March 6th, 2010
|01:01 pm - Trafalgar Square demo police brutality|
I blogged a little while ago about the demonstration in Trafalgar Square towards the end of the Miners' Strike, at which I saw police brutality for the first time. As it is now 25 years since that time, there has been quite a bit of blog comment on it. Here is a Crooked Timber post by someone who was also there:
Somewhere around Whitehall a group of police officers surrounded a group of marchers and (seemingly without provocation) started attacking people in a fairly systematic way.
And a commentator responds:
I remember that very, very well. I had just reached Trafalgar Square when it happened and although I’d had the whole year of the strike to get used to it (May 1984, in Mansfield, remains the only time I’ve ever been struck by a policeman) it still had an enormous effect. You’re looking downwards, from Trafalgar Square, at Whitehall, with the Houses of Parliament behind, and seeing, with that backdrop, the police just charging and charging into the crowd was as indelible an image as I’ve ever experienced.
I had just left Trafalgar Square because I met a woman I knew and we decided to go for a coffee (middle class wimp alert!). I got caught up in it but luckily not hurt or arrested.
There is some discussion in that blog post about why the police were so violent that day. Were they ardent Thatcherites? Was it just that some people look for permission to be violent, and as soon as (they feel) official permission has been extended to them, go for it? I suspect it was a male-hierarchy thing that got out of hand. Here is the comment I have just posted at Crooked Timber.
I was on the edge of this event, because I had just met an old friend by chance and we decided to call it a day and go and have a coffee. The police sealed off the street we were in (I think it was Whitehall Place – can’t remember) and compressing the crowd there very tightly, then drove big white vans into the trapped mass of people. These were mostly families and stragglers. I saw parents passing their children overhead and lowering them over the iron fences at the front of the government buildings – there’s a small area between the walls and the iron, and the van couldn’t drive there. Everyone else was dangerously crushed. People could easily have been killed.
Hillsborough happened, what – four years later?
(sorry I am posting a lot today - I'll stop now)
Was it just that some people look for permission to be violent, and as soon as (they feel) official permission has been extended to them, go for it?
That would be my pick. Unfortunately if you give people the opportunity to be oppressive they'll generally take it. I think it applies regardless of race, gender, political creed, etc. I don't think anybody is immune from the temptation to abuse power. You only have to look at the extent of completely unnecessary social control and petty interference in our lives that we now take for granted.
It's one of the many reasons I no longer bother having any active involvement in politics. I don't think any particular party is the problem. It's politics that is the problem.
In the eighties I went to many different demonstrations, and the behaviour of the police at Miners' demos was markedly worse. It may be that, as you say, for some reason the tacit permission was there in that case and not in others. It may be something to do with rival images of masculinity. Miners seen as harder than police. It may be simple classism, like racism.
I still think it's the universal human instinct to push other people around if they get the chance, and everyone will behave the same way given the opportunity. As much as I detest macho posturing I don't think gender is a factor in this case. The worst macho posturing in those days was being done by a woman, a certain Maggie Thatcher. Which just shows that women are every bit as inclined to be violent bullies as men are.
And if the media points to a certain target group as being a dangerous threat then it's even easier to fall into that oppressive role. And I certainly don't think violent anti-union sentiments were confined to women. Some of the most violent anti-union sentiments I've heard have been expressed by women. Try talking to my ex sister-in-law about unions. She'd have been happy to have all trade unionists lined up and shot.
I doubt if class hatred was a factor, unless British cops were recruited mostly from the ruling class.
I've become very very cynical about human nature. Or perhaps I've just lost the illusions I used to have.
Edited at 2010-03-06 04:26 pm (UTC)
I think class hatred is rarely upper beating lower. The just-above-working police beat the working class Miners, which differentiated them more clearly in their own minds from those they beat. But who sets the scope within which they are empowered to beat up others, or in which they have to prove themselves different?
The just-above-working police beat the working class Miners, which
differentiated them more clearly in their own minds from those they beat.
That's a possibility, although I'm more inclined to think that cops hit people because they like hitting people. That's why they become cops. Just as soldiers join the army because they think the idea of killing people is really cool.
These days I lean towards psychological explanations rather than political ones. I think political causes are often used to disguise a basic human pleasure in picking on other humans. I don't buy class or gender explanations. My flatmate was brutalised at a private school (or public school as you call them in the UK). She was brutalised by other girls.
Take any oppressed group and reverse the situation, and they'll behave just as badly as their former oppressors.
And cops will hit people, any people, regardless of class, ethnicity or gender, if they're given permission. It's the psychology of being a cop.
Remember the outrage of the hunt supporters when they found out the police could push around their demonstrators too?