Worsening economic crisis sees violent repression escalate

Lessons of the Tomlinson case.

Two years after Ian Tomlinson was killed by a baton-wielding policeman, there has finally been an inquest verdict that the killing was unlawful.

In the words of the foreman:

“Mr Tomlinson was on his way home from work on 1 April 2009, during the G20 demonstrations. He was fatally injured at around 19.20 in Royal Exchange Buildings, the passage near to the junction with Cornhill, London EC3. This was as a result of a baton strike from behind and a push in the back by a police officer, which caused Mr Tomlinson to fall heavily. Both the baton strike and the push were excessive and unreasonable. As a result, Mr Tomlinson suffered internal bleeding, which led to his collapse within a few minutes and his subsequent death. At the time of the strike and the push, Mr Tomlinson was walking away from the police line. He was complying with police instructions to leave Royal Exchange Buildings, the passage. He posed no threat.”

That these facts came to light at all is down to the fact an American businessman in a nearby building made a video-recording of what happened and made it available, totally undermining the cover-up that usually follows acts of police brutality. The state’s response to this form of evidence has been to make it illegal to photograph or video policemen!

In this case, however, the Crown Prosecution Service has been forced to reverse its original decision not to bring a charge of manslaughter against the police officer in question, PC Simon Harwood.

What this affair has uncovered for all to see is the iron fist of the bourgeois state, which comes down hard on any mass mobilisation for fear that the masses, if not tightly constrained, will one day threaten bourgeois rule – which is, after all, rule by a tiny minority of the population over the vast majority.

The agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement have been highly effective at stressing the need for protests to be ‘peaceful’ at all times, so that 2 million people can march against imperialist war in the streets of London but be safely ignored by the bourgeoisie. However, as the crisis of capitalism worsens, and more and more people see their hopes for the future destroyed and their standards of living collapse, anger does begin to mount, and it becomes much more difficult for the labour lieutenants of capital to defuse it by the usual prescription of long walks and soporific speeches by the great and the good. Anticipating this, the bourgeoisie is now seeking to frighten people off going to demonstrations altogether.

The Tomlinson enquiry has ripped off the veil of British bourgeois democracy to reveal not a glorious beauty but a vile monster, which lashes out wantonly to frighten people into submission. It has shown that it is not even a question of punishing people who have actually dared to take up arms against bourgeois rule – nobody has been doing anything of the sort – but simply of terrorising everybody so that they will never even [I]think of challenging the capitalist order.

This is why there are so many unprovoked attacks on demonstrators. This is what lies behind the practice of ‘kettling’, keeping demonstrators penned in for hours, not allowing anybody to leave even individually to go to the bathroom, and treating them as violent maniacs if they so much as ask to be allowed to leave.

Ian Tomlinson was just such a ‘violent maniac’. He wasn’t even a demonstrator; he just wanted to go home. He was unarmed, middle-aged, unfit, harmless – the ideal target for police brutality.

After Ian Tomlinson’s death, the machinery for absolving the police from responsibility went into overdrive. After all, this crime was only committed on orders from above not to be afraid to let the demonstrators have it. If the plods are going to continue to obey such orders, then they have to be protected from any consequences.

The attempt at a cover-up proves that the order to dish out violence came from above and was not just random brutality on the part of an individual police officer. It started with the original forensic pathologist, who ‘overlooked’ the fact that the victim’s abdomen was bloated with blood (a consequence of being shoved so hard that he fell violently). The pathologist proclaimed that Ian had died of a heart attack, a conclusion that three other pathologists have since unanimously disputed.

Moreover, when three police officers based at Hammersmith & Fulham station, having recognised Tomlinson’s photograph after his death, reported that they had seen him being attacked by another police officer, their reports mysteriously were not passed on to the pathologist. If there was no intention to cover up, the pathologist would surely have been asked to report specifically on the question of whether the police action caused a fatal injury. As it was, the information was suppressed.

Police brutality is an increasing feature at demonstrations in London – not only at the one protesting the G20 but also at those in support of Palestine and those against increasing student fees. However, only a tiny minority of police assaults are reported, since there is generally no evidence available to the victim – the police have access to CCTV footage; the public do not.

A tiny woman, Nicola Fisher, was assaulted at the G20 demonstrations by Police Sergeant Delroy Smellie, who slapped her in the face and then struck her with a baton while she was walking away from him. He was charged with assault, but was acquitted, in spite of compelling video evidence. (See youtube.com – Accused G20 Police officer cleared )

There were two notorious incidents at last year’s student demonstrations. One, for which there is video evidence, is of a wheelchair-bound sufferer from cerebral palsy being very roughly dragged out of his wheelchair and across the road by police thugs. He had earlier been struck by a baton. In an interview with the BBC, the interviewer drew attention to the fact that the young man, Jody McIntyre, describes himself online as a “revolutionary”, as if, although he hadn’t been in a position to threaten anybody physically on the demonstration, somehow it was OK for the police to justify their assault against him with this information afterwards – so much for freedom of thought and freedom of expression!

In spite of the video evidence showing the brutality used against Jody, the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that the police were not guilty of any impropriety but had actually acted in Jody’s best interests (!), while the earlier baton strike was deemed to have been ‘inadvertent’.

Another student, Alfie Meadows, nearly died after being hit on the head with a police baton as he was trying to leave the demonstration. He was only saved by emergency brain surgery – after the police had tried to stop him getting medical help. No independent video evidence has been forthcoming in his case, but it has now been announced that he is being charged with violent disorder along with 10 other young people. Alfie Meadows’ case comes up at City of Westminster magistrates’ court on 9 June.

The courts are, of course, also part of the bourgeois state machine, and normally use any excuse for siding with the police, as they did in Nicola Fisher’s case. We will see when the manslaughter case against PC Simon Harwood and the violent disorder case against Alfie Meadows come to trial this month whether there are any limits on their shamelessness. If there are, it will only be as a result of public pressure for justice.

> The battle of Stokes Croft – June 2011

> Crisis is bringing Britain to its knees as an imperial power – April 2011

> Developments in the economic crisis – Lalkar January 2011