TO PROTECT AND SERVE

By Otis Shaw

As the population retreats in horror at the latest evidence of police intervention, Otis Shaw looks into the source of this disillusionment and the current situation Britain is facing in the light of the G20 demonstrations.
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Thanks to the ever watchful eye of the media, a fresh outlook on the British ‘Bobby’, has exposed the fears of many great authors such as George Orwell and Philip K. Dick. Britain’s ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ has shown his true colours and now comes the time to ask who indeed are the police protecting and is the inevitable ‘Police State’ the future of Law enforcement?

Anti-War demonstrations, CND Activists, Anti- Capitalist movements and Eco-Warriors have changed the way we perceive what should be a stable environment for our children. Every day the police force have to deal with complaints, demonstrations and disruptions of one kind or another. The world is changing, and divisions of class and poverty, injustices to the masses, are producing a voice that can only be heard on the street.

History tells us of great movements changing world politics and making this planet a safer place to live in. The heroes of our past- Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and the many political prisoners who have suffered in silence would never have made an impact on our nation if the people no longer had a voice. Today’s police force  are using pre-meditative action against civil disobedience. In the light of the recent anti capitalist demonstrations and the G20 protests, evidence shows the police and the state are working towards silencing the population.

If we look at the fundamental elements of policing, Thomas Hobbes’ explanation in Leviathian outlines the foundations for the situation we are in today. The “essential rights of sovereignty” allow the police to conduct themselves in a way that protects the state. Thomas Hobbs believed that, in order to establish a civil society, the sovereign must control civil, military, judicial and ecclesiastical powers. His main concern was that in order to maintain an effective government, one must have absolute authority.

If this is the basis for Britain’s established force then we are no longer concerned with working classes, teachers, activists and the media. The basic principles of policing today are concerned with protecting the state – politicians, bankers and corporations. The actions of officers in recent demonstrations, has shown a complete disregard for the original nine Peelian Principles. The police’s basic mission is to prevent crime and disorder. Police earn public respect, not by catering to public or political opinion or self interest, but by demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law. The police should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are members of the public that are paid for duties that every citizen would do in the interest of community welfare.

Looking at these guidelines, the police are clearly not maintaining a relationship with the general public and have shown disregard for the guidelines given to them in basic police training. The results of police tactics, such as kettling and an unacceptable level of force during the protests, are clearly not in the interest of community welfare. In light of recent arrests of journalists and photographers, the police have taken on the powers of the judiciary. Under Section 2 of the Harassment Act, the police force are making sure ‘ the State’ are secure and the truth is unobtainable to the general public. Contrary to the guidelines within the association of Chief Police Officers,  in which it is stated members of the media have a duty to report from incidents involving the police, the police have no legal power or moral responsibilty to prevent or restrict what is recorded, a permit is not required and the police have no power to delete or confiscate media coverage, photographers and journalists are being arrested and their equipment confiscated or destroyed.

Press officer, Andrew Wood, was subjected to police surveillance, whilst attending a company meeting with connections to the arms trade, in April 2005. Journalist, Marc Vallee, was pushed to the ground, during a “Sack Parliament” protest in October 2006, sustaining back injuries that left him unable to work for a month. The list of arrests and seizures continues every year and the common thread is a clear campaign to prevent  the truth from reaching the  masses.

The lengths the police will go to in order to protect the state and censor the media, has become evident during the G20 demonstrations in April this year. The police are aware that news coverage now can come from anyone, with or without a permit. Demonstrations against the state are covered from the front line. The measures taken to restrict the freedom of  this information take us back to Hobbes’ Leviathan and its enforcement of a strong central authority. According to Hobbes;

 “society is a population beneath the sovereign authority, to whom all individuals in that society cede their natural rights for the sake of protection. Any abuses of power by this authority are to be accepted as the price of peace”. 

Opinion polls show that the people  will no longer accept this level of force and the public are beginning to question the pre- emptive justice practiced by the Metropolitan Police.  There is clearly an issue of determining the terrorist from the activist, and in the light of the G20 demonstrations, this distinction has become obscured with violent attacks on innocent bystanders. The protector has become the aggressor in order to contain widespread unrest in the country. The question is perhaps how long will the general public accept that officers who step over the line, will be held accountable for their actions. The end result of this misconduct has brought the whole force into disrepute and has left your average man and woman wondering whether the police are in fact on our side.  In defence of these allegations, Sir Ken Jones, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said the UK’s public order policing is a mere protocol widely seen in other countries,

“I can’t find any other country which doesn’t use water cannon, CS gas, rubber bullets. Our approach is proportionate, and, in fact, has delivered on many other occations.”

Is the future to be an acceptance of plain clothed officers mingling amongst demonstrators with a baton in his hand? Are journalists to live in fear if they try to report the truth? The definition of a ‘Police state’ from A Dictionary of World History, is as follows;

‘The term police state describes a state in which the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic and political life of the population. A police state typically exhibits elements of totalitarianism and social control, The inhabitants of a police state experience restrictions on their mobility, and on their freedom to express  political or other views, which are subject to police monitoring or enforcement. Political control may be exerted by means of a secret police force which operates outside the boundaries normally imposed by a constitutional republic’.