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Bad apples vs social change: policing after the G20 protests

Last Hours | 12.08.2009 15:01 | G20 London Summit | Repression | Social Struggles

Since the G20 protest in London this year the policing methods used over April 1st and 2nd have been dissected and discussed regularly in the media and in parliament. Reports have been produced and protests condemning police violence have been organised. Thousands of words have been published both in mainstream and independent media sources discussing civil liberties and issues around the right to protest. But has anything actually changed?

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12.08.2009 17:28

Several parliamentary reports have now been published and whilst on the surface they appear to condemn the actions of police over the two days of protest, looking at some of the comments made in more depth it is clear that these statements unsurprisingly perhaps, support the ongoing repression of protest and social change.

A report published by the Home Affairs Select committee in June of this year summarises that ‘The policing of the G20 Protests was a remarkably successful operation; more than 35,000 protesters demonstrated in the centre of London with a police presence of several thousand, yet there was a minimum of disruption to the City. Aside from a few high-profile incidents, the policing of the G20 Protests passed without drama.’ (source*1)

To describe the events of the G20 as passing without drama other than ‘a few high-profile incidents ‘ is a bit like saying ‘other than all the killing, bombing and brutality, the Iraq war passed without drama’. However this summary tells us something more interesting. By removing some parts of the statement we can retain the initial meaning intended whilst giving a better insight into where government interests lie and indicating the primary role of police.

“The policing of the G20 Protests was a remarkably successful operation; there was a minimum of disruption to the City.”

If the police’s primary role is to facilitate peaceful protest and act as public protector, as those in the pro-police camp often claim in an attempt to justify their existence, then there is no doubt that their operation was anything but ‘remarkably successful’. However the above statement does not pretend this is the case. Success is considered to be seen as minimising ‘disruption to the City’ therefore preventing interruption to trade and disallowing protesters to effectively demonstrate their anger towards capitalism and government outside of an isolated area.

This week a second report published by the Joint Committee on Human Rights claimed, ‘Police and demonstrators were to blame for failure to communicate in advance of the protests in the City of London in April.’ (source*2) This is like saying an individual suffering at the hands bullying is to blame for failure to communicate in advance that they wish not to be bullied. Communicating with positions of authority does not remove them from that position or prevent them exerting authority however it may give them an opportunity to justify their actions.

It should also not be forgotten that in the run up to the G20 there were many people from Climate Camp, who both using their lawyers or the media, attempted to reach some form of compromise with the police over the actions that were to take place. The police ignored the overtures and claimed in news conferences in the run up to April 1st that they had heard nothing from the Climate Camp. The failure to communicate was not a failure of participants to make their voices heard it was a failure of the police and state to listen to their views.

The fact is nothing substantial has changed. The 1st and 2nd of April and the events that followed made the violence, inherent in the state that little bit more visible for just a moment. Whilst we may see a change in police tactics, the authority’s attempt to crush our movements will continue in different but no less brutal forms.

The point is if we are to build sustainable long term movements we must recognise the violence that is so deeply systematic to the state (and its apparatus eg the police force) and confront it directly whilst maintaining focus on our long term objectives. After the G20 protests attention was drawn away from original aims of confronting capitalism and the state and emphasis was placed on disgust at individual cases of police brutality, which has in tern been blamed not on hierarchies within our social structure that allow this continued violence to take place but on a few ‘bad apples’ within the police force. This method of trivialisation allows a perpetuation of violence favourable to current positions of authority. It becomes clear true justice for all will only be found through revolutionary methods in which the social hierarchies that allow this violence to flow in a downwards direction only are demolished.