Saturday, 11 April 2009

No justice, no peace.

This morning, I walked from Bethnal Green to Bank in the rain, and laid flowers at the spot where Ian Tomlinson was attacked. So did hundreds of others. It was a solemn and subdued march, apart from the obnoxious ratty-haired man with a pink radio sellotaped to his head blasting out swing band music (there's always one). I found myself profoundly moved and had to go and have a smoke and a small pathetic sniffle round the side of the bank, out of sight of all the news cameras in the world.

And then something extremely depressing happened.

After the two minutes' silence broken only by the sound of snapping fucking clicking sodding cameras, two brave, calm women from the family of Sean Rigg , who died in police custody and mysterious circumstances seven months ago, stepped forward to make an emotional speech about the importance of proper inquests and how hard it is to get to the truth, expressing her sympathy with the family of the Met's latest victim. Unfortunately, some guys at the back started shouting and swearing about police killers, drowning out Rigg's sister whilst she was making her appeal for justice, and she faltered, and her relative had to take over.

More and more, I'm starting to understand what my female comrades from ethnic minorities mean when they talk about being silenced.

'Bollocks!' yelled one young white guy. 'The police murdered him, and you know it!'

Who the fuck does that? To the sister of a dead man?

The protest leaders, who were dignified throughout as befitted the occasion, tried to rally the mood, but something had broken. That one shouty white guy at the back who had to make his anger more important than everyone else's, he had broken it. I was there. I was in the street. I saw it happen. And it filled my stomach with ice. I am ashamed that a small dickish corner of the British left can still act like this.

It was a strange, tarted up and dampened-down saturday morning's vigil-march. I was there, in the street, whilst they laid the flowers and lit the candles. When the tealights blew out in what seemed to be the icy gust of a hundred closing shutters, I lit them again. And people started taking pictures of the cute girl in black lighting candles, because of course the image, not anything we actually think, is the important thing. But I'm glad I was there, and I'm glad I stayed to the end.

For a few seconds, at the end of the rally, the sister of Sean Rigg got up the courage to speak again, and asked for the megaphone back. 'Who are the murderers?' she asked.

'The police!' we yelled.

'Who are the murderers?'

'The police!'

And there was the emotion again. There was the rage, the bewilderment, the sense of shock at the cruelties of the infrastructure. And not just from us crusties. Because as we set out on the long walk home, having laid our flowers and taken our time for quiet reflection, at the back of the rally one police officer, in a quiet, snuffly sort of way, was weeping.

ETA: I've gacked that image from the Times. That's because it's my damn hand.


In other news, here is an article I wrote for LC and for LabourList, yes, that LabourList, don't ask me, guv, I just write for them. The editors originally stuck on the title 'Labour is a broad church of diverse ideas - let it stay that way!'. I politely emailed to remind them that no, that actually wasn't the point at all. Enjoy.


  1. FFS...
    Do you really want to blow this thing before it's started?
    Calling the police 'murderers' is NOT the way to go. All it does is marginalise you when some very disparate groups could actually take this thing forward.
    It isn't just the far left who are frightened of the government's authoritarianism. FFS - you even seem to have a majority of Daily Mail readers on your side!
    OK, the action of that police officer could have resulted in Ian Tomlinson's death - but it might not have.
    Are you a pathologist?
    As it is, as far as I can see, we have a prima face case of assault on a member of the public and quite convincing suggestions of some sort of delaying tactics and obfuscation by the Met and possibly the IPCC.
    Approach this rationally and calmly and it could result in some timely changes to the way public protest is policed and might curb this government's fascistic tendencies carried out in the name of 'national security' (how many of those arrested in the terrorist swoops last week have been charged?) but start to get all agitprop and it'll just get dismissed as extremist ranting.
    By the way, writing for LabourList?
    I'd keep a bit schtum about that - so does Derek Draper...

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. "Because as we set out on the long walk home, having laid our flowers and taken our time for quiet reflection, at the back of the rally one police officer, in a quiet, snuffly sort of way, was weeping."

    Maybe because you called him a murderer.

