G20 Protests: Perspectives on Police Tactics, Part 3 – Dispassionate Mechanism

The two perspectives considered in the last couple of posts were both very person-oriented: they treated police and protesters as individual or collective persons. It’s also possible to look at protests in a more mechanical way, treating choices people make as a function of their circumstances so as to consider the dynamics of the system they form.

For example, there has been a fair bit of discussion recently of ‘kettling’ – some people have considered trying to challenge its legality (it is, after all, basically a form of ‘arresting’ people in one place for a matter of hours). One way to approach the question is to consider a kettling situation mechanically: what things does it increase and what things does it decrease?

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Protests Etc.

In previous posts I talked about different ways to understand a protest – as a legitmate action within the system, and as the embryo of a different system. In this post I want to put that in context.

Since I’ve been pretty pro-protest so far, I might as well admit that protests, marches, rallies, and the like have major limitations. Most obviously, they are largely symbolic actions, not effective actions. Unlike a boycott, a blocade, sending money, organising services, or just damaging the buildings of the Bad Guys, they don’t actually acheive anything – they just express a collective feeling. But I don’t think this is a reason to consider protests ‘less worth doing’ than such actions, as much as complementary: we need to do the symbolic and the effective.

Read the rest of this entry »

More on the Meaning of Protest

On reading my last post, a sceptical reader might proffer (i.e. half propose, half offer) some questions. Such as ‘isn’t this blanket defense of violence on protests an excuse for every bunch of thugs who want to go out and start a fight?’ and ‘if it’s true that the point of protests is to develop an embryonic rival sovereignty, are they actually very good at doing that?’

In relation to the second, I’ll comment in a later post, while this one will consider the first. If protests are the embryos of alternative societies then they can be judged as such. For example, to take the strongest example of ‘bad protester violence’, the pogrom (meant in a general sense, as targetting any group, not just jewish people). Here the protest group’s violence is directed at a section of the population, singled out by ethnicity. The implication to draw is simple: the society here created is not a society that can include multiple races, but one such that members of the targetted group can only be members through forcible subjugation.

Anarchist violence is the direct opposite. To the best of my knowledge, the last half a century of anarchist activities (and related groups, like protests at WTO summis, or yesterday’s protests) have not¬†killed any ‘civilians’ and have injured only a handful (mainly in bombings, which isn’t what I’m on about here)¬†– they have confronted the police, i.e. those specialised in the use of violence. The number of people killed or injured by police brutality is many times larger. Violence that is successful in acheiving obedience is invisible – as long as everybody obeys the law, the police never hit anyone (well, not quite). But their inherently violent role becomes visible when it is confronted with a disobedient rival order.

Read the rest of this entry »

Their Meaning of Protest vs. Ours

Today I went to London’s Gaza Solidarity protest, which was ‘successful’ in as much as it got truly vast numbers of people – the police say 12,000 but the organisers say 200,000, and from being there all I can say is that I was constantly thinking ‘wait, there’s MORE of us?’

As is always the case on these kinds of things, the negative attitude toward Israel’s government and its policies was the only real constant – apart from that there was huge diversity. I personally carried a ‘no gods no masters’ banner right next to people chanting ‘God is Great!’ in arabic. The speakers too didn’t have a coherent line – some were clearly pro-Hamas, others clearly anti. This is natural. I hope I don’t soon stumble over people trying to smear the march as homogenously one thing or the other, but then I’m sure no-one would ever stoop to such a ridiculous low.

Anyway, only after getting back did I learn of how heated events at the front got (a tribute to the sheer size of the thing) – essentially, there were scuffles between people trying to block entry to the Israeli embassy and people trying to occupy it (the former being police). Similar things happened at a similar march last saturday.

The discourse around these kinds of incidents always intrigues me. Essentially, police say things like “A hard core of demonstrators are undermining the cause of the vast majority of people on this demonstration, who are law abiding citizens wishing to protest peacefully.” And protest organisers respond with things like “I have never seen policing as irresponsible as this.” Both sides try to project belligerence and, if I may use a usually emotive word as dispassionately as possible, violence, onto the other. Both sides want to project themselves as entirely non-violent, as ‘peaceful’ and ‘legitimate’.

I think that’s a mistake.

Read the rest of this entry »