I have been very vocal in condemning the police for their actions at the series of protests against tuition fees last year. I wrote in some detail about police violence and about their alleged use of an old van as bait to incite violence and provide an excuse for harsher policing. It was obviously a popular view, since those posts on my personal blog got some 14,000 views in a few days and are still more than half of my traffic.
It may surprise you to know, then, that if and when members of the police go on strike and march in protest against budget cuts and loss of jobs, I think those of us in the anti-cuts movement should be protesting alongside them.
The police do an important job in our society. They aren’t all that effective, they aren’t without their defects, but I believe that many police joined up to help people. Yes, some police are violent thugs, some go looking for violence. Since violence is what sells the news, that gets talked about, but most police aren’t like that.
Some police procedures are unjust and illiberal. Apart from kettling and stifling the right to protest, they also have Forward Intelligence Teams taking photographs of innocent people for unofficial police records. They arrest people for the sole reason of taking their details which they would not otherwise be allowed to do, then “de-arrest” them but keep the details. They keep DNA and fingerprints of those cleared of crimes. I think it likely that those procedures are a result of orders from the top, and to counter them needs a change in the attitudes of police administration, or perhaps simply a change of those at the top.
The few nasty police, the ones that like violence, they are likely to be the ones doing things like hassling photographers when they have no right to and making up laws on the spot to support their way of thinking and intimidate. Those are the bullies. Those are the ones that we want out, but right now our fight is elsewhere.
I think what happened at the protests on the 9th of December last year is a typical escalation of violence between two sides that cannot back down. Petty little things turn in to stubborn commands and refusal to comply, which is met with increasing anger on both sides. Eventually the police are hitting people and some elements of the crowd are giving a typical reaction of a young person perceiving injustice against them or their friends, and fighting back. It’s built in to both sides. In this situation neither side can see that backing off would cool things down. It’s the typical response seen in family feuds (“He said she said”) and wars between tribes, or countries. (“They slaughtered us!” “They massacred us first!”) Ultimately I believe that apart from a few violent idiots and bullies on both sides, the rest of the police involved in violence at the protests were caught up in this self-feeding loop of stubbornness and tribal defensiveness.
I have witnessed this effect still in action even now when talking to various people that were involved. Some activists are of the opinion that police marches against job losses should be countered with protests against police violence to “shame the police” and that the police should be kettled in retaliation for what they did.
I offer the counter argument that the anti-cuts movement should march and protest in support of the police. Those police are ordinary people with families and rents and mortgages. At previous protests the crowd have shouted “Your jobs are next!” to try and gain police support. Well now their jobs are next, and it’s time to do for them what they wouldn’t do for us.