  4. The chanting was a form of prejudice and discrimination. Think of it this way. A black man kills a white man. In a protest a group of people chant, "Who are the murderers?" ... " Black men," comes the reply.
    To prejudge someone is to judge a group of people because they belong to a particular group and not because of their own individual behaviour. The group doesn't have to be racial or sexual.

    Street theatre, don't you just love it Penny Red? But for me it's far too ugly.

  5. at last thursday (the 2nd)'s rally outside the bank, the only people to not observe the sit-down and minute's silence were a couple of photographers.

    Speaking as a (wannabe) photographer, this pisses me right off. There's a rant in me about reporting the news without getting in the way of it, but right now i'm too angry and carlagged to write it.

  6. My chief objection to all of this isn't the actual chanting and any offence caused - sticks and stones, etc.
    It's because it's counter-productive.
    It doesn't help anyone in anyway apart from the people chanting getting rid of their (understandable) frustration.
    I'm afraid that - like it or lump it - we have a system to deal with such matters as police brutality that we're stuck with, so you have to play the game according to the rules.
    I don't mean just blindly putting up with whatever shit gets thrown your way, but just using the methods the system uses but against the system.
    There must be thousands and thousands of photos and firsthand accounts 'out there' that could be asembled into a dossier and then this could be given electronically to every MP, police authority, journalist, etc, etc in the country, backed up with a petition of millions of names.
    Perhaps the energy used to organise pointless protests could be channelled towards this.
    For example, how many people have seen these photos?
    I hadn't before a friend pointed them out to me and I bet not many other people have.
    There must be thousands of such images which show the extent of the abuses of last week.
    Get it ALL out into the open and then see if they can try and deny that things went too far.

  7. Mr. Divine: that isn't a valid analogy, because "black people" are not a uniform mass, are not united by a corporate ethos. The police force, however, is a regimented body with a clear role in using violence to uphold the status quo against agitators for change. Any individual police officer is a part of that ethos, whether or not zie personally wields a baton against unarmed citizens.

    It is important to draw the distinction: for example, Muslims were not responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre; an organisation called Al Qaida was. Christians were not responsible for the Inquisitions of the Middle Ages; the priests of the Roman Catholic Church were. And so on. The police are an organisation just like the RC Church hierarchy was (and indeed, still is - but they don't go about torturing people as much any more).

    Anonymous: if he doesn't want to be called a murderer, then he shouldn't have joined an organisation whose ethos involves the use of brutal violence to uphold the status quo against the populace.

    SteveShark: I am very much in favour of producing as full a picture of everything that went on in the protests on April 1st as possible using the documentary evidence recorded by thousands of individuals - I believe that a book/movie in a similar style to "Black Hawk Down" could be produced to get the truth about police tactics and strategy out there. But I don't believe that taking things down official channels will be particularly productive. It rarely has been in the past, after all.

  8. @SnowdropExplodes

    'Official channels' doesn't necessarily mean following standard complaints procedures, although that has to be done too.
    Apart from this idea of just getting the information and visuals 'out there', it's basically all we have to start with however.
    As soon as people start to take 'direct action', they immediately alienate a section of the public that at the moment we have on side and inadvertently 'justify' the very tactics they're trying to protest against.
    Yes, it's a longer and less immediate route, but it's ultimately more productive.
    History has shown time after time that populist causes rarely achieve their goals quickly - it's a protracted process.

  9. Snowdrop Explodes

    Prejudice is straightforward .. to prejudge an individual because they belong to a specific group. The character of a group may differ. Some groups may have a corporate ethos some may not. It does not matter; they are still a group regardless. And as such subject to prejudice and discrimination.

    Do you think you can put aside prejudice and discrimination depending on your whim? It applies to ALL groups of people. Remember there was only one policeman involved and you think it is alright to call the other thousands murderers? Come on.. that's what I call prejudice.

  10. Great post, really good blog.

    It is not prejudiced to call the police murderers. How many more people have to die in police custody?

  11. Does Mr. Divine think it's prejudiced to label all fascists as bad people too, or is it merely those who make a choice to violently uphold the current repressive state mechanism who we have to tread around? What ludicrous apolitical crap.

