Policing protest - 2
15 Apr 2009

The arrests of 114 climate protesters, coupled with ongoing revelations about police conduct at the G20 protests in London seem to point to a trend in police attitudes to protest and direct action.

The tendency seems to be back to Miners’ Strike tactics, with constables not in place to just police protests — that is, to allow freedom of expression and assembly while assuring protesters do not become a danger to themselves and others — but rather to confront demonstrators. The pre-emptive arrests in Nottinghamshire seem to actively enforce the idea that police are actively anti-protest, at least for now.

This morning, I took part in a radio discussion concerning an anti-police Facebook group, ‘Northumbria Police — what a group ov wankers’ if you must know. 8,478 members and counting!)

The question of the morning was whether people had lost respect for the authority of the police. I’m not really sure that we have less respect for the police than before, but with responsibility comes scrutiny and criticism.

The more worrying question is whether the police are losing respect for us: while it would be naïve to imagine that the police have always held the general public in the highest regard, there has, somewhat ironically, been a more civil atmosphere at heavily-policed protests since the advent of advanced surveillance techniques: perhaps when you can get someone on video and arrest them later, you’ll be less inclined to wade in with the truncheon. Most people on protests these days are quite used to the policeman with the video camera openly filming them.

Are we looking at an age of confrontational policing? One would hope not. Twenty years ago, almost 100 people died in Sheffield because the police assumed that football supporters were hooligans. It’s worrying that today, increasingly, police seem to be assume protesters who may merely be exercising their rights, automatically pose a threat.

Padraig Reidy

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