That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Living above the law

It’s a horrible irony. On the fifth anniversary of this, the police also decide to announce this.

On 22 July 2005, Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by police fairly deliberately, with seven gun shots to his head, while sitting on a Victoria Line train at Stockwell tube station. The rationale to shoot him dead, without knowing his name or his business, was little more complex than assuming that his olive complexion and black hair (in a neighbourhood full of Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants) were suspiciously Al-Qaedesque. Menezes had done nothing whatsoever to raise suspicions that he was a terrorist threat – this was bad police information, bad police protocol, and an “anything goes” police policy in place that summer after the London bombings.

During London’s G20 meeting in 2009, Ian Tomlinson was also killed, though less deliberately, by police securing the summit. A newspaper salesman in the Bank area of the city, he was walking away from his kiosk after a shift -and walking away from riot police who were on guard. Perhaps the police suspected he was an anti-freedom, Gap-window-smashing anarchist, as everyone on the street was that day. Rather than ask him, police beat and kicked him to the ground and terrorised him with snarling dogs. Within half an hour, he had a heart attack and died.

No officer at any level was held accountable for the death of Menezes, and today it’s announced that no officer will be held responsible for the death of Tomlinson.

Physical assault and murder, whether premeditated or as tragic mistakes, are against the law and are punishable by anything up to life imprisonment. If I’d been assaulted or murdered on my street or in the tube, it would be a small comfort to think the machinery of our justice system would take its natural course – especially if the evidence of the attack is in place. Evidence such as video, and a clear identification of the perpetrator.

Apparently not. Whether in the UK, or in Canada, we have this crystallising pattern of juiced-up riot police forces, acting far outside the boundaries of reasonable force, assaulting complete innocents and not seeing any judicial reprimand after the fact.

It’s in the interests, not only of our hard-won civil liberties, but of the police forces themselves to: deal with their bad eggs properly, to submit to independent inquiry when adrenalised riot-protocol leads to such tragedies, and to go out of their way to correct instances of wrongful detention, assault, or murder. Anything less gives the real impression of an institutional culture of aggression and disrespect for the very law they defend.


Filed under: International, Politics, UK, , , , , ,

Spot the good guys

I made a brief comment on Warren Kinsella’s blog today, which I’m basically just reposting here. The discussion concerns another example of an over-zealous, juiced-up, smack-em-down summit security mentality during the G20 in T-Dot over the weekend.

Since when is it good practice to do this?

There are calls from some quarters, including Kinsella’s, for a formal investigation into police behaviour (brutality?) during this summit. I’m all for it. With a security price tag of nearly CDN $1 billion, I suppose the forces felt they had the resources and the political go-ahead to make over 900 arrests and beat down all sorts of potential hippies in between. No real foresight that the twitterati and the camera phone bystanders would be more than happy to let us know about it – who would have thunk such organised thuggery would offend the public? Isn’t it students wots the enemy?

An investigation is important for a few reasons. It helps establish a precedent of accountability for security policy. It might (if it does its job) identify a particularly over-zealous protocol and particular members issuing orders or actively encouraging overly aggressive behaviour. Those protocols and members can then be admonished, punished, and draconian special police powers can be held up and debated in full public view. From there, there’s every chance the force in general could appear “cleansed.”

No investigation, blame-passing, and attempts to diminish public grievance against this assault against the right to free assembly, just means everyone is left with the taste in their mouth that the police generally enjoy too much power and they don’t respect the law they defend.

Summit security has a stained history as is. The “Fake Black Bloc” agent provocateur at Montebello, the London police at last year’s G20 who removed their ID numbers from their jackets before assaulting complete innocents are examples. Genoa 2001 is another (literally fatal) example.

This only adds to memories of Jean Charles de Menezes and shoot-to-kill policies in times of perceived duress. Such images accumulate in the public mind, piling up into a residue of negativity and faithlessness in police and politics. It’s not just the atrocious behaviour of thugs with batons, it’s something that I think contributes to a general public malaise and mistrust of public institutions overall. Our lawmakers are implicated, our leaders, our community officers – everyone appears conspiratorially intertwined when such brutality is endorsed, forgiven, and forgotten by public officials.

In democracies, quaintly perhaps, there are civil liberties that are held aloft by leaders as the great treasures of our civilisation – treasures so precious that they can single-handedly be used as adequate justification of war policies against badly-behaved regimes worldwide.

Okee-doke. So, then, our own police forces need to be transparent and self-critical. They need to be able to hold up tangible examples of how they’ve protected demonstrators’ right to free assembly as well as how they’ve protected the summiteers’ right to security. It shouldn’t be so hard for “law and order” to win our undivided support, should it?


AN ADDENDUM – here’s Mike Watkins’ post today on the storm-troopering of Canadian liberty this weekend.

He considers the view of new Canadians who’ve experienced life without freedom of assembly or expression in their countries of origin. Lest we forget that we’re supposed to be defending the same – eh?

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , , , ,


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