat, at this stage, something I’ve said a few times through this fiasco but which I don’t think can be repeated often enough. I am not angry with constables as a class. I think there are some specific individuals who broke the law (the chairman of the IPCC agrees with me, btw) and need to be tried and jailed. I think that there is a policy from the highest levels which is flawed, arrogant, short-sighted and dangerous; but I do not and will not blame coppers for how they’re trained, briefed or ordered. The blame for those things lies squarely and solely with senior officers, the ACPO and the last four governments.
As of today, this is what we know: the rioting police forces were systematically hiding their identities to avoid accountability. There was a coherent policy of abusing the statute book as if it were a catalogue of ways to harass specific individuals and groups. The TSG paramilitaries were directed to use the assault on Climate Camp as an opportunity to punish dissenters. And there was a comprehensive and systematic effort to suppress and destroy evidence of criminal activity by officers of the law.
The senior officers, police PR staff and right-wing media then wriggled, lied, and potentially colluded to pervert the course of justice in claiming that Ian Tomlinson was variously a protester, a violent anarchist, a drunken lunatic, and dead of natural causes.
Much has been made out of the early reactions from the right-wing press and blogosphere, and how egregiously wrong they were. I can’t really blame them for that: if one is conditioned to assume that the official line is intrinsically more accurate than the rabble’s impression of what happened, then in the absence of actual evidence you’re going to believe the police press conferences. In the absence of evidence, I do the same. However, the evidence is here, time-stamped, organised, occasionally mis-spelled and in several instances caught on camera.
As far as I can see, this leaves the reactionaries three options from here. One, they can claim that the Climate Camp legal report, the second and third autopsies, the various bits of video footage and the IPCC are all colluding in a conspiracy to attack the police. Two, they can argue that the victims of the rioting officers deserved everything that was done to them: that expressing peaceful dissent places a citizen outside the protection of the law for their personal safety and private property. Or, they can accept (as even the IPCC has finally done) that the police talked up a riot, decided they were going to have a riot, and then caused one when the hippies didn’t oblige.
The most telling thing for me about the differences in attitude in this confrontation is that the protesters sat down when they were assaulted by paramilitary forces. They knew it was coming. They organised to deal with it; not by confrontation, but through the due process of the law of the land. I’m going to say that again: by organising a legal observer team instead of an army, the political dissenters proved that they have more respect for the law than the police. They believed that if they waited for the other side to commit a crime, then the law would treat them fairly. I sincerely hope that they were right. I bow to the fortitude of the women and men who stood and chanted “This is not a riot!” when under attack. I salute the courage of all those who named themselves on their witness statements, even knowing how badly the current government and police force are abusing anti-terror laws to spy on their citizens.
I believe the planners of this riot made an honest mistake. I think it likely that they genuinely believed their tactics would work; that a little piss on their boots and a few whacks to the knee would turn peaceful protesters into violent and aggressive warriors. They thought, after the Black Gang at Gleneagles, that they had hold of the pin in the dissenters’ grenade. When they pulled it they came away holding a flower and then found themselves being drawn and quartered on the evening news.
But now we have a serious problem. I believe the evidence shows that senior officers in the police force have an explicit political agenda and that they are using their constables to enforce it. I believe they are mirroring an agenda that has existed in Westminster throughout the last four governments. And it is clearly apparent now that in the minds of those who set police policy, the Force are no longer officers of the law: they are officers of order. While there is a culture of ignoring or abusing the law in the interests of bigotry, reactionary violence and political agendas; while constables are taught, trained and encouraged by their own officers to conceal their IDs so that they are unaccountable, it would appear we are being faced with a choice in this country. We can have law, or we can have order. We know which the police want, and we know that both Labour and the Conservatives agree with them. So what we must decide now is: which do we, the people, want?