Wednesday 19 August 2009

Climate Campers Should Steer Clear of Police Charm Offensive

I think I need to include an addition to Orwell’s six elementary rules on political writing – never write when you are too angry to stop yourself from ranting.

Last night, I had to resist the urge to rage about this article written by Paul Lewis, in the hope that maybe the Guardian journo had misunderstood what he had been told by the organisers of the forthcoming Climate Camp in London. I’ve tried to find out but it seems that Lewis’ story is entirely accurate – and therefore very disappointing.

It’s not so much the idea that the Metropolitan Police have embraced social networking and set up a Twitter account to “to send operational information to protesters”. This is obviously the direct result of the Chief Inspector of Constabulary’s review for the Met that recommended protesters should be made aware of likely police action “in order to make informed decisions” (such as ‘move or we will kettle you’). I can see the unintentioned but hilarious potential for providing a running commentary during Climate Camp, along these lines:

Message to police @CO11MetPolice – tell officer U397 to get the damn camera out of my face
The far, far bigger problem I have is with this idea:
Separately, a delegation from this year's Climate Camp will be taken to the Met's public order training centre on Thursday in Gravesend, Kent, where they have been asked to brief officers being drafted in from across the country to help police the event.
Now there are many conclusions to draw from April’s G20 protests and the indiscriminate police violence against Climate Campers on Bishopsgate as the camp was cleared. The most obvious is that senior officers sanctioned excessive force with an expectation based on previous experience that the press and the public wouldn’t much care about a bunch of protesters.

However, for a host of reasons – the death of Ian Tomlinson certainly, changing media attitudes towards police seen to have ‘got away’ with shooting Jean Charles de Menezes perhaps, or even that battering articulate middle-class liberals rather than working-class black teenagers is always a more high risk strategy – whatever they may have been, the political landscape had clearly changed. Taken aback by the spotlight placed upon it, the Met has tried to portray violence on 1st April as the actions of a few officers and then commissioned a review aimed specifically at dealing with this shift in its control of information.

One mistaken conclusion to therefore draw from recent protests is that violent policing results from simply a mix-up or a ‘failure to engage’:
"The level of engagement from police has been there," said Francis Wright, a Climate Camp legal adviser who will brief police officers on Thursday. "We're pleased they have been forthcoming and have been making some of the right noises, but we have to see how they deliver on the day."
Another is to assume that events at Bishopsgate were all the fault of one individual senior officer and that the confrontational language and dire warnings before the G20 protests weren’t instead sanctioned at the highest level:
She said one positive factor was the change in personnel. Commander Bob Broadhurst, who led the Met's G20 operation, will not be involved in policing the camp and will instead oversee the Notting Hill carnival, which takes place at the same time.
A third, which to be fair seems like a conclusion reached by Paul Lewis rather than anyone involved in Climate Camp, is that the policing of the recent Tamil protests in Parliament Square were a model of restraint:
“His replacement as "gold" commander, Chief Superintendant Ian Thomas, told camp organisers he had handpicked his team, including his "silver" commander, Superintendent Julia Pendry, who led the cautious policing operation at the Tamil protests in Parliament Square.”
Anyone who thinks that the police had learned any important lessons a matter of weeks after the G20 protests, in responding to demonstrations by Tamils, should watch this video and draw their own conclusions:

Moreover, Chief Superintendent Ian Thomas, it should be remembered, was one of those who met Climate Campers in an 'engagement' meeting facilitated by David Howarth MP before the G20 protest and look how much of a difference that made.

Finally, concluding that the aggressively macho culture of modern policing is not structural but influenced by the gender of senior officers would be incredibly naive:
“Pendry, who controls tactics for the camp, said she in turn chose her deputy, Chief Inspector Jane Connors, because she was "reasonable, sensible and able to communicate", sources at the meeting said.

The fact that both are female has been perceived by some protesters as an attempt by the force to portray a less macho image.”
I wonder whether the young woman who may have suffered a miscarriage after the beating she received on Bishopsgate would agree about the positive virtues of women police officers:
"One of the most traumatic visual moments for me was that a female police officer in front of me had blood spattered on the outside of her visor.

I was so lost in fear and shock by this point that I said 'do you know you have blood on your visor?'

That really upset her and I really got laid into and I got knocked on to the floor and all the people trying to help me ... were also being hit.”
In my view, the sensible thing to do when confronted with what looks and sounds like a blatant public-relations exercise is to steer well clear of it. Our role as activists is not to help the police to improve its image but to focus on the impact of climate change.

The police are quite capable of changing perceptions of their conduct by avoiding the brutality we saw on 1st April against Climate Campers who have no history of violent confrontation, despite efforts to deliberately talk up the dangers in the past. That doesn’t mean there won’t be arrests – anyone involved in direct action has to accept the possibility of arrest as an occupational hazard – but it should definitely mean the absence of baton charges by pumped-up Territorial Support Group officers eager for a fight. It’s not complicated, and it hardly needs a lecture down in Kent from a delegation of protesters to remind them of this.

I really hope that those planning on heading down to Gravesend change their mind about Thursday's meeting. If, as I believe, the 'charm' is artificial and the 'offensive' is manipulative and cynical, good people will simply end up feeling they have been used.


weggis said...

No, you should write, but not publish. It's the same when you're pissed.
Pick it up when you've calmed down or sobered up. Refine it, there will be some good stuff there.

bentham said...

Not only was Ian Thomas at the meeting, he was Silver commander for G20:

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't worry about it too much. There's no illusions where we are concerned:

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