The deplorable and devastating death of by-stander Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests is a stain on the character of this nation.
Video footage available on the Guardian website now shows a man who we understand to be Tomlinson being bashed on the back of the legs by a baton wielding officer, before being shoved hard and crashing to the ground.
Unfortunately Tomlinson seems to have found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and apparently chose to walk quite slowly in front of a line of police officers as they attempted to hold back some protestors. The attack on him is inexcusable, and as far as I can tell there is no way it can be justified.
The fact though that Tomlinson walked slowly in the first place, and then sat up to remonstrate with officers after the incident probably gave the cops the idea that he was unharmed – leading to the tragedy which later unfolded.
But before we shove all the blame on to the police we need to cast a wider gaze around this issue. Long before the protests began anarchist groups (I am an anarchist too by the way) were promising all kinds of mayhem, a quick flick through indymedia will show you the kind of thing I’m talking about.
Certainly much of this would have been hyperbole, although clearly not all of it, as the attack on the RBS building by people with golf clubs and other weapons goes to show.
And lets be clear, plenty of other anti globalisation protests have resulted in severe damage of one sort or another. The police would have been under huge pressure to control crowds and individuals, not to let anything slip, to clamp down and be a strong presence in the city.
In fact they employed the same tactics I and anyone else who has ever been to a similar happening have witnessed many times before – they do the classic separate and control tactic – hem groups in, keep them in controlled environments and dont let them move, makes people uncomfortable, makes them more likely to disperse afterwards, stops them getting carried along in a huge crowd and becoming involved in mass action.
So their treatment of Tomlinson, while in this case tragically fatal falls roughly within their unofficial standard operating procedure, in this case a man is walking along, not doing what they wanted him to do, so they push him over – far too hard. This is the kind of thing that happened goodness knows how many times during the protest, most of the cases were not fatal. The police had to show they were not to be messed with, they were prepared to meet force with greater force. The state after all, is defined by Weber as having the monopoly on legitimate violence. (That’s why I’m an anarchist by the way, I dont believe in legitimate violence).
So we have these elements: Anarchists and others threatening violence; public demanding that there are as few disruptions as possible; heads of state arriving to discuss crisis; police under lots of pressure; a publicly supported/demanded culture of control.
Put these together, mix, and you get over exertion of force, leading to death. I would suggest that its only because there are so many cameras (everywhere!!) going around, CCTV, cops filming, protestors filming, observers filming, bystanders filming, people with mobile phones filming, that there werent more incidents like this. I too hate the culture of CCTV, but you can be sure it will have saved lives in this and other cases.
We have all created this society by our desire to engage in consumption without restriction. Indeed many of the people involved in the protests were, I am afraid, protesting about their own actions. We want protection from danger and violence, but expect police to do this without danger and violence being involved. The whole thing is a sorry mess.
My assertion is, and sorry the above thoughts have come out rather jumbled, (I am saddened by this tragic death, and the video makes it worse) that we all contributed in one way or another to this death. Either by our actions, inactions, words, or lack of words. We the people are guilty, but will never have to face up to our crime. Instead, we will just blame the police.