Police: old Bill, new problems

Issue section: 

The front pages of the evening papers on 1 April reported a battle being waged by brave police against rampaging hordes of anarchists in the City of London. They were soon eating their words.

Alongside the death of Ian Tomlinson, last month's publication of police log entries from the day exposed the level of 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".

Last month we also learnt that the Metropolitan police stop and search an average of five children under the age of ten every day. And claims made by police that vital CCTV cameras were broken the night Sean Rigg died at Brixton police station were found to have been earlier contradicted by the commander of the station, who stated that the footage had already been secured.

We now see a police force tactically confused, dodging a constant barrage of criticism.

Preparations for last month's Climate Camp reflected this. Much was made of their new "softly, softly" approach: less force, more communication, and messages to protesters via Twitter. Their "silver" and "bronze" commanders were to be women, to "de-machofy" the operation.

The shift in public mood which brought this on was not just the result of the G20 policing, although that seemed to be the tipping point. It built up from the aggressive responses to Stop the War protests against George W Bush in 2008 and this year's invasion of Gaza. The staggering increase in stop and search - 322 percent for black people and 277 percent for Asians since 2007 - adds to this broth of contempt.

Meanwhile, the issue of deaths in custody, which, thanks to the dedication of campaigners such as the families of Rigg and Tomlinson, will not go away.

Recent protests involving the United Campaign Against Police Violence have been notably peaceful, thanks to an often skeletal police presence. Last month a march through Brixton on the anniversary of Rigg's death took place without police permission, and ended with three hours of angry speeches outside Brixton police station. As few as five officers were present.

But we mustn't be fooled. The "community policing" of protests will be a temporary fad, which will fall from fashion as soon as the dust settles and the pressure is taken off.

We must ensure that the dust does not settle until we are ensured the fundamental right to protest, live without harassment, and win justice for those brutalised by the baton-wielding strong arm of the state.

And the "softly, softly" approach seems selective. The man behind the police operation in the City of London on that fateful day the G20 came to town, Commander Bob Broadhurst, was appointed the director of the 11,000 police shifts at this year's Notting Hill Carnival.

We should foster no illusions. So long as the capitalist state exists the police will be there to protect it, by any means necessary. But we can still win concessions, especially at times like this.