Posted Under: East London,London,Police,Sports,Uncategorized
I couldn’t make it to the Critical Mass last Friday. Judging from the reports that are coming out, though, the riders’ treatment by the police was terrible. Compare and contrast this with Saturday’s Whose Games? Whose City? protest, which I did attend. While the Critical Mass was given the full Hogan-Howe style Total Policing treatment (complete with strict bail conditions and injunctions for those arrested, despite no charges being brought for the majority), we had some open and friendly Protest Liaison Officers to talk us through ‘any issues’ we might have with the organisation of the demonstration. The protest passed off peacefully, in the sense that we were kept on the route that the police wanted us to take, we didn’t get near the Olympic park and the police only attempted to arrest one man, apparently for cutting some meat with a penknife.
We passed through very mixed neighbourhoods in Mile End and Bow and the majority of bystanders I saw were broadly supportive of the ethos of the demo. International press was well-represented, but of the British media I only saw Channel 4, and they weren’t interested in talking to any of the organisers. It’s good to make the point and do the march anyway, though, and Julian and all involved in organising the protest should be thanked (though I think the weekend before would have been a better date for the march – now that the games have started, the sport itself is too much in the spotlight for a protest which doesn’t break its boundaries to have any traction in the mass media).
I’d like to think about the Protest Liaison Officers, though. It seems that the two protests this weekend show the two faces of protest policing at the moment: on one side, the full force of the police’s power to arbitrarily determine what is legal or illegal at a given time, and against that, their ability to smooth over the distance between themselves and those to whom they are opposed, via ‘soft policing’ tactics like the PLOs (and speaking of arbitrary decisions, Wail Quasim has written a good bit for CiF explaining what the state of exception actually means)
[Photo by Rikki at Indymedia]
My friends and I had a chat with one of the Liaison Officers, and he appeared (erscheinen) to be a reasonable person – he used that conversational technique that police often employ, where they say, ‘oh but of course I would agree with you, but I’m in uniform so I can’t’: we’re all the same underneath, let’s just get on with our jobs. But they’re not the same as us.
What is it that the police actually do? They enforce the current social order, whether it’s by total policing and violence or by subtler forms of discipline. In order for this to work most effectively, they need to be relatively autonomous from their command structure. Richard Seymour at Lenin’s Tomb has currently the best analysis I’ve seen of the role of the police in Britain (here he is talking about police racism and the relative autonomy of their officers). The point he’s making here is that in structural terms, we shouldn’t think of ‘rogue officers’ and ‘bad apples’ as something separate from the normal operating of the police.
I’d suggest that we need to see the role of the Police Liaison Officers in the same light. They’re autonomous to the extent that they can empathise and sympathise with protestors, and they’re mostly officers with London accents seem local and friendly when opposed to the bussed-in forces from Kent, Manchester, South Wales – not to mention squaddies – who are policing the rest of the games.
They also serve the useful role of drawing flak away from the rest of the officers: if there’s a Liaison Officer present, the rank and file can direct you to them (this is a more advanced form of the strategic ignorance that officers manning a kettle practice). And most importantly, as well as drawing attention away from other officers on the protests they attend, they also help us to forget the kind of violent policing that took place at Critical Mass. I don’t know if there were any PLOs at that event, and I’d be interested to hear from anyone who saw or spoke to one there, but somehow I doubt it.