Monday, June 27

For democracy to prosper, clashes between protesters and police require proper scrutiny | Police

TOAfter protests in Bristol turned sour last week, an account came to light when numerous media outlets peppered reports from Avon and Somerset police that officers’ injuries included broken bones and a collapsed lung.

For the average reader, such headlines helped build an incriminating and unsympathetic portrait of the protesters as lawless thugs. Given that it was a protest against the police bill, a law that gives authorities broad powers to ban any protest, the story of a beleaguered force fighting to contain the mob was politically expedient. Controlling the narrative is a precondition for winning any political battle.

Later in the week, the force reported no serious injuries. This correction did not receive coverage comparable to the original story. Interestingly, an NHS service worker told the Observer that no officers received hospital treatment, while “the designated hospital for the protesters was awash with injuries.”

However, with most of the media uncritically repeating the original claims of the police, the narrative was of a mob of protesters versus a besieged police force. State forces were described as requiring ever wider powers, while dissidents required greater containment. It is easy to see how these narratives can lead to, as one former police chief warned, “paramilitary surveillance.”

What is so jarring about the media’s deference to the police is not just that the fourth estate defines itself as bravely speaking the truth to power while all too often found complicit in the stripping of hard-won rights, but that this credulity seems immune to the lessons. of history. The media has repeatedly amplified false police claims about demonized “others”: striking workers, working-class soccer fans, protesters, and black people.

In some cases, there have been concerns that media organizations have actively collaborated to facilitate outright dishonesty by the police. After the “Battle of Orgreave”, a clash at the height of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, the miners and the Independent Police Complaints Commission reported that the BBC published the coverage in the wrong order to make it appear that the miners had started a violent confrontation, when in reality it was the other way around. The BBC has never officially accepted this account. Most of the media did little to reveal the active cover-up of police brutality in Orgreave and the miners’ battle for justice remains.

When police unleashed brutality against environmental activists, anti-nuclear protesters and festival goers heading to Stonehenge in 1985 (pregnant women were among those who were beaten by officers), most of the media refrained from reporting on what happened. The widespread demonization of festival goers paved the way for the repressive Public Order Act of 1986.

The worst was yet to come. In 1989, the Sun reported that police lied about Liverpool fans in the Hillsborough Stadium disaster, paralyzing the struggle of grieving families for justice. The legacy of this still lives on today, and the newspaper is widely boycotted in Merseyside.

When police swept up protesters from the climate camp at Kingsnorth Power Station in 2008, they justified their costly and belligerent operation with widely publicized reports of injuries. Thanks to freedom of information requests from the Liberal Democrats, it turned out that those “injuries” were actually bug bites, diarrhea and toothaches.

In 2009, when homeless newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson died on the way home while walking through protests during the G20 summit, the London Evening Standard peppered police claims and the headline read: “Police Throw Bricks While help the dying. ” It was only thanks to the video of the events of a private citizen that this narrative was changed.

Tomlinson had been hit from behind without provocation by a police officer, throwing him to the ground in what an investigation later found to be an unlawful homicide. More recently, Sussex police had to apologize after falsely claiming that large numbers of Crystal Palace fans attempted to enter a football game armed with “knives and fists.”

Too often, much of the media has failed to vigorously scrutinize police complaints, pass them off as fact, or actively assist in spreading false narratives. The dangers are self-explanatory: you run the risk of fabricating consent for the stripping of rights and freedoms on the basis of false claims.

Several diligent journalists reported that the protests in Bristol were peaceful until aggressive policing began – that in itself should start a conversation about the role of the police in a state where citizens have the right to collectively unite to make their voices heard. But an authoritarian mindset within the police, as seems to be exemplified by a senior official who uses Twitter to declare that “peaceful protest is a qualified, not absolute right” and that “technically we are servants of the crown, not public servants”, it is not being vigorously questioned. .

The consensus between the media, the police and a government determined to repeal the rights won by our ancestors, including those beaten with police batons, threatens our democracy and must be denounced as such.

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