  12. Mr. Divine: you appear to be making the mistake of viewing this as a single, isolated incident. It quite simply isn't. The willingness, even eagerness, of the police to use violence in putting down dissent is a matter of long historical record, and there is nothing in the last decade that leads me to believe that that tendency has in any way changed.

    I do not think it is unreasonable to judge a person by the organisations that they choose to join (or in which they choose to stay). If someone joins the BNP, then I feel justified in adjudging that person to be a racist - and if they weren't before they joined, then if they choose to remain a member once they discover the character of the organisation, then it is certainly reasonable to adjudge that person to be a racist.

    Similarly, while a person might join the police force out of innocent desires, the moment they find themselves in a situation of treating humans as cattle, in which their colleagues are beating the crap out of people basically because those people chose not to raise their voices against the status quo, then I say that person has a clear choice to make. Either to stay and become a part of the machinery that does that, and be at the very least an accessory to the violence meted out by your colleagues, or to declare oneself not a murderer, and leave the police force.

  13. Snowdrops
    You say that the police are a group of murderers although you provided no evidence, mere assertions.

    Factually you are wrong. In relation to the whole of the police force there are very few murderers. In fact more murders have been committed by doctors than police. Simple straightforward prejudice. The facts don't support your analysis.

    Infantile and Dis: I can't answer your question about fascists because I'm unsure of usage, e.g. in your opinion what attributes do fascists possess?
    PS Why was I apolitical?

  14. Re: "Murderers"
    There have been 1,000 deaths in police custody in the past 30 years.,,465301,00.html et al
    And remember they have duty of care...
    Traditional British policing: R.I.P. killed by, er. The Police!

  15. brobof
    You are prejudging the cause of death. You are saying that all the people died in police custody because they were murdered by the police. How do you know some didn't die for another reason, suicide drug overdose etc? You don't know.

    It's a form of prejudice. I don't like the police, there has been 1000 deaths in police custody. Therefore the police have murdered all of them.

    Let's use your logic. There has been 65 million deaths in hospitals over the past 30 years. Doctors are therefore murderers.

    Obviously some doctors have been responsible ( Harold S) for murder but... are we going to tar everyone with the same brush?

  16. "'Bollocks!' yelled one young white guy. 'The police murdered him, and you know it!'

    Who the fuck does that? To the sister of a dead man?"

    Someone with an overdeveloped sense of self.

    I generally think the 'police are murderers' line is counter-productive unless the actions they're being accused of are actually actions that would be legally classified as murder.

    Describing the Ian Tomlinson incident as murder, when it was something closer to assault, ultimately only serves to trivialise what really did happen.

    Propogating the notion that everyone who's died in police custody in the last 30 years has been 'killed by the Police' is profoundly unhelpful.

    Having watched the documentary 'Injustice' about the deaths of Roger Sylvester and others, even taken on the film-makers' own terms there was no evidence that strongly suggested the Police had deliberately killed anyone.

    Suggesting that intent doesn't encourage the police to be open their practices and ultimately do things better.

  17. SnowdropExplodes: killing != murder. That's why the commandment was phrased that way: killing has always been entirely fine by YHWH, so long as it did not break a couple of rules. The name for killings which did is 'murder'. This wasn't one.

    There's a case to be made for corporate manslaughter, it seems; but the targets should be the Commissioner and the Home Secretary, not plod on the street. The assaulting officer is clearly guilty of aggravated assault, affray, disturbance of the peace and (depending on the new post-mortem results) may be also guilty of ABH or GBH but he is not a murderer.

    We need to make sure that the scapegoating does not work. This, and the violence at Climate Camp, were not caused by Tomlinson or the protesters, nor by the hired men and troopers; the big-picture culpability is with the politicians and the senior officers.

  18. Mr Divine. I think you are right. It is wrong to prejudge the police in a bad way. I am immigrant in this country. When I came here I was aggressive against the police just like I was when I lived in Israel. I hated them.

    Four years ago my daughter was assualted and robbed. The police very kind and helpful. Sometimes I see one of policemen in the street. He always friendly. He a good man. I am not predujice no more.

