Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bob Broadhurst and the 'mindless yobs' - takes one to know one

It's now a week since the anti-cuts protests; I'd hoped to have blogged about them sooner, but work has been a bit chaotic. Anyway, now the dust has settled and many of the things I was going to whine about - like the media's inability to distinguish between 'violent thugs' and people sitting on a shop floor, thus implying the police had arrested 149 people for violence rather than, um, 11 - have been very ably exposed by other people. Perhaps the distinction between the 'minority' of a few hundred who broke away from the main march and the far smaller minority of a few dozen who smashed stuff up is too subtle for the mainstream media.

It's also been pointed out, although nobody much seems to care, that the police lied to a group of entirely peaceful protesters inside Fortnum and Mason, telling them that if they left the building they would be allowed to go, whereupon they were promptly arrested and charged with aggravated trespass.

Underlying all this is the police's continued insistence on conflating 'peaceful' with 'lawful'. There doesn't seem to be a category in their brains labelled 'peaceful civil disobedience'. This was pointed out after the G20 protests, in the inquiries that followed Ian Tomlinson's death, but nothing much seems to have changed. As a result, the narrative, as always, pits the nice law-abiding marcher against the 'minority of troublemakers intent on causing violence', with no room for those in the middle, those who believe in peaceful civil disobedience but abhor violence as much as anyone else. Even more concerning, the police definition of 'lawful' protest is so narrow that it seems only to cover protests explicitly authorised by the police. That is truly worrying. A right to peaceful protest that stops when the state says so is no right at all.

Commander Bob Broadhurst encouraged this narrative, even trying to co-opt the term 'protester' and brand anyone not engaging in the kind of protest the police find acceptable as 'not a real protester'. "I wouldn't call them protesters. They are engaging in criminal activities for their own ends," he told the press on Saturday. It's worth noting that trespass is not actually a criminal offence, although 'aggravated trespass', the charge being levelled at the Fortnum and Mason occupiers, is. It's a pretty dubious charge, particularly as video footage shows people were able to carry on shopping while they were there. I know some of these people. They are definitely protesters, and they are definitely not criminals.

It was this same failure to distinguish between 'peaceful' and 'lawful' that led to hundreds of people being beaten up and violently dispersed after the Climate Camp protests at G20. The Climate Campers were just blocking a road, the same way any march or rally does. They'd made clear they were going to leave after 24 hours. It was night-time, so they weren't really in anyone's way. But they hadn't asked police permission, and the police decided it was time for them to go. So, as any reasonable law enforcer would do in that situation, they pushed them into an ever-more confined space and thwacked them over the head with sticks. I heard horrific stories afterwards, including one from a woman who may have suffered a miscarriage because of her treatment at the hands of the police.

And this wasn't a 'minority' of 'criminals' or 'mindless yobs' among the police. It wasn't a few bad apples. It happened because the Silver Commander ordered it. I know because my boss at the time was on the phone to him at one in the morning, asking what the fuck he thought he was doing. Was he the least bit repentant to hear that his officers on the ground were beating people up and that we were getting calls from terrified protesters pleading for our help? Nope. Was he bothered by suggestions from my boss, who happens to be a lawyer, that what he was doing was totally unlawful? Nope. His response: 'See you in court'. And that commander's name? Bob Broadhurst.

And who was in charge of policing the student protests where a crack on the head from a police officer left a boy bleeding into his brain? Yep, Bob Broadhurst again. This guy is responsible for more violence and more unlawful activity than anything managed by evil balaclava-clad anarchists last Saturday. After what happened at Climate Camp, I'm convinced he should have been in court, never mind at liberty to oversee protests again. But if anything, he actually seems to have been promoted since then - he's now head of the Met's public order branch. That is, frankly, a fucking outrage.

So next time Bob Broadhurst feels like branding a bunch of protesters as 'criminals' and 'mindless yobs' just for sitting in a shop, I'd suggest you take his words with a good pinch of salt.

UPDATE: It's occurred to me that I failed to make an important distinction myself in this post - ie. that between people engaged in vandalism or criminal damage (ie. smashing stuff up) and the yet smaller minority of people who were allegedly engaged in actual violence (ie. throwing lightbulbs full of nasty at police). I wasn't there, and often reports of the latter turn out to be untrue or greatly exaggerated, but whether or not it actually happened the fact remains that vandalism isn't in and of itself 'violence', and I regret colluding with the implication that it is. In my defence, the post was written in something of a rush.

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