Improving Protest Policing

By Emma Brooks

The recent events of the G20 in London have once again drawn my attention to the seemingly ongoing battle between the police and the people. Ever since the G20 took place, the behaviour of the police has been criticized, and investigations into the regretful death of Ian Tomlinson have started. These events made me wonder why it is that there always has to be confrontation between the police and the people, and why the police feel the need to act violently.

Many occasions come to mind in which things have gone wrong and only served to add fuel to the fire in terms of relations with the police. For example: when the G8 met in Evian/Geneva back in 2003, there were problems between the police and the crowds in which peaceful protesters were wrongly attacked by the police and suffered injuries because of this. Similarly, in France there has been a long-standing hatred of the police culminating in the several weeks long riots in 2005.  Even in Brazil, during carnival, we were told to steer well clear of the police if they ever came our way. Several times we saw them attacking people and we were rather forcefully shoved if ever we happened to be in their way. They walked, helmets right down to their eyes, huge truncheons in their hands, looking ready for a fight. An image not easily gotten rid of…

But the problem is that although the police sometimes step out of line, there are also members of the public who do not help to serve the case of the peaceful protesters. During the time that the G8 took place in Evian, a lot of demonstrations had been organized in Geneva. These had been organized by people who knew what the G8 was, and wanted to protest against its principles and actions. Unfortunately though, their “good intentions” were ruined by a small batch of trouble makers. People joined in the demonstrations without actually having any idea what they were about, and made the most of it in order to throw stones and Molotov cocktails through windows in order to denounce “capitalism”. They also took the opportunity to pillage shops and cause damage to buildings in Geneva. Sadly, these people are the ones who make the news, and also the ones who make riot police necessary.

The question can be asked about both sides: why do they feel the need to destroy and resort to violence, when all of this could take place peacefully and get its message across? It is sad to think that individuals (as for example during the riots in France) are out to get the police and only want to harm them. But it is also sad to see that the police indulge in violent actions as happened in the London G20 protests and that there are videos that testify to this. Is it a question of power? The police are abusing theirs, and the people are trying to get their own back? Or are the police so frustrated by the crowds that they feel the need to suppress them? Even so, their actions are unjustifiable and deserve reprimands. This goes for both sides of course, though the fact that the police are randomly attacking peaceful protesters is shocking and deserves investigation. It is partly this behaviour that prompts riots such as the ones seen in France, and the deep mistrust of the police.

Aside from investigations, perhaps we also need to reconsider the structures of the police system, and think about the way these demonstrations should unfold so as to prevent accidents from happening. In any case, we need cooperation from both sides in order to progress, not fear or hatred.

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