Wednesday 8 April 2009

Einstein's wise words

My signature on the Galaxy Zoo Forum is a quote from Einstein: "Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding."

It sounds serene and peaceful, and very obvious too. I changed to it from a rather more blatantly political signature, Steve Biko's "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed", for various reasons - for example, it looked (though is not meant to be) a bit too aggressive for a moderator, and indeed a bit ironic when I had to remove forum posts (at least in the eyes of those who deem it as necessary to swear or use sexual language as to voice their political opinion). And who could complain that I quote the great scientist?

It appears that the riot police would. I've been getting increasingly disgusted with the Independent in the last few years and haven't been paying the attention I should to the news - it's so easy to live peacefully in Pembrokeshire. Good job I started following Amnesty International on Twitter and noticed their daily blogs. This one led me to a very shocking video from my home town of London.

Ian Tomlinson was, according to the Guardian, simply walking home from work. Watch for yourself; can you see any sign that he was involved in the G20 demonstration, let alone the least threat to the police?
This man was killed. He seems to have been beaten 3 times with a baton as well as falling to the ground. He died of a heart attack* a few minutes later. The police claim they tried to resuscitate him and it was all the protestors' fault he died for impeding the ambulance. Can you see much sign that they were concerned for his welfare here? I can't.

Update: It wasn't even a heart attack, but internal bleeding. The newspapers finally released that story a few days ago.

That is not the way to keep the peace. Not only is it evil, it's stupid. Police are there to get people to behave properly, right? Randomly killing innocents won't encourage that.

The passer-by who handed the video in to the Guardian was a New York businessman, who'd wandered in out of curiosity. He states that "the family were clearly not getting any answers". You can read more witness statements here; one of them, "C", states that Ian Tomlinson had already been assaulted by the time he got to the site on video. I wonder if one policeman radioed another to say "trouble-causer coming towards you wearing a blue and white shirt"?

The IPCC first turned the story over to the Metropolitan Police, which sounds rather like a teacher telling a weeping bully victim to take their complaint to the bully, but then changed their mind. The patronising language quoted in the newspapers - such as "raises obvious concerns" and "the unfortunate death" - makes me sick. They'd be using different language about any death of one of their own.

I don't think this is an isolated incident. I did glance through the letters of Monday's Independent - check out the one at the top. Someone in my family used to live in a road next to a London football stadium. After a match, the police forbade him to enter that road. He said, "But I live there." Their reply? "Not today, you don't."

This said, condemning all police officers won't bring Ian Tomlinson back to life, or help next time the riot police are called. There are many very civilised police men and women, who are probably suffering from just the kind of contempt and disapproval I got from some of the public when I decided to try teaching - the resentment of an unfeeling, paper-pushing, bossy bastion of the government who neither knows nor cares about the real needs of the people they're supposed to be serving. It's gruelling to work in a system gone rotten, but trying to smuggle in some good when you can; it wears you down and shortens your life and makes you feel there's no hope. A policeman my family knows says that police successes are never praised; another one's health was ruined by the culture of excessive drinking.

I rather suspect the culture is similar to that of education; it's lost its values. Or rather, values have been replaced by trademarks of how much you're putting up with. Or maybe people just aren't being brought up properly because their parents are forbidden to spend any time with them, and they're not learning civilsation?

It was Robert Peel who thought up the idea of a national police force, which is why they're often called "bobbies". Say what you will about the police, it's far better than the predecessor - rich landowners having their own private armies. But the police should be friends to the public, not enemies. Equipping them with bullet-proof cars with tinted windows, and all that gear and batons, cuts them off like a dictator in an armoured tank. Hmmmm. Now, how to effect a change like that?

But the most important thing is not to be cowardly. Don't accept others' right to attack people because they have a baton and uniform. If by any tiny chance you a) are reading this, b) were there, and c) haven't said anything - please do so. If you don't speak, you're not being neutral; you're propping up injustice. Yes, I have been on demonstrations and will continue to do so when I can. If Blair can spout about how "we will not allow the British way of life to be spoiled by terrorists" (no - only by your Big Brother State, mate), then - protestors, don't allow your protests to be spoiled, either. Cameras for cameras, too. They can film the public and hold data on us, but the public can do the same thing.

Sigh. Wouldn't a bit of civilised co-operation work so much better?

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