Opinion: 6 lessons to be learned from the G20 policing

On the 16th February this year, it became illegal to take pictures of police “engaged in anti-terrorist measures” – a legal move widely seen as a prohibition on photographing the police at all, and a power that the police have already taken advantage of to the fullest extent (see, for example, this report in The Guardian).

Notwithstanding this ban, I bravely picked up my camera and set off on April 1st to the various G20 demos, to act as an observer and legal adviser if needed. I was not alone! Lib Dem MP Tom Brake was there (you can watch his YouTube video report here), along with lawyers and politicians anxious – but hopeful – that the rights to free assembly and protest enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights would be upheld.

It is important to recognise that there is nothing anti-police in monitoring the conduct of our uniformed public servants. Indeed, recognising the difficult job that the police do, I always make a point of praising the police where merited, whether locally in partnership working at local council level, or for effective policing at national level.

The policing of the G20 demo, however, was a disgrace, and despite the photography ban it was the sheer volume of film clips and photos that have unmasked unsympathetic, politicised and violent conduct by police officers who should be there to protect peaceful protest, not prevent it. See, for example, this article in The Times.

A Google search on ‘G20 demo’ will show thousands more, on blogs and networking sites – and of course the mainstream media – which have picked up many of these, and run stories unusually sympathetic to demonstrators normally dismissed as anarchist or violent.

For my part, I saw an elderly gentleman being struck on the arm by a policeman – or woman – wielding a baton. I could not identify gender as said officer had a balaclava which, combined with helmet, obscured all facial features bar the eyes. My photograph redundant for identification, I went to ask the officer for a shoulder number but was pushed back, falling to the floor as a result.

I will – along with Tom Brake, and hundreds of others – be making a complaint to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. But what broader lessons can be learned from all this?

For the police:-
1. Learn to distinguish between those committing acts of violence or criminal offences, and lawful citizens, and act accordingly.
2. Do not hide identity, by obscuring of features or removal of shoulder numbers. Be accountable.

For demonstrators:-
1. Act respectfully to fellow protestors and the police.
2. Take a camera-and use it!

For Politicians:-
1. Hold the police to account.
2. Challenge the laws that are wrong, or being wrongly used, and do not be afraid to protect and defend our civil liberties.

* Greg Foxsmith is a Lib Dem councillor in Islington, and executive member for the environment.

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  • As a veteran of the massive anti-Cruise missile demo of the early 80s (?) I find it very sad that the policing of such an event has changed so dramatically.

    We had a huge march, all very good-natured, the police ranged from friendly to o.k. to p****ed off but correct. In fact it was such good fun I did the march twice, first with the Lib Dem contingent, then I doubled back and did it again with a bunch of Aberystwyth students!

    Not sure the police would take kindly to doubling back these days ……..

  • David Evans 24th Apr '09 - 1:38am

    Totally agreed, with one addition.

    To the British People – Realise that Labour are the new authoritarian fascists and never vote them into office again.

  • When I went to the climate camp protest last summer, I (and everyone else) was searched on entry and exit.

    The nonsense explanation I was given was to detect weapons to prevent violence. But as I pointed to the officers, that was an odd basis to search me on exit!

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