The death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in London as he was attempting to make his way home from work certainly demands a criminal investigation into the actions of the police, who from the video evidence that has thus far been made available to the public are clearly shown to have assaulted Mr Tomlinson just minutes before he collapsed and died of a heart attack.
The IPCC have already initiated their own investigation into the incident, but given the weight of eye witness testimony and video evidence of the actions of the police throughout the day, a public inquiry also needs to be initiated into the planning and implementation of the entire police operation that was mounted to deal with a day of protest that saw ugly scenes of protestors in confrontation with ranks of baton-wielding riot police, many of them with their faces covered, some on horseback, and others with dogs.
The use of the controversial police tactic of ‘kettling’ also needs to be looked at. Penning people in and refusing to allow them to leave or move freely for hours on end without either arresting or charging them with a crime is a clear violation of human rights. What is also a clear violation of human rights is arbitrarily pushing and assaulting people who are offering no physical resistance to police instructions, as in the case of Mr Tomlinson prior to him being assaulted from behind.
All of the aforementioned must be included in a wide ranging and thorough criminal investigation of the policing operation that was undertaken during the G20 protests.
But let’s be under no illusions. What happened on April 1 was no aberration. Nor should or can it be put down to one or two bad apples in police uniform. Simply put, the police in this country are a racist, reactionary, anti-working class institution which reflects the racist, reactionary, and anti-working class nature of the state in which we live.
Over the last twenty or so years there have been far too many incidents of abuse and police brutality to recount. Among them has been the use of torture to extract confessions from the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four during the height of the IRA’s armed struggle in the 1970s; the violence meted out against the miners during the strike of 1984; the racism surrounding the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993; the heavy handed policing of the G8 protests in Scotland in 2005; the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes on the London underground in the wake of 7/7; and now the aggressive and violent policing of the G20 protests, resulting in a man caught up in them on his way home from work being assaulted by the police and subsequently losing his life.
Many of us will know people in the police and on this basis would seek to defend them as just ordinary people doing a difficult job.
Such a benign view, however, is both naïve and empirically false.
Yes, when off-duty your average police officer is just like any other member of society – spending time with his or her family, shopping, socialising with friends, etc. And, indeed, most of us have at one time or another been in need of the services of the police and will have had no complaints as a result of the experience, the police officer or officers concerned helpful and diligent in carrying out whatever the task may have been on our behalf.
Be that as it may, the police officer who comes to your home in response to a burglary or an incident of vandalism with a sympathetic ear and a commitment to your needs at that particular moment, is the same officer who when deployed to police a demonstration or a picket line will be ready, able, and willing to put a baton over your head.
Social being determines consciousness, and the primary role of the police in any capitalist society is that of a weapon in the hands of a state controlled by the few at the expense of the many.
The sheer immorality of the system which presently governs our lives is illustrated in the fact that criminal charges are to be brought against those who took it upon themselves to smash the windows of a branch of RBS during the G20 protests, yet the RBS executives responsible for bringing the system to the point of collapse, for people losing their homes, jobs, pensions, and savings are able to walk away with knighthoods and severance packages and pension settlements which are beyond obscene.
It will be scant comfort to the family of Ian Tomlinson to hear that the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has voiced her support for the IPCC investigation into his death. This, after all, is the minister responsible for policing on the day and throughout the country as a whole, responsible for continued attacks on civil liberties with her attempt to detain suspects without charge for up to 90 days, and the plan to introduce a central database to log all mobile phone and email traffic in the UK.
As with the judiciary, the political system, and the banking system, the police in this country are an institution that cannot be reformed. Indeed, as with every other institution, it reflects the brutality of the economic system it is designed to protect and uphold.
In a time of economic crisis such as now, with more and more people responding to attacks on their jobs and their communities with strike action and protests, it is likely that we can look forward to more not less incidents of police brutality on our streets such as were witnessed in London on April 1.