I cannot now remember where I read the words of the title here – some Colonial bust up I suppose. I am reminded of them by the two incidents arising from Police conduct at the G20-linked demonstrations. Given that we do not yet know the full circumstances behind the very dramatic video footage, I will refrain from direct criticism, What does intrigue me is the way that the events have polarised the public’s attitude towards the police.
I subscribe to a forum where the members have very forthright views and the vocabulary to express these in colourful language. For months now, there have been threads where treatment only just short of capital punishment has been advocated against what are generally referred to as chavs. The overweening desire was that police act in a very positive manner. Full rigour of the law etc.
Now that we have images showing just what level of violence can be deployed, the firmness of character seems to have been diluted. It is fair to say that there is universal condemnation of police methods. There is a small proportion who condemn the way punishment was meted out but who attribute this to individuals and not as a Force policy.
Given that many of those who express anti opinions will have seen service in Northern Ireland at times when violent street demonstrations were common, this lack of sympathy for the individual copper is hard to understand. Whilst we see police armed with paramilitary weapons and riot kit, it would seem that there is a general air of restraint in their usage. The application of police baton and riot shield to civilians limbs and flesh should have led to many more injuries than were reported. The line where front line demonstrators meets front line police is a scary place. It is where the real effect of my title comes into play. The police press forward and, in the main, the public try and retreat. The people at the back in both parties are free to act – free to push on and free of the consequences where the two groups meet. Hitting a civilian with a view to getting them to put themselves at a range where they can do no harm to the police has absolutely no effect.
So, where do we go from here? Clearly, abandoning the streets to a mob cannot be permitted. There will be many who seek non-violent demonstration but the scenes of the attack on the RBS premises show that there are others with an agenda beyond mere demonstration. In terms of violence, the G20 crowds were relatively benign. The Poll Tax and Grosvenor Square were far more violent. What can happen if the thin blue line breaks was shown with the death of PC Blakelock who was hacked to death at Broadwater Farm. To take the easy road out and call for the use of the military to assist the civil powers is not an answer I would like to see introduced. Soldiers know only one thing when it comes to dealing with opposition – brute force and shooting to kill. Hearts and minds do not come into play at mob interfaces.
So, better training for the police or special police groups trained to deploy at demonstrations once tempers start to fray? My own choice would be specialist police. The French CRS were very effective when dealing with rioting after coming into being in Algeria. The Japanese have very specialised riot control forces where demonstrators resembled paramilitary forces and vastly outnumbered police. One of the problems I would anticipate in setting up such groups would be reluctance to finally destroy the image of PC Dixon. Unfortunately, Dock Green is now a far more violent place.
The Guardian has put together a collection of video recordings of the sort of thing I am concerned about.