G20: Protesters strike back

Just when I thought the G20 protests would get swept under the rug, the events of this week have re-stoked the fires of dissent and unrest. The alarming second post-mortem on Ian Tomlinson revealed that the 47-year-old newspaper seller died of internal hemorrhaging not, as was previously thought, a heart attack. Reports suggest that the officer involved could face the charge of manslaughter, so this is definitely one to keep an eye on.

This seems to have garnered genuine public interest and the Evening Standard’s splash yesterday ‘What Have You Got To Hide?’ pours further scorn on the tactics of the Metropolitan Police. It seems this one is not ready for a rug sweeping just yet.

Nicola Fisher does seem to be milking her altercation for all it’s worth and her decision to hire Max Clifford does raise serious doubts about her real motives (as if you need reminding, this is the man who juiced the last days of Jade Goody). Hugo Rifkind acerbically dissects Fisher’s anti-capitalist credentials in a typically witty column for The Times.

But the really impressive footage to arise this weekend comes from Climate Camp in the City. At 9 minutes 50 seconds, this professionally-edited documentary pushes the upper time limit of YouTube, but it is well worth a watch as it wonderfully encapsulates the mood at Climate Camp and exposes some disgraceful police behaviour to break up the protest after dark.

For those of you who don’t have 10 minutes to spare, the highlights are:

4:50 – An officer is clearly seen smacking a protester across the head with his shield.
7:49 – An officer punches a protestor in the face.


Whilst I can partially sympathise with the police who must have had one of the hardest days of their careers, the assaults shown here are simply indefensible. In my last post, I called for a bigger stick to beat the police with. I think the protesters have found it.

The Metropolitan police haven’t seen the back of this one yet.

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G20: Some perspective on Ian Tomlinson

Police tactics over G20 have been widely criticised
Police tactics over the G20 protests have been widely criticised (Photo: chickyog.net)

Imagine you shove someone in the street and they fall to the floor. By the letter of the law this is assault and you should face prosecution for your actions.

Then imagine that the same person has a heart attack over an hour later and dies. You would be incredibly unlucky, but you would not be liable for manslaughter.

As simplistic as it may sound, this simple scenario needs to be kept in mind when assessing the case of Ian Tomlinson. I am not one to pull punches when it comes to criticising the Met police and I was not in favour of the kettling techniques used during the G20 protests. But to compare Tomlinson to Jean Charles De Menezes is simply ridiculous.

I am pleased to see that the Guardian tracked down and published the footage showing the assault on Tomlinson, and as a result the incident has been reported to the IPCC. The following material has come to symbolise the frustration of the thousands of protesters caught in the kettle:

But lets not get carried away. This will not be an albatross around Sir Paul Stephenson’s neck like De Menezes was for Ian Blair. As far as the IPCC is concerned, I find myself thinking cynical thoughts: “If they didn’t take any significant action over shooting an innocent man to death, are they really going to act over a man who was shoved to the floor and died 85 minutes later?” Most likely, this investigation will drag on for months and will be resolved quietly after the public has long forgotten about it.

The media has performed a great service in bringing this evidence to public attention, as Morwenna Coniam argues, but blowing this out of proportion would be a gross disservice to the Metropolitan police, despite their many shortcomings. It seems that many are trying to use this incident as a stick to beat the police with, but it’s just not a big enough stick.

Tomlinson was an innocent man who got caught up in the action, but he is no De Menezes as the police attack cannot be clearly linked to his death and a second post-mortem will surely confirm this. Despite the advances in citizen journalism, it’s a shame that no-one has found a more relevant example to illustrate the full extent of the violence that occurred on the streets of central London last week.

G20: The view from the frontline

Firsr damage at Threadneedle Street
First damage at Threadneedle Street

Violent, anarchist protesters grabbed headlines yesterday by smashing their way into a branch of RBS on Threadneedle street, effectively stealing Barack Obama and Gordon Brown’s thunder. Whilst this certainly got people’s attention, it is hardly the most effective way to convince the G20 to listen and act responsibly on the climate and economic crises.

At the frontline the atmosphere was electric – crowds pushing, chants erupting out of nowhere – not dissimilar to a heavy-metal gig or a music festival. It was hard not get swept up with the call and response: “Whose streets? Our streets!”

