‘Political policing’ of G20 protests could lead to riots
Police warnings that protests against next week’s G20 summit in London could turn violent are provocative and likely to be self-fulfilling
Next week Gordon Brown plays host to the G20 Summit in the midst of the gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression. With the conference expected to draw the largest mass protests since the Iraq war, events outside the conference chambers have become the subject of official trepidation.
On Saturday, trade unionists, NGOs and Christian activists will march through London to call for fair trade and reform of the world financial system. On April 1, climate change campaigners intend to camp outside the European Climate Exchange in Bishopsgate, while a quasi-anarchist group calling itself G20 Meltdown plans to 'reclaim the City' with four 'themed processions' based on the Four Riders of the Apocalypse.
These protests are being talked up by the police and the media in equally apocalyptic terms. In January, Superintendent David Hartshorn of the Metropolitan Police's public order branch predicted that the summit could ignite a British 'summer of rage' in response to the crisis. Hartshorn offered no evidence to support this claim, but such pre-publicity tends to generate expectations that can become self-fulfilling.
20,000 US troops are being redeployed from Iraq for ‘domestic emergencies’
It can also provide a justification for the kind of police overkill that was evident at previous high-profile summits at Seattle and Genoa. More than 3,000 police will be deployed for the G20, and history shows that such a large presence can be provocative. In recent years the police have shown an increasingly willingness to use excessive police force against protesters.
This week a 70-page report by the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights criticised the heavy-handed police response to protests such as last year's climate change camp at the Kingsnorth power station and 2007's showdown at Heathrow's Terminal 5, when riot police attacked peaceful protesters with baton charges, pepper spray and horses.
Such behaviour harks back to the worst years of the Thatcher era, but today's police are bolstered by anti-terrorist legislation, with its blurring of the boundaries between protest and 'terrorism.' Nowadays anyone attending a demonstration can be filmed by police and the images stored on a criminal database. Under Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act, filming or photographing police may constitute a criminal offence, if police decide that such images are "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".
Photography has traditionally provided a brake to police excesses and provided evidence when such excesses take place - and its potential criminalisation does not bode well, at a time when governments are becoming increasingly preoccupied by the spectre of "civil unrest". Last September the US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute predicted that "widespread civil violence" might entail the use of "military force against hostile groups inside the United States".
The US Army has since announced that 20,000 soldiers will be redeployed from Iraq to assist the Department of Homeland Security to deal with domestic 'emergencies'. These troops will be the first to be equipped with 'non-lethal weapons' including tasers and 'bean-bag bullets'. Similar contingency plans are believed to exist in Canada and also in the UK, according to the Daily Express, which recently claimed that the MoD is prepared to use the army 'as a last resort' to deal with civil disorder.
All this raises disturbing questions about the way democratic governments propose to respond to the inevitable consequences of the ongoing economic collapse. Last winter IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned of worldwide violence "if the financial system was not restructured to benefit everyone rather than a small elite."
There is little indication that the G20 leaders have either the will or the desire to do any such thing, but events may yet force their hand. Last week three million people demonstrated in France against the government's handling of the crisis. Both the World Bank and the Economist Intelligence Unit have just issued equally dire warnings that a global 'pandemic' of civil unrest may topple governments across the world.
Whatever happens inside or outside the conference chamber next week, those who wish to avoid further 'unrest' would do well to listen to the voices from the street, and come up with something better than riot shields and police batons if they want to remain in power. ·
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