The death of Ian Tomlinson, murdered at the hands of the police on 1 April this year, has prompted rather more scrutiny than is usual of the policing of the protests that took place in the context of the meeting of the G20 group of world leaders in London.
Initially, minor news items stated that a man who had had no contact with the police on that day had died from a heart attack. As is now well known, it was not until several days later that photographs and stills from videos, taken by protestors and bystanders, of the police attacking Ian Tomlinson appeared on guardian.co.uk, revealing the police’s version of events to be a fabrication from start to finish.
While the pathologist who carried out the first post-mortem has been exposed as consistently favouring the police, further post-mortems showed that there had been no heart attack, but that Ian Tomlinson had suffered internal injuries, as well as a severe blow to the head, sustained when the police threw him violently to the ground, from behind and without warning, despite the fact that he was walking away from them and had his hands in his pockets.
A police investigation was slow in starting, and was belatedly taken over by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is independent solely in name, only when the evidence of police wrongdoing became overwhelming. When Channel 4 announced that it would broadcast an analysis of the video of the police attack, the IPCC unsuccessfully tried to get an injunction to stop it.
For a while, the story was all over the media. In one of the many television interviews in April, an ‘expert’ on policing defended police methods at the G20 summit, saying that freedom of speech was one thing, but that when people could not go about their daily tasks unhindered, some strong action had to be taken.
It was clear from the context that the speaker was referring to city workers going about their banking and associated business, which he claimed were being prevented by the protests. He did not see the bitter irony of his statement, and the interviewer chose not to challenge him or make the connection with Ian Tomlinson. As is so often the case with otherwise sharp, aggressive interviewers, it is the questions that they do not ask that betray their subservience to their bourgeois masters.
Ian Tomlinson, going home after work as a newsvendor, was certainly prevented from going about his daily tasks – not by the protestors, but by the police, who murdered him.
Indeed, more generally, throughout the various protests around the G20, it was not the protestors but the police who caused chaos. They ‘kettled’ people, protestors and non-protestors alike, surrounding them for many hours in small areas without food, water, toilets or explanation. They then proceeded to introduce violence by beating people up. If anyone prevented people, whether city workers, bystanders or protestors, going about their lawful business on that day, it was the police.
Ian Tomlinson was not alone in being at the receiving end of police brutality. By 16 April, the IPCC announced that it had received over 145 complaints about the policing of G20-related events, nearly half relating to direct brutality and others about tactics including ‘kettling’. More have been made since then, and dramatic photographs have appeared of people being savagely hit by the police. One particularly notorious photograph has captured a police ‘medic’ enthusiastically wielding his baton against protestors – so much for community policing! (This photo is reproduced on the front page of Lalkar, May 2009)
Meanwhile, The Observer of 10 May reported that Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake claims to have witnessed what he believed were plainclothes police throwing bottles at uniformed police and encouraging others to do so.
It also has to be noted that even the disruption caused by the police over those two days at the beginning of April did not have the catastrophic effect on the working lives of those employed in the city as has the economic crisis. Many lower-paid city workers, in particular, have been among those in the population at large who have lost jobs, pensions and modest savings (while the banks themselves have been bailed out).
And blame for the economic crisis lies squarely with ‘our’ monopoly capitalist bourgeoisie and their capitalist system, which inevitably plunges society into crises of overproduction, one result of which was the so-called ‘credit crunch’.
It is this same striving for the maximum profit that propels ‘our’ imperialists to wage genocidal predatory wars of aggression, and to carry on polluting and destroying the environment, against both of which people were demonstrating while the G20 summit took place.
And that is the key to the violent policing of the summit. The protests were against ills produced by monopoly capitalism – imperialism. And, at a time of crisis, the ruling class becomes more desperate – it cannot tolerate protest that, even potentially, is against the system that enables it to exploit the vast masses of the people, both at home and abroad.
It is this fear, and the anticipation of worsening crises, that has prompted the introduction of ever-more draconian laws, which in the name of ‘anti-terrorism’ are eroding civil liberties at a rapid pace. While there has been a steady stream of high-profile arrests and detentions since the introduction of these laws, such as the seizing in January of people travelling to join the Viva Palestina aid convoy, and the arrests of innocent Pakistani students, charges are very rarely brought.
The police were not there at the G20 demonstrations to ‘enable people to go about their daily tasks’, to protect democracy or to defend civil liberties. They were there to protect the interests of monopoly capitalism. And it is clear that high-level decisions had been taken in advance that violence was to be the police response of choice. It was not just one or two ‘bad apples’ on the rampage; the message was being sent out loud and clear: stay away from protests or you will get it, however peaceful you are.
The policing of the G20 demos was not an isolated ‘bad apple’ either. It was fully in line with the policing of the recent protests against the Israeli attack on Gaza. People were arbitrarily arrested on pickets, and the ‘kettling’ of, and brutal police attack on, demonstrators in the Hyde Park Corner underpass have become notorious.
The ruling monopoly capitalists maintain their rule through the agency of the state – the judiciary, police, army etc. They do not hesitate to use force – the most draconian force when necessary – to defend their ability and right to exploit. What happened at the G20 demonstrations is part and parcel of the brutality perpetrated against the miners during the heroic strike of 1984/5, or against Jean Charles de Menezes and others in the wake of the London bombings of July 2007, not to mention the fascistic force used by British imperialism against the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Ireland and many other countries.
But the ills of imperialism will continue to make the lot of working people more and more intolerable, and repression breeds resistance. In trying to hold back the progress of humanity, the imperialists will resort to violence, but counter-revolutionary violence is in the end met with revolutionary violence.
It is important that we demand justice for Ian Tomlinson and others; that we support those arbitrarily arrested; that we defend civil liberties against encroachment and, indeed, demand their restoration. It is also important that we clearly understand the nature of the state, for only then can we understand the actions of its agents, not least the policing of the G20 and other recent demonstrations.