Wednesday 13 May 2009

Police words that say it all

In case you haven't seen it, last night's Channel 4 News contained an excellent report on Parliamentary inquiries into the policing of the G20 protests. (In stark contrast to BBC News, which continues to drag its feet lamentably on this issue.)

Simon Israel reports:

'Later, the Metropolitan Police's acting assistant commissioner, Chris Allison, defended the handling of the G20 protests and the protection of the international leaders' summit at the ExCeL Centre in London's Docklands.

Mr Allison said: "Taking the event as a whole, our view is the event at ExCeL passed off successfully. We managed major protests without major disorder and damage to property.

"As a whole, in terms of the operation, the overwhelming majority of officers worked extremely professionally in very difficult times. They worked long periods and behaved totally professionally in very difficult circumstances."

This words reveal so much.

There is, first of all, the fact that Mr. Allison calls the policing of the event a 'success' overall despite the fact that one person, Ian Tomlinson, died following an unprovoked assault by a police officer.

In addition, just consider the criteria which Mr. Allison uses to judge overall 'success': the absence of 'major disorder' and 'damage to property'.

Absence of 'major disorder' for whom? Certainly not the protestors who were on the end of aggressive policing tactics, like the young man on the Channel 4 video clip who recalls how he was given an unprovoked punch in the face by a police officer while sitting on the ground with his hands over his head. We now have so many credible witnesses to such events, we know that this was hardly exceptional. I would call a situation where large numbers (maybe still a small minority, but in absolute terms a large number) of police are acting in this way a situation of 'major disorder'.

Moreover, where does the citizen's right to free protest fit into Mr. Allison's criteria? In setting out what he calls 'our view' - not just his own, but the Met's - he doesn't mention it. He sees the issue, apparently, entirely as one of preventing disorder (for some people) and not at all about securing the right to peaceful protest.

How revealing of the current police mentality this is.

(I have no doubt that if prompted, Mr. Allison would say something by way of acknowledging the right to protest. But it is very telling that when setting out his criteria for a successful policing operation at a protest event this is not something he immediately refers to.)

Postscript: Chris Allison is also the individual who wrote the recent report on the G20 protest policing which the Met submitted to the Metropolitan Police Authority and which has been widely, and rightly, condemned as extremely misleading.


Philbert said...

I'd say the key element of police doublespeak is that he refers to 'the event at ExCel'. As far as I know none of the documented instances of police brutality happened there. He is making very sure that he's not lying. The disorder and property damage (NatWest near Liverpool Street, allegedly with police officers watching but not intervening) happened elsewhere.

Stuart White said...

Philbert: thanks for that point, which I hadn't noticed. Metspeak really can be very subtle.

Still interesting, though, that even re ExCel he didn't mention securing freedom of protest as a desirable objective of policing.

Philbert said...

Definitely agree, Stuart. Very much a 'us and them' approach applied by him here. Ties in nicely with the propaganda work before the G20, when everything possible was done to tell the public that all protesters were rioters(see stories like 'poll tax protesters coming out of retirement' & 'don't wear a suit or you'll be hunted down').

So if all protesters are rioters, then there can be no such thing as a 'right to protest', which would logically follow to be a right to riot.

Unknown said...

Bang on Stuart. The police account is full of holes. They've been misleading both the MPA and Parliament. Just today Defend Peaceful Protest submitted more questions to the MPA which meets at the end of this month, challenging the Met on their - to put it charitably - extremely misleading statements. We need to keep plugging away at this until the truth gets out and the police admit they got the tactics wrong.

Sunder Katwala said...

Thanks. Good post. You should start using Metspeak as a tag, and start to build up a lexicon!

AndyM12 said...

Great post - apologies was slow in spotting it so i'm a couple of weesk late. I put a question to the Metropolitan Police on this very matter at the MPA meeting today and the answer was yet another fob off - they'll apparently be looking into it as part of the HMIC review.

Will update on the rest of the MPA later