G20: minority of troublemakers on both sides

One of the protesters taking part in the G20 protests in London claimed yesterday, “The only violence I witnessed that day was police violence.” Clearly he didn’t see the pictures on TV of people smashing the windows of a bank, while crowds of other rioters looked on and cheered. I don’t think the people breaking those windows were police officers.

Most protesters will retort that the people who were involved in violence and vandalism were a small minority, and that most of the protesters were peaceful and well-behaved. This isn’t an unreasonable line to take. However, the same people will use examples of police brutality, such as the assault of Ian Tomlinson (who died of a heart attack shortly afterwards) as evidence that all the police were violent and that the policing of the event was out of order. This is hypocrisy. Protesters, and the media who jump on their bandwagon, are happy to explain violent protesters as a minority, but then tar an entire police force with the same brush after the unacceptable behaviour of one officer is in the spotlight.

There have been some reports that Mr Tomlinson wasn’t simply an innocent newspaper seller on his way home, but had actually been hanging around for some time, and had previous confrontations with the police, including blocking a police van, possibly under the influence of alcohol. Maybe in the heat of the moment, an officer later recognised him and out of frustration attacked him. That’s certainly no excuse for what the officer did, and he should face criminal proceedings in due course. However, it is no reason to criticise the entire police force. Officers that day must have been under a huge amount of stress, yet the majority of them will not have lashed out or have attacked any members of the public, but will have behaved with professionalism and restraint – and that can’t have been easy given the circumstances.

If the entire Metropolitan Police Force are going to be found guilty by media trial, then it’s only fair to hold every single protester partly responsible for Mr Tomlinson’s death. After all, if there were no protests, he would have had no encounters with the police in the first place, and the violent disorder committed by some of the protesters will have fired up the police officers and caused some to retaliate. Collective blame can’t be heaped on one side and not the other.

2 responses to “G20: minority of troublemakers on both sides”

  1. Dave Brown

    I normally find your blogs extremely well reasoned and balanced but I really do have to take exception to this one.

    To blame every single peaceful protester for Mr Tomlinson’s death is patently absurd. His death appears to be due to the action of a single police office who acted in the knowledge that whatever the consequence of his action he was unlikely to be identified; that if he was identified his colleagues would rally round to defend his actions; that even if his action was ruled indefensible it would be difficult, in the confusion, to find enough evidence to charge him.

    There is a massive asymmetry between the actions of the protesters and the actions of the police. On the one hand a group of unarmed, innocent civilians exercising their centuries old right to hold their representatives to account. On the other a group of well armed and highly trained professionals whose raison d’etre is to defend the right of civilians to go about their lawful business. For a trained policeman stress or frustration can never be an excuse for brutal and illegal behaviour. If Mr Tomlinson did, in fact, earlier drunkenly obstruct the police he should have been arrested at that time, not marked out for later redress.

    I agree that the action of a single officer should not tar the entire force. But this is merely the latest in a series of action which indicate that the Metropolitan police are gradually putting themselves above the law; are using the bogus “war on terror” as an excuse for behaviour which until quite recently would have been regarded by most police officers as as totally unacceptable

    As an aside I wonder why the government chose to hold the G20 meeting in a busy capital city during a working day rather than at some remote rural location which would have been so much easier to police.

  2. Jonathan

    I don’t think I’ve heard anyone defending that particular officer. I agree that it was a ridiculous place to stage the meeting for the reasons you mention – I’d even go as far as to suggest all such summits should be by video conference in future to save the expense and carbon emissions of gathering leaders from around the world.

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