New Internationalist

Brute forces: a year of rough injustice

March 2012

An item from the Agenda section of the magazine, where we look beyond the news curve with reports and comment on breaking stories.

It’s been a bumper year for police brutality. We’ve seen women mauled by security forces in Egypt, journalists roughed up at the 15M demonstrations in Spain, and teargas canisters fired directly at protesters in Malaysia, to name but a few incidents.

‘There’s no question that it’s part of a global pattern,’ says Hannah Dee, spokesperson for Defend the Right to Protest. ‘Around the world we’re seeing growing movements of resistance and discontent against governments which are trying to impose unprecedented authoritarian measures and are resorting to force because they don’t have the consent of their populations.’

Mike Segar / Reuters
An Occupy Wall Street demonstrator is arrested by New York City police. Mike Segar / Reuters

The Occupy Movement in the US has provided some particularly disturbing examples of police savagery, not least the image from Occupy Seattle of 84-year-old Dorli Rainey being steadied by fellow protesters, her face dripping with milk used to counteract the effects of the pepper spray that officers had directed at her moments earlier. And suddenly people are sitting up and taking notice because the protesters being sprayed, beaten and dragged around by their hair are white-skinned and middle-class.

‘The treatment of young white people at Occupy opened people’s eyes to something that many people with dark skin have known about all along,’ says Jill Nelson, co-editor of Police Brutality. ‘Suddenly it wasn’t just racial, you couldn’t just say “well, they’re black so they must have done something wrong”.’

But still a disproportionate number of people on the receiving end of police violence are from ethnic minorities. The cases of 13-year-old Jimmell Cannon, shot eight times in a case of mistaken identity; and Flint Farmer, who was shot and killed when his phone was thought to be a gun, are just two examples of excessive force used by police against black people in the US in the last year. In Britain, the suspicious death of Smiley Culture during a police raid – ironically on 15 March – and the shooting of Mark Duggan – which sparked the London riots in August – also caused widespread outrage.

Deaths in police custody continue to be an issue, with more than 330 occurring since 1998 in the UK alone and not one person being convicted as a result. Maybe this is because eight out of the nine senior investigators at the Independent Police Complaints Commission are ex-police officers themselves.

This lack of accountability is a familiar story worldwide and the fact police can act with impunity is having a significant impact on the ability to protest. ‘The level of police repression and murder of innocent civilians and so-called suspects has, intentionally so, had a chilling effect on activism and the power to express opposition,’ says Jill Nelson. ‘If you feel that standing up to the police could get you seriously injured or killed then you’ll be much more likely to avoid doing so.’

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 450 This feature was published in the March 2012 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

Comments on Brute forces: a year of rough injustice

Leave your comment


  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

  1. #1 steve barone 15 Mar 12

    Deaths in police custody 330 since 1998 thats 23 - 24 a year and not one person has been convicted, and they get away with that, and then you find out 8 out of 9 investigators of the PCC are ex- police, thats not right is it most of us know what the police are like, but we do need them we need control of them and not the goverment

  2. #2 Nick Harvey 16 Mar 12

    Hi Steve,
    Sadly, 330 is actually a conservative figure. According to the IPCC's own [a href=’’]report there were 333 deaths in police custody in the UK from 1998/9 to 2008/9 so the figure up to and including 2012 is likely to be much higher.

  3. #3 Melissa Salisbury 29 Dec 12

    Internationally speaking, it has been a year of rough injustice....we have our own on the Big Island of Hawaii where the County of Hawaii hauled off native tenant hawaiian kanaka maoli from their family cultural grounds to make a park....using a non-accredited police department who is allowed to do neck strikes that ’should be applied to juveniles and females’-training manuals show illustrations of where to strike the neck....I don't like them doing neck strikes to juveniles (children/youth) or ’females’=discrimination/allowed violence against women...but what about the Kanaka Maoli (original) hawaiians...they are in our (USA)=State of Hawaii care and trust...Sheriffs don'y do neck strikes...neither does US Marshal or other police....why only Big Island of Hawaii has neck strikes to females and juveniles? Please write me at Melissa Salisbury (C/O S.O.S.) PO BOX 711498 Mt. View, HI 96771

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

Get our free fortnightly eNews


Videos from visionOntv’s globalviews channel.

Related articles

Recently in Agenda

All Agenda

Popular tags

All tags

This article was originally published in issue 450

New Internationalist Magazine issue 450
Issue 450

More articles from this issue

  • Should assisted suicide be legalized?

    March 1, 2012

    Right-to-die campaigner Debbie Purdy and palliative medicine professor Ilora Finlay go head-to-head - read their arguments and join the debate.

  • Frontline Africans: migrants hit by Europe's economic decline

    March 1, 2012

    What can African migrant workers do when faced with rising unemployment and racism in Europe? Sarah Babiker reports from Spain and Argentina.

  • Kyrgyzstan

    March 1, 2012

    Nick Megoran revisits one of the poorest of the former Soviet republics and finds that instability, corruption and ethnic tensions remain.

New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

If you would like to know something about what's actually going on, rather than what people would like you to think was going on, then read the New Internationalist.

– Emma Thompson –

A subscription to suit you

Save money with a digital subscription. Give a gift subscription that will last all year. Or get yourself a free trial to New Internationalist. See our choice of offers.