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Policing and Justice in the Context of Uprisings

Policing and Justice in the Context of Uprisings

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Published by Mhairi Mcalpine
A short op-ed peace on justice and policing in the context of protest and a call on the activist community to ensure safety, security and justice where the police are unable or unwilling
A short op-ed peace on justice and policing in the context of protest and a call on the activist community to ensure safety, security and justice where the police are unable or unwilling

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Published by: Mhairi Mcalpine on Aug 08, 2011
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08/08/2011

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Policing and Justice in the Context of Uprisings
 The events of the weekend in London shows the level of anger present in localcommunities in the capital of the UK. Riots unseen since the early 1980s haveraged for two days across a seven mile stretch of North London. This occurs inthe context of uprisings across Europe, particularly in Greece and Spain asausterity measures kick in and ordinary people feel the pain of the banker’scrisis. With the euro plummeting, and no end in sight to the chaos, it is unlikelythat this pain will cease anytime soon. The character of the events in London arevery different however to that which has happened in Greece. The politics of thesituation, high on the foreground in Greece fueling the anger are less overt in theLondon Riots – where the anger is more guttural and less well channelled, ignitedand fuelled by a Metropolitan police force which is rapidly being exposed ascorrupt, unaccountable and fundamentally untruthful.“No justice, no peace” goes the slogan shouted at the police time and time againin Tottenham on Saturday night as cars, vans buses and shops were set alight. The police killing of a man under what would seem very dubious circumstances,followed by the beating of a young girl by multiple police in full riot gear as shetried to hold the police to account, set fourth an outpouring of anger. For nearly12 hours, Tottenham burnt; the police completely lost control of the suburb asthe pent up rage of the community was unleashed. People on the grounddescribed a near carnival atmosphere as people felt the strength of flexing theirmuscles and the endorphin rush of exercising their power.As Tottenham blazed however, the dangers of the riot became apparent. Peoplewere forced to flee their homes as the flames licked nearer, the streets becamea frightening place as the clashes turned violent and the unpredictability of boththe police and the rioters left many residents, particularly the elderly, disabledand those with young children, feeling very unsafe. The relationship between the revolutionary and the police is a tense one. On theone hand the police forms part of the repressive state apparatus, protecting thestate, which protects capital; on the other hand they are a welcome sight if someone jumps you late at night and steals your ipod. Justice is necessary inany community . At the moment we rely on the police, as mandated by the stateto perform this function, but they do not perform this role impartially. Knowingtheir paymasters, the police will clamp down heavily on live teenagers who hackinto corporations computers, but turn a blind eye to corporations who hack intodead teenagers phones. They will arrest people en masse who occupy thepremises of corporations which practice tax evasion, but they will skim overinvestigations into tax evasions into those same corporations which occupy highstreet space in those people’s towns. The rapid spread of information occasioned by the widespread use of socialmedia is rapidly exposing the double standard of policing which operates in thiscountry. And there is justifiable anger. While the revolutionary rightly condemnspolicing in the interests of the state, there is no question that policing isnecessary. The Tottenham riot saw vulnerable people placed in dangerous
 
situations as the burning rage took hold, while on the following night, the lootingof stores saw the young, fit and mobile acquire high value goods through thesheer force of might. Although within the activist community we havedeveloped legal observers to ensure protester safety at the hands of the police,however the events of the weekend demonstrate that we must go beyond that todevelop our public order monitoring – one which prioritises people over propertyand protects people from their own rage.Like the events of the student protests of 9
th
November 2010, saw a spontaneouseruption in the face of the introduction of £9K fees for students in England –effectively making higher education the preserve of the wealthy, and ensuringdebt-slavery for anyone seeking a degree who didn’t have such familyadvantages. While most of the offences associated with the student protests –including Bryan Simpson, accused of knocking off a policeman’s helmet andfacing three years in prison and Alfie Medows charged with violent disorder(despite nearly dying of a brain haemorrhage after he was brutally attacked bypolice) and are trivial and designed purely to scare future protesters, thethrowing of a fire extinguisher from the roof of Millbank tower was a dangerousand reckless act and one which could have resulted in serious injury or death. There is no doubt that the 17 year old kid who did this had no such intentions,but was merely caught up in the atmosphere and did not properly think throughthe consequences of his actions. It does however highlight that in the context of a demonstration protesters have the responsibility to keep others safe, not onlyfrom the police and state, but also – and perhaps even more so – from their own.Had that fire extinguisher killed someone, there would not only be a familygrieving, but a young man who would have to live forever with a death on hisconscience.Property is fair game for destruction – as Durruti said
“We are not afraid of ruins,it is we the workers who built these cities, we can build others to take their  place, and better ones
” and the fury unleashed on the streets of Tottenham isquite understandable, however by the following night, that fury had turned toopportunism as shops were systematically looted of high value goods. Theftfrom corporations is scant course for worry, however this kind of looting,prompted not be need as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but by greed,allowing the stronger, more able and younger members of the community tomaterially advantage themselves at the expense of the security of the rest of thepopulation is concerning. People are far more important than property, and theactivists first concern when managing behaviour within the context of protest orrioting must be to ensure the safety of both the participants and the widercommunity, however there is a broader goal of ensuring a just distribution of material assets. Changing the distribution system from those who areempowered by financial capital to those who are empowered by immediatephysical capital will lead not to a dictatorship of the proletariat, but to adictatorship of the mob.If the experiences of the early 80s are anything to go by, the student protestsand London Riots are likely to be just a beginning. Why should those who are

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