Thursday, 27 August 2009
Climate Camp: Has the climate changed for policing of protests?
As the government drags its feet over the vital task of saving the planet from environmental destruction, those who see the need for a radically different approach to fighting climate change have once more been forced to take direct action at the Camp for Climate Action.
But anyone who has been at the previous Climate Camps knows that while the criminal actions of multinationals go unchallenged by the state, those who fight against them are criminalised.
The recent publication of police log entries from the G20 protests against environmental and financial crimes have exposed the level of police brutality meted out. “I punched him in the jaw and he moved backwards,” wrote one officer, while another hit protesters with “shield strikes both flat and angled” and “open palm strikes…and fist strikes as well”.
A recent Christian Aid survey suggests that around half of the UK population believe the police have been too aggressive in the policing of environmental protests. In light of these revelations, we now see a police force tactically confused, dodging a constant barrage of criticism.
Preparations for Climate Camp have reflected this. Much has been made of their new “softly, softly” approach, which suggests less use of force, increased communication with organisers, and, of course, their use of Twitter.
While the G20 protests were the tipping point for public opinion, it has built up over time, from the kettling and harassment of those on Stop the War protests over George W Bush’s visit to London last year and the invasion of Gaza to the Kingsnorth power station protests.
The staggering increase of stop and search – 322 percent for black people and 277 percent for Asians – since 2007 adds to this contempt. The issue of deaths in custody refuses to go away either, thanks to the continued fight for justice by the families of people like Sean Rigg, who died at Brixton police station one year ago, and Ian Tomlinson.
But the “community policing” of protests such as Climate Camp will not last unless this pressure is kept up on the police.
This tactic is an exercise in damage limitation, not a change of heart, and whether the police hit you with batons or not, they are still there to limit resistance at events such as this, by whatever means necessary.
We must ensure that the pressure is kept on until we are ensured the fundamental right to protest, to live without harassment, and win justice for those brutalised by the baton-wielding strong arm of the state.
GOOD COPS, BAD COPS
We should also recognise that the “softly, softly” approach seems selective. The man behind the operation in the City of London on that fateful day the G20 came to town, Commander Bob Broadhurst, is to direct the 11,000 police shifts at this year's Notting Hill Carnival.
If the policing operation at Carnival is anything like that of 2008, it will also see hundreds of mainly black youths being stopped, contained and searched indiscriminately as they make their way to the celebration of diversity and culture.
The United Campaign Against Police Violence (UCAPV) was formed in the wake of the G20 violence to ensure the right to peaceful protest, the protection of civil liberties, and to stop deaths at the hands of police – whether on protests, in police stations, during “terror raids” or anywhere else. UCAPV is an alliance of protest groups, trade unions, family justice campaigns, political parties and many others. Working together we can hold the police to account and push for reforms of British policing.