Sunday, 24 April 2011

Stokes Croft and the horrible stench of hypocrisy.

It's been a couple of evenings now since the Stokes Croft riots, however riotous rather than spectator like it actually was, and it's been interesting to read about the various views on what has been going on. From the police we have official statements about the operation, press releases as they are an therefore highly dubious as to their factuality. Yet on Twitter and Youtube we have other accounts as to the operation's effectiveness.

I don't wish to promote alleged police actions of "brutality", and I've been pretty damn vocal against the tactics of kettling and charging innocent protesters in London. However reading reports like this from Oli Conner just take the piss.

However, it didn't take long before everything began to switch. I couldn't say what happened first, the police arming themselves with riot shields or people dragging dustbins and bits of wood onto the street to build a barricade. One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that the police could have prevented what was to happen next by demobilising and leaving the area with the people that they had arrested. But they didn't, and stubbornness instead provoked a riot.


Emboldened, the protesters turned the tables on the police, standing in front of their vans, not allowing them to exit - giving them a taste of what it feels like to be kettled. As the riot shielded officers came back out of their van and formed another line, everyone sat down in front of them linking arms. The police swiftly responded with violence.


Yes, the police are the authority. Yes, the police should know better. But you know what, it's absolutely un-fucking-acceptable to state that one side "provoking violence" is their fault, while on the flip side it is only their response of violence after being provoked that is the problem.

What we have here is an almost playground-esque tragedy. I have no doubt that police were given stupid orders...it seems to happen a lot these days. But ultimately the police on the ground are just workers, trained in a specific way, and generally left to their own devices to carry out a blanket task. If they are told to stay and defend an area and stop people, that is what they'll do. If the people they're trying to stop start to get violent, no matter how small a group, they will revert to training.

Is this right? No. Absolutely not. But it is understandable, despite what commentators around the web may try to alude to otherwise.

Equally I understand entirely why a group of people feeling unheard, ignored entirely, or simply persecuted in the short term by the authorities present, may feel so obliged to "stand up" to authority. That doesn't make such a childish action right either.

Authority or not, we're meant to be civilised human beings. I don't believe that in the face of brutality or oppression people should back down, but there is no evidence of the police going around and seeking out to oppress or to brutalise. The people that were hurt were hurt because they, or those around them, chose to confront and oppose themselves and become the antagonists.

Take a look at this video, for example (warning, it's cut together by people sympathetic to those that aren't the police, yet still moronically is showing why the police withdrawing was a mistake).

This wasn't a protest that the police were shutting down, this wasn't a group of people acting innocent and enacting their rights. Whoever "started" it doesn't really fucking matter, what happened was two groups of people...one no doubt briefed to expect trouble and trained to deal with it, the other spoiling for trouble after a pint or two...came together and neither felt they could withdraw.

Except only one group could be expected to take this stance, the police. They're there to maintain law and order. They failed, but it would not be seen as acceptable in any way shape or form for them to simply walk out of there after tensions had snapped. As we see from the video above, when they did leave absolute dickheads decided the best way to further their cause was to help provide the mainstream media and hand-wringers alike exactly the ammunition they need to say "SEE...they're just a bunch of criminal wasters!"

I've been largely impressed with the way that those opposing the Tesco store in Stokes Croft have handled themselves, the way they've mobilised support and tried everything they can in the face of clearly biased planning laws to enabled business to win out over communities. I can only assume they have had little part to play in the actions of two evenings ago...I hope that assumption is correct.

What happened in Stokes Croft was pitiful and made no-one look good. But don't kid yourself that this was unwarranted police brutality. If you go looking for a fight with a guy with armor and a big stick you're looking to get hurt.

And if you're happy to stand amongst those people while not looking for a fight, you're an idiot and I have little sympathy for you. Document these "abuses of power" provoked by anti-social elements from a better position where you won't be mistaken for one of the law breakers in the heat of the moment, and stop thinking that police officers are somehow unable to distinguish between innocent and guilty in that moment any more than you seem capable of distinguishing between a police officer fighting scared or fighting for fun.