It was entirely predictable that nobody would be charged over the murder of Ian Tomlinson by police at the London G20 protests last April. What is surprising, and encouraging, is the level of outrage and justifiable anger that this has created.
As Adam Ford has commented, the “embarrassment caused by the transparent cover-up” was “a necessary evil” in order to avoid “a very public examination of policing tactics at a time of drastic cutbacks.” After all, “once again, the idea that police neutrally uphold democratically-decided laws has been exposed as a fiction, and politicians are worried.”
Gladly, with public rage simmering over, it seems that they have every right to be.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look that way on the streets. At the hearing, Ian Bone lamented the “pathetic turnout.” The 30 people demonstrating outside New Scotland Yard was even less than the 50 that he initially expected. Which made it “no wonder the cops get away with murder.”
The decision of the Director of Public Prosecution, Keir Starmer QC, brought an end the process of the charade of civic and legal rights of defence when the police act violently. Violence is often seen as an exception, but how can this pretence be maintained when the violence served up by an institution which monopolises and legalises violence is seen by millions on their TV screens.
When the death of Ian Tomlinson was announced, the major news agencies responded the way they know how, and repeated – mistakenly – that the death was due to actions of the people that were part of the G20 protests. As the legitimacy of the reporting continued to be undermined, as people bypassed the “official” sources of information, and as testimonies were posted on Indymedia the news reacted to correct its “mistake”. But there was no mistake. The media acted and acts in the only way it was set-up to act – as a transmission belt of “authoritative”, normalising and ultimately self-serving abstract ideas, each self-perpetuating and reproducing passivity and the complete obedience to the official line.
From the aftermath of the G20 tragedy in London on April 1st, 2009 – the return to normality, the easing and softening of the hard language and rhetoric of the politicians and media commentators – the return to trusting that the “liberal” authorities of the state will clean up the mess and root out the “bad apples”. As often happens, the crowd is duped, as we all want to believe that the bully we are afraid to fight will be told off by the teacher in the class. But when the teacher and the bully are the same thing, as was illustrated with the actions of the DPP/CPS and Met Police, who do we run to?
The resultant death of Ian Tomlinson, the dozens of violent assaults and injuries, was always a possible outcome of a hysterical press and 24/7 media too eager to create narratives and plots when they failed in reality to find them – too eager to regurgitate the systemic values that present themselves as socially neutral whilst denouncing those that dare act against those supposed generalised values. But nothing is socially neutral. We exist in a loaded context, where acts and effects do not come into being from no where but are part of a process which themselves derive from other processes. Our ability to develop counter strategies is dependent on the extent in which we recognise and acknowledge these processes.
We are left now, many more of us than before the DPP’s statement, with a feeling that we have been failed. For us yes, for the gangsters in power it’s business as usual. When its one of their own, they band together, they act in solidarity, each element standing firm to the point where their power is maintained and they continue – until the next “mistake”. Our problem is that we do not match our enemies with the same element of solidarity towards each other.
There is something of a response in the offing. A demonstration has been called for Friday 30th July, outside the office of the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) in Southwark, London.
Soon after that, solidarity demonstrations were called on the same date in Edinburgh and San Francisco. A much broader international call-out has asked for mobilisations at “all British Embassies, High Commissions, British Trade Offices and any other British interests globally.”
How much of a demonstration will emerge remains to be seen. A lot of people are very angry at this state of affairs, but at present it is more impotent rage than an insurrection in the making.
The trick will be to transform the one into the other. As a society, we appear to have drifted away from the long history of protest and rebellion that has won us every single (limited) freedom we have. When confronted with the cold reality of the state and the role of its organs such as the police, naive surprise stops us in our tracks.
Beyond any demonstrations that may take place, there needs to be a concerted effort to remind the public that the police are not our friends. These incidents are not “one offs” but the designated role of an institution which exists to protect power and privilege.
As a new poster from Crimethinc puts it;
The ones who beat Rodney King, who gunned down Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo and Oscar Grant, who murdered Fred Hampton in his bed. The ones who broke Víctor Jara’s hands and Steve Biko’s skull, who disappeared dissidents from Argentina to Zaire, who served Josef Stalin. The ones who enforced Apartheid in South Africa and segregation in the United States. The ones who interrogated Black Panthers and Catholic Workers, who maintained records on 16 million people in East Germany, who track us through surveillance cameras and phone taps. The ones firing tear gas and rubber bullets whenever a demonstration gets out of hand, who back the bosses in every strike. The ones who stand between every hungry person and the grocery shelves stocked with food, between every homeless person and the buildings standing empty, between every immigrant and her family.
In every nation, in every age, you tell us you’re indispensable, that without you we’d all be killing each other.
But we know well enough who the killers are. The anger is there. Along with a basic, unconscious comprehension of what the police’s real role in society is. But the anger will fade. The unconscious faces a barrage of distraction and subterfuge from the mass media. If we do nothing, people as a whole will do nothing, and police brutality will be forgotten. Until the next death.
If we want to change that, then we need to live up to the ideas encapsulated in that simplest of radical slogans: educate, agitate, organise!
Mass up at 12noon Friday 30th July, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions
Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge Road, SE1 9HS