Monday, July 23, 2012

The British police state

The police work in a world of 'clear-up rates'. So why aren't they bothered about this one... 1,433 deaths, no convictions

A middle-aged man ambles along, hands in pockets, his back to a row of policemen. One of them strikes him very hard with a baton from behind. He falls. He is helped up and that’s the last we see of him alive. The man is Ian Tomlinson who would die not long after.

He does not look like a demonstrator because he is not. He was simply walking near the Bank of England while the G20 protest was taking place. Whether he died of internal bleeding caused by this assault is debateable; the fact he was assaulted is not.

We have heard about how he was not well and had drunk too much but until now we had not heard much about the policeman – Simon Harwood – who struck him. We, and the jurors who last week found Harwood innocent of manslaughter, now know that before his suspension there had been at least ten complaints about his use of excessive violence. That such a man was re-employed by various forces is surprising; the fact he was found not guilty, I am afraid, is not.

The charity Inquest, which works with bereaved families, tells us there have been 1,433 deaths following police ‘contact’ since 1990. ‘Contact’ includes deaths in custody, road traffic incidents, pursuits and shootings. Not a single police officer has been found guilty of manslaughter. Not one.

Harwood is as not guilty as the person who shot Mark Duggan and the person who shot Jean Charles de Menezes, for clearly a police badge means you can act with impunity. Your colleagues will see or record none of your actions, your bosses see no reason for you not to be re-deployed. As juries won’t convict you, I guess knowing you are never to be held to account for your actions may make you a little baton-happy.

This is a dire situation. The trust needed for effective policing is bludgeoned to a pulp. Of course decent policemen exist. Many of those interviewed after the riots were devastated at the display of visceral hatred towards them. One officer described the sharpening of sticks into weapons to throw as ‘primeval’.

But policing ‘communities’ sickened by another ‘accident’ in custody, another man killed while being ‘restrained’ or ‘obstructive’, is made tougher by denials of wrong-doing.

Respect, culpability, understanding the consequences of your actions – the lectures handed out to the rest of us – have to be exemplified by the police. They are not. Sure, Harwood may be ‘rogue’. But who blows the police whistle? Who will say the tactics used to police protests will inevitably result in incidents like this?

Kettling is not new, though the word is. Even at anti-apartheid demos, I remember being trapped in Trafalgar Square. Exits blocked off, horses brought in.

Having fought the miners, by the early Nineties the police started to bring in metal barricades, to cage peaceful protesters. The pretext is always ‘hardcore anarchists’ who are often little more than two blokes and a dog from Sheffield.

We ended up with police in riot gear splitting open the heads of teenagers protesting about university fees. At least it got talked about, however. The massive demonstration against the war in Iraq was polite (not one arrest) and politely ignored by New Labour.

Since then, I have seen the police causing much violence. We all have. Mobiles and cameras are everywhere. We have seen Harwood’s unprovoked assault in slow motion. I cannot say he killed Tomlinson but I cannot say he is not guilty. This doesn’t just look bad. It is bad.

The police are yet another institution who cannot regulate themselves. And it backfires when we see cities in flames. The police themselves warn of more riots. Fundamentally, the police have to be seen neither as above the law nor able to get away with murder.

This is about more than one man’s death; it’s about the failure of the whole force to be called to account. But we can see you. And justice has not been seen to be done.

Original report here

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