Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Have the Metropolitan Police waged war on the public?

You would think that London police would be, if not apologetic in the aftermath of Ian Tomlinson's death, at least attempting to keep their aggression in peaceful situations to a minimum. Even as their crowd control tactics are being criticized, and from a vigil held for Ian Tomlinson no less, the below footage emerges of an officer first slapping a woman across the face, then striking her across the legs with his baton as she falls to the ground.

The officer, "who had concealed his badge number before lashing out at the woman", has of course been duly suspended amid a flood of impotent, wishy-washy language from spokespeople.
"The officer has been identified and suspended pending further investigation. The officer works as a sergeant in the territorial support group," [a Scotland Yard spokesman] added.

Earlier, police said the actions of the officer featured in the footage raised "immediate concerns".

"Every officer is accountable under law, and fully aware of the scrutiny that their actions can be held open to," police said.

"The decision to use force is made by the individual police officer, and they must account for that."

The IPCC said it had been made aware of the latest footage by the Met Police and would now be looking at the "best way to progress an investigation into the actions of the officer involved".

But what is really appalling is the suggestion that responsibility for seeking justice rests with the victim, even in the face of evidence pointing to misconduct by one of their own. The woman, though having been identified and interviewed, has not yet made a formal complaint.
Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said it was "absolutely right" any allegations regarding the new video footage should be thoroughly investigated.

"In respect of this particular woman, which has been shown to me for the first time this evening, if a complaint is made I think it's absolutely right that there should be a thorough investigation into what the police did.

Is that to say that this evidence, absent a formal complaint being made, should go uninvestigated? That's akin to watching my child punch a stranger in the stomach and then telling her "If that person identifies you and complains to me, you're going to be in big trouble, young lady! In the meantime, come inside and let's watch Transformers."

You'll also notice on the right side of your screen, before the incident with the woman occurs, a Black man is seen talking to officers. Moments later, when the camera pans back to that location, the situation has escalated considerably and several officers are involved in a scuffle with the man. This footage, like much of the footage captured during the G20 protests, seems to indicate that the first point of action by several officers involves aggression - if not physical, then certainly in manner and attitude to the public. The Metropolitan Police seem to be missing a basic point: you are not a private citizen who is allowed to fly off the handle and retaliate because someone calls you a wanker, which retaliation, incidentally, as a private citizen, might land you before a judge. And you aren't given a baton and a neon vest so you can lawfully batter the public. You are meant to rise above purely emotional reaction in order to employ the best strategy in maintaining peace. And sometimes that means first using your words.

The treatment of such incidents by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) as isolated events caused by the actions of errant individuals is erroneous and dangerous. Presenting these officers as bad apples that can be sacrificed as the Met gets on with business as usual will not suffice. These are not coincidences: they are the products of an institutionalized failure by the police to do their job effectively while maintaining the civil rights of both the public and their own members.

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