George Monbiot has written an interesting article in the Guardian, arguing that the current furore over police tactics during the G20 protests could soon pass, warning that we shouldn't "expect this momentary backlash to change anything. The police appear impervious to criticism." He offers the following analysis that is spot on:
The police behave like this, despite the opprobium of left and right, because they know they will get away with it. They know the government won't rein them in; that the Independent Police Complaints Commission appears to eat out of their hands; that the sternest sanction an officer can expect for beating or killing a passerby is some extended gardening leave. They know that in a few days' time the rightwing press will revert to publishing stories about the anarchist baby-eaters seeking to turn Britain into a bloodbath.That is certainly the experience of those who have supported the families of those who have died in police custody over the years. But in response, the Green Party's member on the Metropolitan Police Authority, Jenny Jones, has written a letter (circulated by the Green Party press office) stating:
I disagree with Monbiot's statement that this momentary backlash against the police won't change anything and that the police are impervious to criticism. There is no going back from the public shock of seeing our trusted police behaving like thugs on video footage, again and again. We also have a Commissioner who puts professionalism at the top of his wishlist for the Met and he must have been distressed to see the appallingly brutal policing of the Climate Camp, a crowd of peaceful, picknicking people, often with their children. He will also be aware of the public swing from acceptance to doubt about methods to contain legal protests.Splutting, I had to re-read this a couple of times to check that I hadn't made a mistake. "We also have a Commissioner who puts professionalism at the top of his wishlist for the Met and he must have been distressed to see the appallingly brutal policing of the Climate Camp." What the...! Distressed?
Jenny Jones seems to have forgotten that it was the Met Commanders Bob Broadhurst And Simon O'Brien who were warning of an "unprecedented threat" from protesters. And that it was the police who issued advice to staff working in the City to dress down for their own safety. And that the Metropolitan police was deliberately talking up the dangers and fed stories to the Evening Standard stoking up the threat of violent anarchists from across Europe who would be descending on London.
Does Jenny Jones think the Metropolitan Police Commissioner simply failed to consider, even for a minute, that this might demonstrate a lack of 'professionalism' that could impact on the way the protests were policed? Or that he didn't know what his Commanders were up to? Or could it perhaps be that Stephenson wasn't that 'distressed' about the way the threat was ratcheted up because it was sanctioned from the top?
Across senior levels of the police, from the Met to ACPO, there is a concerted attempt to portray any violence on 1st April as the actions of a few officers. The police are also spinning the line that unlike in other countries, at least they didn't use tear gas or water cannon (which they undoubtedly possess and were considered for use at the G8 summit in 2005). But even if the likes of Jenny Jones are prepared to buy these arguments, no-one will who was at Climate Camp and saw a carefully planned exercise in violent confrontation by the police.
Jones has form when it comes to giving Met Commissioners the benefit of the doubt. In an e-mail exchange I had in November 2007, on calls for Sir Ian Blair to resign over the death of Jean Charles de Menezes (that were supported by her Green Party London Assembly colleague Darren Johnson), Jones said:
I am fair minded, and he [Ian Blair] does have a good record on equalities and on Neighbourhood policing. Under him the Met is doing pretty well, except for the dreadful Stockwell killing of an innocent man. The recent court case made it clear that the huge blunder could not be laid at any one person’s door, and did not criticise the Commissioner.Unfortunately I never did get to the bottom of what relevance any of this had to Blair's conduct in the Menezes case. And to this day, I still have no idea what really guides the thinking of the Green Party's home affairs spokesperson.
He is widely accepted as the most accountable senior police officer ever. He is cross examined in public every month by the Metropolitan Police Authority and once a year by the full Assembly. He is used to facing criticism and rudeness from many politicians, and mostly does well at keeping his temper.