  19. Mr. Divine says: "Remember there was only one policeman involved".
    Actually there were hundreds of police wielding batons and striking out indiscriminately that day, as at many other protests. Now some may argue that it wouldn't count as murder because there was no premeditated intention to kill. But what then is in the mind of someone in the grip of such hatred and rage, armed and armoured, aiming weapons at people who are neither?
    Then there is the small matter of the collective cover-up. Will ANY single copper testify against a 'fellow officer'? Unfortunately past form does not give us mech hope on this score.
    Of course it is interesting (and potentially exciting) how the Daily Mail has changed its tune, but that's no reason for us to be dishonest about what WE think and feel.

  20. breadnroses
    But what are you thinking and feeling? What is a racist thinking and feeling when they disparage members of a particular group? Anger, hate and frustration.
    I'm pointing out that prejudge and discrimination happens even against groups such as the police. The chants of "Who are the murderers ... Police' are from people who have anger, frustration and hate.

    And I have proven to you that it is prejudicial. I mean are you going to be selective in what groups you are going to discriminate against and which ones you aren't?

    Or are you going to assess each individual as AN INDIVIDUAL?

  21. How can you assess someone as an individual when they are acting as a group? The police acted as a group during the protests and since. Not one of them broke rank to protect Mr Tomlinson or to try and calm the situation. They acted as a mob and the consequences have been dire. Nor has one police officer broken rank to condemn or comment on what was going on. I'm uncomfortable with labelling them all murderers, but I happy to say that the police talked up the prospect of violence before hand, went looking for a fight and generally their tactics were appalling. And as a group who acted together, they bear group responsibility. The risible comparison to race does not stand up, merely being born into a race doesn't require you to act as a group with the others in your community and for every crime committed by a member of x ethnic minority, there will be voices raised in protest from within that minority. It doesn;t act as a cohesive united group, unlike the police.

  22. liminereid
    I can see your point. There is a group element involved. I'm not trying to support the police. I think their behaviour can and should be improved. I'm just working on prejudice and the need to recognise the need to apply it to groups we don't particularly like. It's not the way forward for society to have this hatred no matter how many excuses you try to make.

    I think protests are a waste of time. I support communes (I live on one) and cooperatives. I think people should be trying to get these things together because these is the way forward. Acting the Fidel Castros is just posing when there's real work to be done.

  23. I'm not sure I fully understand your last paragraph, surely a commune acting counter to prevailing societal standards and championing such a way of living is performing an act of protest?

    I don't hate the police. At the risk of sounding like every defensive bigot ever, one of my dear friends is a police officer and the few personal dealings I've had with the police they've been polite helpful and reassuring. I reported street violence to the Met and not only did they respond quickly enough that i saw the car arrive and deal with the situation, they were also extremely polite and reassuring to me personally. But they undoubtedly failed and failed badly at this protests and do at others. Their tactics and attitudes are wrong, they look for trouble and when it comes from within their own they close ranks to protect their own and that is unacceptable.

  24. I don't understand.... why do you cry about the death of someone you don't know, except that you saw them on the news? Do you also cry about people you don't know, and have never heard of either? Do you lack people that you know to care about?

  25. Just read your taglines... why do you label yourself as 'deviant'? What does that mean? Deviant to whom? 'Queer'? Queer to whom?

    And what exactly is a pagan?

  26. Societal standards? What are you trying to say. A commune is certainly different from the norm but there are many different ways that communes can be e.g. Amish communes. You can't really view these as a protest. You can see communes as a group of individuals pooling their resources together and enjoying cost benefits. In our case we don't have to work the boring 8 hour day five days a week stuff. In fact some of us work on water and sewerage projects in the third world. It's not a protest, it's a form of empowerment. We are making things happen, not protesting against other things. Protest marches and demonstrations on the streets are a waste of time especially when there is another way.

  27. "I don't understand.... why do you cry about the death of someone you don't know, except that you saw them on the news? Do you also cry about people you don't know, and have never heard of either? Do you lack people that you know to care about?"

    The sad thing is I think you really don't understand how someone can be hurt by the suffering of someone who they haven't met, you poor emotionally stunted neanderthal. I'm not sure you're capable of understanding it on a gut level, but if you want to try and understand it on an intellectual level, go look up the word "empathy".