But it didn’t have to be like this. Had the Metropolitan Police not pursued such stubborn ‘kettling’ tactics on the protest at the Bank of England, the damage could have been mitigated. Admittedly, there were several thugs who were intent on violence, but their ire was spurred on by the thousands of peaceful protesters who had been trapped in this small part of the square mile.

Police surrounded the main area, blocking all the exits by standing shoulder to shoulder and refused to allow protesters to leave “until the protest was over” for fear of the various London protest groups combining to form a riot, but the frustration of being penned in one area for hours without food, water or toilets is enough to make borderline dissidents turn to violence. Such controversial ‘kettling’ practices were only deemed legal in January.

Helicopter hovers over the G20 protest
Helicopter hovers over the G20 protest

Police stood by in full riot gear, but remained calm to the rising tide of anger. Photos were taken from rooftops and helicopters hovered ominously. The basic tactic seemed to be: “Let them loot and smash all they want, we’ll arrest them later.” After half an hour of unbridled window smashing, egg throwing, smoke-grenade lobbing and curtain ripping, 24 police horses were brought in to force the crowd back. In our modern times it is humbling to see such graceful creatures and their composure amidst the chaos. Melanie Reid has written an excellent column about this over at Timesonline.

Eventually an exit was opened, but there was no mass rush to escape. Rather, the disinterested protesters were left to find this back-door on their own. The majority of the protest was peaceful and colourful; full of dancing and accompanied by music from Billy Bragg and Get Cape. Wear Cape Fly. However, without a powerful enough PA to address the entire crowd, the event lacked focus or guidance.

A campaigner talks into a kinetic energy-powered PA at Climate CampClimate
A campaigner talks into a kinetic energy-powered PA at Climate Camp

Over at Bishopsgate, the Climate Camp protest was a much more peaceful affair. The hippie atmosphere provided a welcome relief and the level of debate and discussion was far more intellectual.

One speaker used a PA system powered by kinetic energy from a bicycle and invited passers-by to play climate change Top Trumps. If meaningful global change is going to come from direct action and protest, this seems like a much more likely source than the aggressive anarchist tactics which were unleashed at Threadneedle Street.

I took all of the above photos – to see more and two video clips from this protest, visit my Flickr stream page. My partner-in-crime Abby Edge has a lovely slideshow of photos she took on the day and some great analysis over at her blog, Grassy Roots.

De Menezes Déjà Vu

An innocent victim
An innocent victim

Killing an innocent man on a tube train is not illegal.

That much we have already learnt this week from Sir Michael Wright QC.

Today the jury in the Jean Charles De Menezes case returned an open verdict, but I can’t help but wonder if, given the chance, they would have plumped for a verdict of unlawful killing.

There has been considerable fallout from the Jean Charles De Menezes inquest, with pertinent details coming to light every day. Last year the BBC put together a great step-by-step reconstruction of the events of 22 July 2005, which really brings the story to life. You can map the movements of the officers right down to the final actions.  For example, a surveillance officer failed to identify De Menezes as he was leaving his flat, because the officer in question was ‘relieving himself’ as the BBC so tactfully puts it. But, the main question people have been asking is will this happen again?

Well, I don’t think it’s a great leap to argue that it already has. Last week.

The case of David Sycamore may not garner  quite as much sympathy as that of Jean Charles De Menezes. He cannot be described as innocent in the same way – he was armed (albeit with an imitation firearm) and he was mentally unstable. But several of the excuses that have been put forward by Cressida Dick in response to the De Menezes case do not apply. We are not directly reeling from a major terrorist attack anymore and David Sycamore was not a suspected suicide bomber.

In such circumstances, should there be a shoot to kill policy? Understandably Sycamore was identified as a dangerous suspect, but surely there are less fatal ways of neutralising the threat he posed to the public. Attack dogs or Tasers for example? Once again the suspect was allowed to travel through a public area before the police finally made their move. Again we have to ask – if he was so dangerous, why was he not dealt with sooner?

The final moments of David Sycamore’s life are tinged with irony – his family says that he used to go to Guildford Cathedral to find inner peace. The image of a man gunned down on Cathedral steps at 3pm on a Sunday can hardly do the Police’s image any favours.

Once again, the IPCC have been called in to investigate. Once they deliver their findings, it hope this horrific story will get the mainstream coverage it deserves. But at the end of the day, I would not be surprised no decisive action was taken. This is certainly one case I’ll be watching with a keen eye.