A feature of confrontational policing is very bad acting. At a protest yesterday (March 14th 2021) in Parliament Square, Westminster, called in response to police violence at a vigil on Clapham Common the day before, the commanding officer dramatically ordered a small group of his team to “protect Churchill!” Half a dozen officers surrounded the plinth of a statue of former prime minister Winston Churchill.
The statue was not threatened by protesters prior to the commander’s instruction. There was no reason for him to believe that interference with the statue was imminent. His shouted command, issued within earshot of journalists and broadcasters, and the subsequent protection squad deployment were part of a pre-planned stunt to nudge perspectives of observers toward the view that Winston was about to be violated. The presence of officers around the statue had the added bonus of encouraging people to vandalise it.
Such bad acting by the police commander was a display of his contempt for the protesters. He also revealed his low opinion of media and MPs who he assumed would be taken in by his performance, and he was right to assume that: Within minutes of the statue protection deployment right-wing influencers bemoaned how awful it was that Churchill needed to be protected.
The Police Federation reacted to a statement from Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) National Women’s Committee on police violence at the vigil on Clapham Common.
FBU National Women’s Committee: “The scenes last night from Clapham Common were shocking and unacceptable. A peaceful vigil to mourn and remember Sarah Everard became a display of disproportionate aggression and power at a time when the world needs to see compassion, understanding and support.
The FBU National Women’s Committee stand in solidarity with the women who were manhandled, pushed to the ground, separated from their friends and arrested by the police last night. These draconian and authoritative actions have no place in a democratic society.
This was a clear demonstration of the patriarchy’s inability to comprehend the reality and scope of male violence against women and girls. Those responsible for the decisions to approach this vigil in such a way should be held accountable.
The right to peaceful protest is a cornerstone of democracy and we call upon anyone who values the freedoms of civil society to speak against the attempts to curtail these freedoms and limit our right to be heard. Last night demonstrated that allowing the police to lead the response and set the level of restriction to peaceful protest would be a catastrophic mistake.
We fully support the statement from reclaim these streets and stand in solidarity with our sisters everywhere.”
Police Federation: “These are appalling words from Emergency Services colleagues. Police and firefighters often work side by side in testing environments – they should be showing solidarity. For the FBU to make such a sweeping statement without being aware of the facts is embarrassingly out of touch.”
The two statements above contrasted markedly. One was accurate, concise, intelligent and considered; the other was deceptive, hollow, stupid and petulant.
The comment about FBU being “out of touch” revealed how Police Federation think there is popular support for extreme authoritarianism and showed the ingrained political perspective of the federation: The “out of touch” remark echoed rhetoric from far-right influencers and activists.
Rightly, Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick received strong criticism for the violence and decision-making at Clapham Common. Her professional history, including her part in the execution of Jean Charles De Menezes and its subsequent cover-up and the secrecy of her role when working for military intelligent services from 2015 to 2017, should have precluded her from public office and should have led to prosecution but, instead, contributed to her promotion to commissioner.
It is not just at the top where policing is political, biased and anti-democratic. The responses from serving officers to the Police Federation statement quoted above were riddled with phraseology and warped logic associated with propagandists in far-right lobby groups.
The police haven’t changed. The political bias, keenness for violent crackdowns, protection of property well ahead of protection of the public and suppression of protests, pickets and demonstrations are all key facets of policing as they have been since the nineteenth century. Police violence on Saturday (March 13th) was typical and there was worse at Black Lives Matter and at Extinction Rebellion protests.
As effects of Tory Brexit intensify police behaviour will intensify.