Why can’t we trust the police?

Police officers are people, just like us. They are friends, parents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives. I am sure that the great majority of police want to help and to serve. Here are just two examples of sympathetic police:

It was also clear from a number of conversations with officers that many of the frontline did not approve of this strategy either. Several told me they sympathised and blamed their senior officers. Source

As we left, subdued, a police officer (one of many) was saying ‘£40,000, that’s basically a mortgage, how is that fair?’. He looked me in the eye – ‘We’re with you’. Source

Given that, why is it that those people that are out on the streets protesting trust the police about as far as they can throw them?

During the protests on the 24th of November a great many people were contained or “kettled” by the police for the first time. Being in such a kettle is a hugely unpleasant experience, as you can see from these quotes:

On the other side of the square, myself and a large crowd remained huddled in the cold for seven hours, with no food, no water, no toilets, no access to medical attention and with minors unable to get home. For 15-year-olds in T-shirts, and older people (I saw at least two men in their late 60s and early 70s) this is no joke. Source

This is the most important part of a kettle, when it’s gone on for too long and you’re cold and frightened and just want to go home. Trap people in the open with no water or toilets or space to sit down and it takes a shockingly short time to reduce ordinary kids to a state of primitive physical need. This is savage enough when it’s done on a warm summer day to people who thought to bring blankets, food and first aid. It’s unspeakably cruel when it’s done on the coldest night of the year, in sub-zero temperatures, to minors, some of whom don’t even have a jumper on. Source

The main topic on every protesters mind yesterday was avoiding being kettled. Reports abound of phrases like “Don’t want to get kettled” and “don’t go that way, we’ll get kettled” and comments on twitter were frequently about avoiding places where the police were gathering in case of kettling. And that is the problem. Every time the crowd saw a line of police forming across a road, they assumed it was to kettle them. It doesn’t matter if the police were simply trying to direct the crowd along their preferred route, if the police gathered and formed a line, thoughts turned to kettling and the crowd moved in a different direction. The police have simply shattered any trust held in them by an entire generation.

Eventually, the police had blocked every available route and had formed barriers across the path where the protesters wanted to go. This is an unfortunate tactic, since in a crowd of twenty-five thousand people the people at the back don’t know that the people of the front can’t go on. The crowd kept moving forward regardless. As more people arrived the ones at the front were pushed up against the police lines. The police response to that is bizzarre to say the least; they start shouting at the protesters to “get back” and when they don’t move (they can’t) batons come out and the police start hitting the crowd. At this point it’s not relevant if the protesters wanted violence or not. They can’t go back, and the police in front of them are hitting them with heavy sticks. They get angry. The kettle boils.

I’m not saying there was no one there intent on violence. It was obvious that there were a couple of hundred people, at least, that went with face coverings and weapons and wanted a fight. Those were the ones later shown attacking the treasury building and hurling rocks at the police. I would have every sympathy with the police if they had targetted those people. What they actually did was beat protesters indiscriminately with batons, and charge them with horses. There were countless injuries, some extremely serious. Reports of injury are widespread online, but strangely absent on some TV news channels.

Some of the damage done by police

Dragged a wheelchair using protester from his chair, not once, but twice.
#dayx3 police dragged a man from his wheelchair in par sq 5 m... on Twitpic#dayx3 #demo2010 #ell wheelchair left empty on Twitpic

Hit someone that was trying to leave so hard that he suffered bleeding on the brain and required brain surgery.

Caused Guardian journalist Shiv Malik to require 5 stitches to his head, and refused to help him leave for medical attention.

Kicked a protester as he went down.

Announce that people could leave but then charged at them with horses and batons.

Held several thousand people on Westminster bridge until near midnight, all the while telling them that it was a temporary containment and wouldn’t last long. These were the people that had tried to leave as instructed.
Riots in Westminster! on Twitpic

I also find it galling that David Cameron announced on national television that protesters had dragged a police rider from his horse and beaten him. Here is a video clip from Sky news that shows that officer falling from his very frightened horse, then ending up under the horses hooves before being dragged to safety by his colleagues. No protester involvement.

Finally, even former Met police commander Brian Paddick said during an interview that containment did not appear to work and peaceful protesters were caught up by it and wound up themselves. Source: Channel 4 news.

If you want to be truly scared, think about this. On Radio 4 this morning the Met police commissioner praised the restraint of firearms officers for not opening fire at protesters that attacked the prince of wales’ car. Armed police are on our streets, and shooting people was a possibility. Source: Jack of kent

I would love to be able to trust the police. Unfortunately we have been given every reason to stay as far as possible from the police, and that is not an attitude that will change any time soon. It doesn’t matter if most of those police are good people. It doesn’t matter if some disagree with their orders. They have broken our trust in them. The protests against fees and cuts will continue, and I suspect they are going to be bloody.

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.