Whitewashing the G20 Police

June 29, 2009

This is total bullshit. The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee is to report on the G20 protests in London on April 1. As you’ll remember, those protests were heavily repressed by the police, who used “kettling” tactics to trap ten thousand people inside Bank Square for six hours or more, and also battered a similar crowd of Climate Camp attendees on Bishopsgate later in the day.

One man was killed, Ian Tomlinson, and many others were injured. The protests, unlike most such events in recent British history, have since resulted in numerous claims of brutality being brought against the police, while the “Independent” Police Complaints Commission has been exposed as a willful accomplice of police propaganda and manipulation. The IPCC, instead of being able to launch an independent inquiry into the death of Tomlinson, were seen to be using the services of the City of London Police – the very force from which officers seen beating him were derived.

But putting that aside, it appears the HAC report is a scandal. As the BBC reports, “In their report, the MPs from the committee said that despite little time for planning and limited information from the protesters themselves, the policing strategy had been largely successful. There had been very little disruption for London and only minor acts of violence.”

The report adds that “Never again must untrained officers be placed in the front-line of public protests” while “at the very least each unit should contain a core of fully trained, experienced officers. While greater funding must be made available, the police must also allocate their resources better to ensure that all officers on the front-line of public protest are trained adequately.”

Kettling, instead of being outlawed as counter-productive and a breach of human rights, should be used “sparingly”and should “be closely linked to police intelligence” but the criterion for deciding whether to kettle or not remain extremely vague. “The police must have reasonable grounds to believe that the protesters being contained are liable to cause disturbances elsewhere and innocent bystanders and non-violent protesters must be allowed to filter out” the report suggests. Such grounds are surprisingly easy to forsee, and such a definition will allow kettling to continue as before.

There is an assumption at work which sees the protests as inevitably anarchic and violent, yet violence flared only after police had closed off the Bank protest – at least from the protesters’ perspectives. The police had initiated the violence and took it to another level with their clearance of the Climate Camp.

The idea that those involved in brutality at the protests were “untrained” is also laughable. We know from photo evidence that the man seen assaulting Nichola Fisher, for example, was a seasoned riot officer, and was well known in activist circles for his confrontational attitude.

The idea that “police intelligence” should be beefed up is also laughable, and sinister. Just last week, footage emerged of police beating and then detaining utterly innocent activists from the group FIT Watch at last year’s Climate Camp. The reason that FIT Watch was set up, and the reason that they draw such heat is because the police use extremely comprehensive, invasive surveillance techniques to catalogue and discipline protesters. This was backed up by footage shown by the Guardian earlier this year of police officers chatting outside the Camp while spying on journalists and photographers.

The notion that the police were hamstrung by a lack of consultation (“limited information”) with protesters is also ludicrous. Organizers of the Bank protest repeatedly sought an audience with the Metropolitan Police but were rebuffed. Climate Camp briefed the police but still received a dose of brutality regardless of their well expressed plans.

The nasty little secret behind this report is that, far from being a display of police inexperience or incompetence, the G20 protests were indeed a “success” for the authorities as they effectively intimidated thousands of protesters, limited activism against the G20 to the City of London and resulted in little property damage.

Far from being poorly planned and staffed, the policing was organized and intelligence led – as well as brutal. The HAC is spinning a poisonous myth of state helplessness against the tide of popular irrationality and anger, and its case gives comfort to police and politicians who seek greater powers in the face of economic crisis and political shame.

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