IN the immediate aftermath of the G20 demonstrations — as well as for several months prior to the summit, and in relation to this and every other major summit and non-summit protest — the general consensus shared by this blog was — and indeed remains — that the police had done a relatively good job in managing the demonstrations and containing any potential acts of violence not previously authorised by the state (cf. ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’). Indeed, if there was any blame attached to the death of Ian Tomlinson, who was selling the Evening Standard, from a heart attack on the day, it was and always would be associated with protesters who had, allegedly (but in reality not), thrown missiles at the police as they attempted to resuscitate him as he lay dying at Cornhill. This perspective was developed many months prior to the protest itself, and applies in almost all circumstances. Sadly, Tomlinson’s death takes on a very different aspect now that we know more about the circumstances that preceded it, and especially since video footage — revealing police lied about the circumstances surrounding his death — has been made widely available to the public.
This footage, which was made available by a New York fund manager who was attending the demonstrations out of curiosity, makes tragically clear that Mr Tomlinson was forcibly pushed to the ground from behind by a policeman, who may also have hit him with a baton. The assault was, it seems, entirely unprovoked (see below). Other witnesses have suggested that before this episode, he had already been hit with batons and pushed to the ground by police who barred his route home. This evidence is now being considered by the completely independent police complaints commission under the management of the City Police, but it does not take a lengthy report to conclude that, while assaulting non-ordinary members of the public may be necessary, even laudable, on the face of it, this was a disgraceful way to treat an ordinary member of the public, especially in the presence of non-corporate media not blocked by his fellow officers. Certainly, the police are under a good deal of stress during demonstrations, but it is their job not to over-react to provocation, let alone vent their frustration on passers-by. That said, if it weren’t for the protesters, the police could have stayed at home, enjoying a well-deserved rest. Alas, for sheer bloody-mindedness, few other groups can outrank The Professional Protester.
Mr Tomlinson was not an anarchist nor a protester. If he were, his death would be tragic, but not entirely undeserved. Rather he was helping to sell the Evening Standard and was going about his ordinary business as he made his way home. Unprovoked assaults on those whom those occupying responsible positions of authority in the relevant government department deem to be legitimate protesters are not justified either, but the wilful mistreatment of a law-abiding member of the public is particularly shocking to those of us who’ve not examined in any detail or with any seriousness the history of modern policing.
Granted, Mr Tomlinson did not die as a direct result of police violence but it is at least possible that his heart attack was occasioned by his treatment. This death should give rise to immediate reassessment of police tactics, in particular isolating groups of protesters and hemming them into a confined space. Thanks to us, the public are constantly bombarded with the message that they may need protecting from violent demonstrators, and that protecting property belonging to the corporate and state sector constitutes the best guarantee of their life and liberty; productive workers ought not to need protecting from police.
Generally speaking, the best form of defence is attack. The Daily Mail leads the way:
We don’t yet know how drifter and alcoholic Ian Tomlinson provoked a policeman to attack him minutes before he collapsed and died of heart failure. We may guess he was uncooperative or said something offensive, at a time when police nerves were frayed by the G20 riots… The Mail has huge admiration for the great majority of Britain’s police. Our society demands a great deal of them — including that they treat even drifters and alcoholics with courtesy and restraint. But equally, if the police are to remain worthy of our trust, it is vital that when incidents like this occur, they are investigated with the utmost transparency and rigour.
Congratulations to the anonymous hack @ The Daily Mail for the above.
Word on the street is that a Lancashire policeman is currently under investigation for allegedly acting in a similar fashion to the policeman who felled Ian Tomlinson. PC Paul Carbery (see Blackburn ‘CCTV Cities’: only available in the UK) is accused of suddenly and violently throwing a 65 year old disabled man to the ground from behind. Two other officers are under investigation for deliberately failing to retrieve the video footage that would have provided evidence of the assault.