UK establishment unashamed to admit brutality?
I’ve been having a slow realisation over a period of some months that the UK government seems to be quite happy to receive small amounts of condemnation for policing tactics, if it makes the risk of injury and inconvenience in taking part more widely known about. It seems the police in particular are hoping that events like the G20 will just serve as a lesson, as people who feel outraged also consider their own interests in getting involved.
The number of times I’ve heard people say “I don’t think I could do that”, with a sort of wishful “if things were different” sense, has gone up a lot in the first half of this year. Describing what happened at the G20 brought in a lot of these sorts of responses, as people feel outraged by what the police did, but simultaneously put off doing anything about it, seeing as that would result in some degree of risk to themselves.
I suppose its an inevitable solution to the contradiction in protest policing, between wanting to show that one is in charge of a situation and will mete revenge on anyone who mis-behaves, and the need to appear in favour of Human Rights. There are things that the Police can do to cover they’re backs, such as appear to be offering an olive-branch-like set of “on the streets mediators”, like the Dialog Polizei in Germany and the Anti-Konflict-Team in Sweden.
But essentially the message for the outside world still needs to be that getting involved in protests could be costly. Since the Iraq war, participation in protests has hit the roof, especially in the mass march zone, but more latterly in the areas of spectrum occupied by Climate Camp. And, aside from that, the Gaza riot also showed numbers are swelling on other issues. By coming out in favour of grassroots democracy, the police look good, but they also loose their upper-hand, which is far more important.
And so the message is clear; don’t misbehave, or we’ll give you memories and injuries to keep you off the streets forever. And so people are much less willing than before to go to the streets, despite pleas for people to not be intimidated and not allow themselves to be pushed into inaction. This is entirely natural. It isn’t something protesters should feel angry about, especially not at the people who are now less likely to involve themselves. But it is a calculated tactic, and one that seems to be working more than backfiring. And the problem is, its a tactic which requires things to backfire.
For years, it has been seen that peaceful protests met with force would be an own-goal to the police. The fact is, the police know that people these days are so heavily trained to accept their authority and to look out for themselves, that its not an own-goal in the slightest. It sends a message. Every news report about a policing report reminds people why they shouldn’t be on protests, whilst every protest report does the opposite. The very necessary work of defending the right to protest becomes part of the state’s plan to bring the population to it’s beck-and-call.
I really do worry about the current trend in policing, especially as I see a bigger and bigger rift opening between those who will and those who won’t do protests. And with the shutting down of the Big Green Gathering, it seems like the old divide and conquer tactic is back again. And with the summer’s Climate Camp’s upcoming, I just hope they haven’t broken everyone’s spirits completely.
But the positive news from the Big Green Shutdown is the sudden shift to the Isle of Wight for the Vestas protests. I truly hope that this succeeds in moving things forwards in a dramatic new direction. Thankfully, someone found the loop-hole in the police crack down on BGG and now something spontaneous and exciting is happening, finally, once again.