Sunday, 12 December 2010
Responding to police violence
It's important, in these circumstances, to discuss the political issues around the police: why the Met attacked demonstrators, the police's role in defending the status quo, the nature of the state more generally. There are also, however, urgent practical issues which need to be addressed. It seems to me the following are all important:
1. We need to share and widely disseminate any evidence - pictures, video, testimony - of police behaviour on Thursday.
Changes in communications technologies in recent years mean there's a mass of evidence, and we have the means to circulate it in a way that was unthinkable 10 or 20 years ago. Getting the material out there is vital. If in doubt about this, remember how the Guardian posting video footage of Ian Tomlinson's death changed the terms of debate following the G20 protests.
2. No co-operation with the police in its witchhunt of protestors (it is publishing pictures of protestors alleged to have committed violent acts).
Student organisations and others also need to reject all media and police attempts to make 'a violent minority' of protestors the main issue and divide the movement. There should be no concessions to this.
Bodies like University of London Union and National Campaign Against Cuts and Fees are already doing a good job of taking the arguments to the media, through press conferences etc, and presuambly this will continue. Trade unions, human rights groups and campaign organisations should be helping expose the truth about police conduct, making statements, issuing press releases etc.
3. Justice for Alfie Meadows.
The police's hospitalisation of 20-year-old Alfie Meadows, who needed urgent brain surgery, is especially outrageous and upsetting. Everyone in the movement can raise awareness of this - and there needs to be a serious, sustained campaign demanding justice for Alfie. This is important in itself, but it can also make it harder for the police to behave so brutally again (and make it harder for most of the media to vilify demonstrators).
4. Continue to build a mass movement.
Numbers matter. One reason is that large demonstrations always make it harder for police and press alike to present protestors as merely a tiny minority of troublemakers. The protests of the last few weekes have shifted the whole agenda and debate around fees, even forcing a far deeper split in the LibDems parliamentary group than would have otherwise happened.
5. Enhance stewarding and legal observing on future protests.
These issues are already being taken seriously - and an excellent job has been done so far, considering the ad hoc nature of organisation behind these events. This is important for ensuring our side is well-organised and prepared for responding to any abuses by police.
However efficiently these things are done it can't guarantee safety - we simply can't control what the police do - but it's important nonetheless. One of the benefits of developing new democratic forms like student assemblies, e.g. the London Student Assembly which has met a few times already, is that these practical challenges can be addressed in an inclusive, democratic and effective way.