14th March 2021
The scenes of the policing of the protest at Clapham Common last night were ugly.
I feel sick pic.twitter.com/wCKWzwLyRk— Elizabeth Sankey (@sankles) March 13, 2021
The scenes were also shocking.
By ‘shocking’ I do not mean that they were surprising and unpredictable.
Anyone with any awareness of policing in Northern Ireland, or of the miners strike, or of inner cities and BAME communities, will not be surprised.
This is what police do – when they can get away with it.
Yooo if it's taken you until NOW to start questioning the proportionality of police actions then WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN??????— Abimbola Johnson (@BarristerAbi) March 13, 2021
Something can be unsurprising and predictable and still be shocking – as anyone who has licked a light socket would tell you, if they are still able to do so.
It’s no coincidence the police are harshest against those who are seen as having less power (physical, social, financial). Politicians and society enable it. Some even demand it.— Dr Karen 🕷Schafheutle🇪🇺🇩🇪🏴 (@KSchafheutle) March 13, 2021
And police brutality – and their other abuses of coercive power – should always be shocking.
Once it ceases to shock then the authoritarians and illiberals will have prevailed.
During this pandemic this tendency for the police to misuse and abuse their powers has had a further feature.
The coronavirus regulations – which restrict freedom of movement and assembly as well as other fundamental rights and freedoms – are public health measures.
But they have been enforced by the police as if they were in respect of public order.
Public health is not the same as public order.
The scenes from last night did not evidence any sincere concern for public health from the police.
Indeed – a responsible and socially distanced protest was entirely possible (and warranted) – but the police turned it into something else instead.
These ugly scenes were then followed by ugly evasions.
#UPDATE | Statement from AC Helen Ball following #ClaphamCommon vigil— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) March 14, 2021
"We absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary. But we were placed in this position because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety."https://t.co/HQpS0LD7TB
Reading that ugly statement is as sickening as the scenes from the protest were ugly and shocking.
‘Look at what you made us do,’ is – in the circumstances of this protest that was prompted by the death of Sarah Everard – an especially unfortunate stance for the police to take.
Even former home office ministers – not the most liberal of politicians – were not able to stomach this.
As a former Police Minister and notwithstanding the lockdown and pandemic, this has got to be the most absurd, stupid and often brutal police response to a peaceful vigil. Hobnail booted, thick response when smart, risk assessed, intelligence-led policing was demanded. Sad night— Tony McNulty (@Tony_McNulty) March 13, 2021
As another former Police Minister, I agree https://t.co/mukVZbydF7— John Denham (@JYDenham) March 13, 2021
And in command of the metropolitan police is, of course, Cressida Dick.
Four words should have prevented Cressida Dick ever leading the Met in the first place: Jean Charles de Menezes— Mic Wright 🏳️🌈🌋🏴☠️ (@brokenbottleboy) March 13, 2021
How the career of Cressida Dick even survived the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes is one of wonders of recent policing history.
How her career then continued to prosper is one of its deepest disgraces.
But the police are very good indeed at deflection.
Any criticism is usually first met by being told that one does not understand the pressures of policing, and so on.
And when the wrongs are established beyond doubt, the police effortlessly switch to their bland lessons-will-be-learned assurances.
But at no point will there even be any genuine accountability and redress.
Which is kind of ironic given that the police are, well, charged with the policing the rest of us and holding us to account.
This is not the sort of blog to comment on ongoing individual criminal cases – and this is not just because of the (outdated and inadequate) laws on contempt of court but instead because a blog is not a court room and serves a different purpose.
One purpose of this blog is to identify and explain the wider law and policy contexts of topical events.
The ugly scenes from last night can be seen as an example of police abuses of power generally and in respect of their illiberal and misconceived approach to the coronavirus regulations in particular.
The ugly doubling-down of the police this morning can, in turn, be seen as an example of their inability ever to accept that they have made operational mistakes.
And there are few – if any – official communications as misleading if not dishonest as the police PR after something has gone very wrong.
Shocking – but never surprising.
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