  28. ""I don't understand.... why do you cry about the death of someone you don't know, except that you saw them on the news? Do you also cry about people you don't know, and have never heard of either? Do you lack people that you know to care about?"

    The sad thing is I think you really don't understand how someone can be hurt by the suffering of someone who they haven't met, you poor emotionally stunted neanderthal. I'm not sure you're capable of understanding it on a gut level, but if you want to try and understand it on an intellectual level, go look up the word "empathy"."

    tim f - that's a bit strong, don't you think? Calling someone emotionally stunted having never met them. I think you lack an empathic response yourself!

    What I'm trying to ask is why this particular person? When we cry about someone we don't know, are we really empathising with them, or are we empathising with our own feelings that we lack control of what happens to us? After all, did the poster cry about the death of Jade Goody? I'm trying to understand the difference here, i.e. I'm trying to be empathetic...

  29. As a nation, we're pretty good at the collective grief thing - Princess Di, Jade Goody, etc. I find it a bit abhorrent to be honest and suspect it's some sort of mass hysteria.
    To grieve over someone you don't know at all is more understandable in my opinion. As human beings, one of our qualities is empathy and the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes. I'm not saying everyone can empathise, or that they empathise to the same degree, but it's a quality that is good to have and a vital part of a person's moral and emotional consciousness.
    In the case of Ian Tomlinson I think a lot of the empathy shown is down to the fact that he wasn't involved directly in the day's events and that as an ordinary bloke he could almost stand as 'Everyman'.
    I dunno - is that selfish? To grieve in terms of 'it could have been me'? I don't think so - it's just very human.
    What I will say is that if you're never touched by grief unless it's someone you know personally then I think you're at the extreme end of a paradigm that ranges from 'unfeeling' to 'hysterically emotional'.
    Fortunately, most of us lie in the middle somewhere...

  30. "What I will say is that if you're never touched by grief unless it's someone you know personally then I think you're at the extreme end of a paradigm that ranges from 'unfeeling' to 'hysterically emotional'."

    Yeah, but which end?

    Look, I find the Tomlinson thing upsetting and a reason for anger (to do something about it), although not of course surprising. However, I don't feel the need to turn the place of his death into a shrine, and cry at it - although I might if he were my Dad, brother, etc.

    The same goes for 'Saint' Diana and 'Saint' Jade. Why the urge for people who have never met them to set up shrines? I suppose it's a transference of feelings that would once have been focused within religion. Certainly, the pictures of girls crying at Jade's grave echo what happens at Knock church any given Sunday. Although I have a suspicion that the media photos of Jade's grave were posed.

  31. Yeah, but which end?

    LOL - good question!

    No empathy = unfeeling
    Sobbing over 'Jade, my Essex princess if you didn't know her' = hysterically emotional.

    You'd assume that everyone - bar a few people you could quite rightly call barking or someone totally friendless with an abusive family - would grieve in some way over their immediate family's/friends demise.

    Also on behalf of someone - my ex-boss' son got killed in a biking accident on Xmas Eve and I really felt for her.

    Someone I don't know - same accident sitiuation - I'd certainly feel some sympathy.

    200 people killed in an earthquake - terrible - but what can I do? I might donate, I might not.

    After that, you'd have to call a halt to grief and empathy - although sympathy seems to stretch a bit further.

    Beyond that - you'd be feeling sad for the whole world and no-one's got that much sympathy in them.

    It becomes concern then - save the planet, etc, etc.

    Life, eh?

    No manual - that's the problem... ;)

  32. Dunno - I think you've given a pretty good normative for appropriate behaviour.

    By the way, it's her Holiness Princess *Saint* Jade. Get it right.

    PS Can anyone define sympathy? I mean, properly define it? What does it truly mean?

  33. On collective grief over Diana/Jade, I won't condemn it partly as I think it has something to do with traditional repressed British culture - we don't grieve properly over our own loved ones, so we do it this way instead.

  34. tim f - it's not repressed culture, it's a form of mass hysteria. You should read Tom Sergeant.


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