This image is attached to the Stuff story on the death of a protester during the G20 protests in London:
I know I’m not alone in noticing that since Stuff remodeled itself on the SMH that they’ve cranked up the alarm-o-meter somewhat, and this is an excellent example. A few facts are clear from the linked story, and a rudimentary bit of reading around reflects some others, to wit:
- The person who died during the protest was a man, not a pretty woman who happened to pose for the camera at the time. The shot was chosen purely because it’s a good image.
- The man apparently died of natural causes, not a bleeding head wound.
- The unstated `you’ in the headline of this image is the riot police. However the man who died was not killed by police or as any consequence of violence in the protest; in fact, protesters pelted police with bottles as they tried to resuscitate him.
This should serve as one more bit of evidence that the media are not intrinsically biased for or against anyone in particular – they follow the story, and in some cases they lead it, for their own purposes rather than those of their masters in transnational capital.
Edit: My mum points out that the composition evokes Brian Brake’s famous Monsoon Girl.
Edit 20090408: Commenter Rich has linked to footage of police attacking Ian Tomlinson just before he died, here. If it’s real and legitimate, and there’s no reason to assume it isn’t, then it more or less invalidates my objections 2 and 3 above. Objection 1 stands, for what little that’s worth.
And your mum is right
Lee, she often is.
Lew – yup. It’s a big ol’ mess.
I was at the G8 protests in Edinburgh in ’05, and based on that experience I fully believe:
* many individual police were provocative and aggressive and looked for opportunities to spark violence
* the overall police response was not supportive of peaceful protest
* a very small but very potent circle of protesters were actively seeking to provoke confrontation
* a wider circle of protesters were willing to go along with the antagonism and violence as the temperature went up
* the media simply isn’t capable of reporting on this kind of thing effectively (including all the mainstream sources and alternative sources like Indymedia)
There’s a lot of shame to go around, basically. The biggest shame is that I’m starting to think that mass demonstration is a thoroughly compromised technology of resistance.
“in fact, protesters pelted police with bottles as they tried to resuscitate him.”
It should also be kept in mind that police organisations are not always above using deceitful tactics in order to discredit protest movements. As such it is not a foregone conclusion that apparently “violent protesters” are the genuine article.
See for example:
A good mate of mine from MontrÃ©al was involved in that protest (and others previously), and reports much the same. He’s a paramedic who worked to get people out of the mÃªlÃ©e and treat them where possible.
Everyone has a vested interest in this sort of story – all primary reports are going to be unreliable or distorted in some sense or other. Getting to the heart of a matter requires assessing sources against each other – and currently I’ve seen no reports denying any of the statements above. So while they were mostly taken from the police statement, refusing to believe them in the absence of contradictory evidence is nothing but the motive fallacy writ large.
– Protesters did not “pelt police with bottles”. A couple of people threw bottles and were made to stop by the group. The rest is propaganda from the authorities.
– the police had “kettled” people into an area. In other words, they had arbitrarily detained a group of people without charge. One of those people died.
– any violence could have been avoided if the police had withdrawn from the area and city workers been told not to stay at home. Maybe a few banks would have been torched, but essentially, the cops are protecting property at the expense of life, liberty and democracy.
Essentially, your argument boils down to `police bad, protesters good’. I’m trying to look at the facts which are available and weigh them according to their origin, not engage in knee-jerk apologism or condemnation.
The article explicitly states that protesters did pelt the police attending to the dying man with bottles, confirming the police statement. That they were stopped by other protesters doesn’t negate the fact that it happened (but illustrates the rift within anti-globalisation protesters). The matter of emphasis (the pelting versus the stopping) is the propaganda content; each side has emphasised the events which made them look good and deemphasised those which made them look bad. Fair enough – in the absence of an objective, impartial analysis this enables us to triangulate on what actually happened.
This is misleading because it implies causation – that Ian Tomlinson died because he was kettled. There’s no apparent evidence to support this, and some (including from fellow protesters) to refute it.
From the article:
Police do have a responsibility to protect those they handle in situations like this, but that responsibility extends to reasonable treatment, not to preventing any death from any cause. If he died from a heart attack, as is suspected, then it seems unlikely the police could have done anything much about it. To put it another way, I have a responsibility to keep guests safe while they stay in my house. If I do so and someone dies in an unrelated manner, say, falls asleep in the bath and drowns, am I responsible for their death?
I think an independent inquiry is exactly what’s needed. If it becomes clear that he was participating in the protests, or was subjected to some sort of violence by police, and died as a result of that participation or related violence, there are grounds to criticise the police for his death. Otherwise it’s unfortunate but coincidental and criticism of the police is nothing but cynical opportunistic exploitation of the man’s death.
