Tuesday 12 January 2010

Debating Climate Camp and the Police

Camp for Climate Action's online discussion forum (an excellent development, incidentally) has set out a draft policy statement on the relationship between Climate Camp and the police, one that sets out the current position as follows:

... the media and legal team are currently operating on an indistinct mandate with the collective message from the camp still unclear. We believe that this is unhelpful and is leading to misrepresentation of the diversity of viewpoints across the movement. Furthermore, events at Blackheath have demonstrated that there is a need for a clear position in advance. The time for debate is not in the midst of actively dealing with the police, but before the situations arise.

With respect, this sounds like a very diplomatic but nevertheless colossal understatement. The reality is that one of the strongest points of the Camp - its deliberate openness - was mysteriously abandoned at Blackheath last year with the decision (documented in the Channel 4 Dispatches programme Ready for a Riot) to hold a prearranged and closed 'behind-canvas-flaps" meeting on site with the Met 'Silver' commander, superintendent Julia Pendry. After the violence by the police during April's G20 protest and the death of Ian Tomlinson, there shouldn't have been a need for a 'collective message from the camp' to exercise far greater caution - it should have been instinctual. That's why I have to agree wholeheartedly with the statement by the Anarchist Federation in the current issue of Shift Magazine that identifies "the naivety of many campers and the narrow social base from which the camp was drawn":

...no-one who’s had much experience of the police (whether they’ve encountered them in the course of political activism, ecological direct action, or just through the experience of being an ethnic minority or “underclass” youth) could be taken in by the police’s strategy towards the camp, which essentially amounted to a well-thought-out PR campaign.

Nor has it only been in 'the midst of actively dealing with the police' that caution seems to have been put to one side - within only an hour of the publication of the 205-page Inspectorate of Constabulary review 'Adapting to Protest', a representative of the Climate Camp legal team had spoken on behalf of the camp and argued that “the HMIC recommendations – if implemented – could help put a stop to some of the worst policing tactics, reduce injuries from police violence, and increase their accountability.” A closer examination of the report, however, showed that it too was essentially another PR exercise. Its recommendations - guidance, codification and better training - could have come from any one of the previous inquiries into the policing of protest that have been held over the last 35 years and were based on a a traditional 'British model of policing' that has never existed.

The draft statement is therefore welcome. It says:

The Camp for Climate Action believes that

a) That the police are part of the problem, not part of the solution; illustrated by
their classification of the Camp for Climate Action and related protest groups as
“Domestic Extremists”. Experience has shown that where police intervene in actions and protest groups, their purpose is to protect the status quo, including the
Government and corporations which are both causing and failing to act on climate
change. Thus we cannot accept their legitimacy.

b) That engaging with the police is to be done solely for the purposes of
facilitating the protests of the Camp for Climate Action.

c) That the police have no role to play in our camps, and we reject their
interference on our right to protest insofar as it is physically possible.

d) That the police have proven themselves to be untrustworthy in keeping their word, and therefore our fundamental stance is to mistrust their promises. We do not believe that they respect the right to protest. While they are on the back foot over the events of Kingsnorth and the G20, we do not believe these leopards have really changed their spots.

e) That dealing with the police is a distraction from the aims of the camp in tackling the root causes of climate change.

Thus we empower the relevant working groups as follows:
  1. Legal: to continue their work exposing the abusive process of the police; to continue monitoring and analysing the police; and to work with media and police liaison working groups where messages are to be distributed into the public domain.

  2. Police Liaison to be the messengers between the Camp for Climate Action and the Police, and to only negotiate on those issues where they have been specifically mandated by the group they are working on behalf of; and to actively facilitate actions and camps only where asked with the purpose of minimizing impact of the police on CCA actions and camps.

  3. Media: to report on the work of the liaison and legal groups, but to be careful to not to provide legitimisation for the activities or existence of the police as an institution. To emphasise that action against the root causes of climate change is always going to be more important than laws that defend the polluters and restrict protest.

The idea of Police Liaison as 'messengers' could, in the circumstances, require greater clarification: it should mean meetings with the police only with a very clear agenda, agreed negotiating points and idea of what message needs conveying, rather than simply for a 'chat'. If the police want to communicate with environmental protesters, they should be made, as often as possible, to do so publicly, rather than think they can do so through closed meetings with people they want to see as 'leaders'.

For the same reason, rather than the same one or two people taking on the role of police liaison, there needs to be a wider pool to draw upon and a clear separation from the very different role of the Legal team.

In addition, point (a) could also do with toughening up: the police are part of the problem not simply because they are 'anti-protest' but because Climate Camp's 'anti-capitalism', if it means anything at all, should involve a rejection of all state structures as obstacles to preventing catastrophic climate change.

But otherwise this is a very useful statement of principles.


Anonymous said...

I love the way everyone who is oh-so-cynical about the police in general, and their PR exercise handling of Blackheath in particular, still fails to question whether Pendry was telling the truth when she turned up at the gate and said "I've got a meeting arranged, let me in".

Kevin said...

Oh she most certainly did have a pre-arranged meeting - as far as I know, it was arranged with Frances Wright of the Climate Camp Legal team without most people knowing anything about it.

That's what I mean by open decision-making being mysteriously abandoned at Blackheath.

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