New Internationalist

Shouldn’t police chase the real criminals?

On Sunday, the Guardian’s website ran a bizarre piece about British police officers infiltrating activist groups in the 1980s. And as we know from the recent Mark Kennedy case (among others) this is still happening today. For most people who know Britain, it’s unbelievable, completely surreal.

It was obviously a huge breach of the trust placed by some victims who had formed serious relationships, and were presumably in love, with the fake activist cops: a total betrayal of innocent individuals. That the police have conned them so cruelly, merely to get inconsequential information, is simply not acceptable.

Apparently, in the skewed policing system, hardened criminals seem to have more rights. This was long before 9\11, mind you, so no major threats to national security. Perhaps it was Thatcherism: putting peaceniks, protesters and leftists in their place along with crushing the unions.

A lot of people, tourists especially, may find it strange because the ‘London Bobby’ is something of an iconic figure worldwide. It’s impossible to connect the image of your average British Bobby with such a sinister and devious operation. The spy from the Guardian article with his longish tousled hair, certainly didn’t look like a cop or 007 type. If you excuse the stereotyping, he actually looks like how I imagine a chap from Greenpeace would look!

There’s a distinct feeling of outrage, because, for God’s sake, Greenpeace activists are obviously not the epitome evil. Can’t the police see that?

I’m intrigued by this question when I read about protests around the world. And when I watch police brutality like the pepper-spraying of an unarmed woman protester during the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York, I wonder, what goes on in their heads that they can’t differentiate between murderers, rapists, paedophiles and ordinary, decent citizens fighting for their rights?

Activists are generally fighting for the rights of the community and this community includes the police and their families. So how do the police manage to totally prevent themselves from identifying and sympathizing with these groups?

Do they not see that the protesters in New York, Chicago and London are the good guys? Is the police force so dumbed down that its members stop thinking? Surely even the average policeman is outraged and disgusted by the happenings of the last few years when bankers and CEOs walked off with millions while old people who’ve worked hard all their lives are told their pensions have vanished into thin air? Can they not feel the injustice of it all?

In the US, some marines have crossed over to the protests, saying they’ve had enough. So if the army, which is trained to obey orders without question and drilled into accepting a chain of command that is centuries, possibly millennia, old, can begin to see the light, why not the police?

During the Indian fight against colonialism, Gandhi and the Freedom Movement had a lot of the police and army on their side. Though of course, there were men who remained loyal to the bosses who paid their salaries.

I saw a YouTube video where US protesters had placards telling the police: ‘Wall Street is taking your money too.’ When Britain marched against the poll tax, did the police not feel the protesters were fighting their fight too?

How about if all of us, folk who want a decent world, free of corruption and injustice, look at infiltrating the establishment? We could find a way to educate the police about the fact that it’s important to think, to feel, to understand that this is a fight for a better, cleaner world for all of us.

Can organizers and activist trainers put this into their handbooks? 

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  1. #1 Merrick 26 Oct 11

    Many activists have spent a long time on protests talking to cops, getting the whole 'my daughter's a vegetarian' speech in return. Then the order comes, the van doors open, and that same cop who you shared your biscuits with half an hour ago is now battering any and every head within reach.

    The premise of being a police officer is to say; 'give me laws and I will enforce them, no matter what i think, no matter whether they do more harm than good. And if the laws change, even to the opposite of what they are now, I will enforce them too'.

    In that context 'enforce' means using whatever it takes to ensure compliance and discourage disobedience, including violence and, as we've seen with the undercovers, psychological and sexual abuse.

    To be a cop is to have declared yourself morally bankrupt, beating people in order to make them comply with someone else's ideas of what is acceptable. It is worship of those who legislate and the savouring of being a rank above those who get beaten. When they put their uniform on, they suspend their common humanity and declare a greater allegiance to the rightness of the state.

    This is why most activists who start out with the 'educate the cops' perspective have it rapidly thrashed out of them by experience.

  2. #2 billg 27 Oct 11

    When Britain marched against the poll tax, did the police not feel the protesters were fighting their fight too?

    Well, no. They mostly kicked the shit out of people and drove their big vans into the crowd. Like cops do.

  3. #3 V.Vivekanandan 28 Oct 11

    Dear Mari, I share your outrage at these happenings. Protesting against the establishment and working for change of economic system is public service rather than crime.

    However, I would like to say that it may not be fair to see it as a fault of the police. It is their political masters who are really to be blamed. They are clearly interested in protecting the capitalist system and are ready to let go all democratic norms in their desperation. I do not think Mahatma Gandhi ever encouraged dissidence in the forces--police or army. He would have welcomed individual policemen to go against policies made by their political bosses provided they are ready to pay the price for that.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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