G20 Protests: Perspectives on Police Tactics, Part 2 – Militant Strategy

As I said in Part 1, the liberal or moralistic perspective on the police works from the assumption that both protesters and police have a valid goal and should therefore endeavour to find a compromise (the beloved “right to, and duty to facilitate, legitimate protest) in which both can ‘do their job’.

I know of no better definition of ‘militant’ than the rejection of this assumption. Thus the second perspective to take on police tactics is this: that the goals of protesters are opposed to the goals of the police, that ultimately no compromise is possible, and that therefore neither side need concern themselves with preserving the basis of such a compromise.

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Some Facts

This is meant to be principally a philosophy blog, so forgive this brief interlude to focus on relatively un-processed facts.


1) someone has died during yesterday’s protests;

2) the police have claimed that while trying to help him, they were pelted with bottles by protesters;

3) the police have a long and established history of lying, lying, and then lying some more about deaths that they cause;

4) many major news sources are reporting that “police trying to help the man were pelted with bottles” and not that “police claim that they were pelted with bottles while trying to help the man”;

5) most other sources would, in my personal estimation, probably be quoted and put in quote marks, especially if it had a long history of lying;

6) the figure of the masked black-wearer is often used as a symbol of menace and unfriendliness;

7) in my very personal experience yesterday, masked black-wearers were very often the first to offer help to those who had been injured or were being harassed or arrested.

That is all.

Edited to add:

8. The noun ‘bottle’ can apply both to glass objects, which are heavy, hard and rigid, and plastic objects, which are light, soft, and flexible, and also to both objects filled with liquid and to empty objects.

9) There appeared, in my very limited experience yesterday, to be at least a good few empty plastic bottles being thrown, though also at least one glass bottle (which was thrown late at night in the scuffles outside, not inside, the camp).

G20 Protests: Perspectives on Police Tactics, Part 1 – Liberal Moralism

The way that people approach and evaluate police tactics depends to a great extent on what initial perspective they take. I want to discuss three such perspectives, using examples from yesterday’s G20 protests.

The first and easiest perspective is to take everyone at their word, abstract from the concrete goals involved, and be a liberal. People have the right to protest within limits, and police have the right to control them within limits. It’s all about the limits. Police and protesters are bound together by a shared framework of rules and limits and are essentially on the same side. They are not enemies – they are friends who disagree over something.

This produces a moralistic mode of evaluation: were the police “restrained” or were they “brutal” (to use one of those lovely words founded on the equation non-human=mindless violence)? Did they use “enough” force or “too much”? And conversely, were the protesters “extreme”? Were they “violent” (i.e. did they shoot anyone in the head, or did they chalk a circle-A onto a wall – both could qualify as “violence”)?

In short, when the supposed “rules of the game” break down (as they often do) who started it? Who was being a ‘peaceful and legitimate’ protester and who was being a ‘thug’?

Now I said this is the easiest perspective to get into, but it’s also the hardest to defend. It’s easy because it simply accepts so much of the framing provided by the rest of society – it accepts the idea that we’re all in this together, with an essentially shared interest, that we all at some level agree on the ‘rules’ of how to resolve disagreements, that those rules are fair and just, that the initial goals of the two sides (police and protesters) are equally valid. None of this is true.

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