Violence against property and against civic order is not violence, then? “A few banks” being torched isn’t violence? You might consider that those things are the legitimate target of violence in this case, but you can’t seriously be arguing that it’s not violence, surely.
The police were only protesting property and civic order “at the expense of life” if Ian Tomlinson died as a result of police action or inaction. “At the expense of liberty and democracy” is a different argument, hinging on a value judgement as to the proper targets of violence in this case – not on a matter of principle as you assert. For what it’s worth, I agree that the police tactics in this and other such cases are responsible for much of the violence, and that that violence is used for propaganda purposes – but I don’t pretend that that legitimises the violence or makes the police solely and uniquely responsible for any casualties.
Anyway, the point was about the coverage, not about the events themselves. I stand by my initial assessment: the initial coverage was factually and symbolically biased toward the protesters, despite being mostly drawn from police sources. That’s an interesting turnaround from a media establishment which the activist left is always keen to claim are the toadies of transnational capital.
police bad, protesters good
Yes, correct. Especially in Britain, where I consider the government has lost any legitimacy that might give it a right to “police” the population.
From my point of view, an inquiry is pointless as it would simply establish whether the police were operating within the regime’s parameters. Protecting capitalism against the people is their job, even if it involves beating people, mass “street jailings” and invading people’s homes.
Then you consider the UK a failure of democracy? If you genuinely believe so, I recommend you go there and form a political party posited on overthrowing capitalism – by your logic (the people oppose capitalism and capitalism must be protected from them) you should enjoy enormous success.
(Please – don’t give me any patronising bullshit about how the proletariat doesn’t know what’s good for it, or how such a party would never be allowed to take power. Totalitarianism is still more feared and hated than socialism, except where socialism overlaps with totalitarianism – which it usually does.)
I think a system where there is basically a choice of two hard-right parties (Conservative “or” New Labour) and an electoral system designed to suppress any other movements can hardly be called democracy.
I’d vote for Respect, if they ran a candidate in the electorate where I last lived in the UK. Part of their undemocracy is that votes for anything other than the Tories in that area are basically ineffective.
Not to mention the total surveillance society, the ability to sanction people for arbitrarily invented crimes (ASBOs) and the near totally state supportimg media.
The UK is about as democratic as East Germany was.
So you’re saying that there isn’t really the kind of support you assert with arguments like `people vs capitalism’ – if there was, there would be electoral support, no? If not, why not? There’s no barrier to establishing a political party – only the usual barriers to getting it accepted – and that’s the fundamental difference between the UK and a gtenuine dictatorship. Yes, there’s a lot wrong with the British electoral system – FPP, the degree of gerrymandering, the influence of Lords, media complicity. But if there genuinely was the degree of anti-capitalist fury you infer, these problems should be surmountable. The fact is that a few tens of thousands of people in a city of more than ten million, in a country of more than fifty million, is pretty slim support.
Also – comparisons of modern countries to bona fide dictatorships usually betray a lack of perspective. Yes, the degree of surveillance, creep of police power, suppression of civil liberty and such in the UK and elsewhere is bad, but it’s not as bad as it was in the socialist bloc, or in genuine dictatorships. Such comparisons are made at the cost of one’s credibility. Just as the Randroids lack credibility for equating taxation with banditry, you are in danger of being judged incredible if you equate the ASBO with the Gulag.
I said East Germany, not Stalinist Russia. The DDR didn’t have gulags, at least not in the 70’s and 80’s. Dissidents were harrassed, arrested for short periods, fired from their jobs. Much as happens to radicals in the UK today.
And forbidden from meaningful political participation. And shot when they tried to leave. Come off it, the comparison is insulting.
Anyway, the point was regarding the coverage, not the events. You decry `propaganda from the authorities’, but seem to think counter-propaganda is just fine and dandy. I’m not interested in defending a partisan media account as much as I am in trying to get a reasonably square view of what actually happened, which I (or anyone else) can then interpret in any ideological manner I or they choose.
Conclusions of analysis must flow from the facts, rather than determining what facts may acceptably be analysed.
Also, a few people who don’t seem to take the pro-police line:
The normally “constitutional left” Guardian:
reports of people being cleared from an entirely peaceful climate camp with dogs and batons
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/01/g20-protest-violence-police“>protesters were held until midnight, photographed, and had their details taken
Former british ambassador Craig Murray:The Field of “Permitted” Opinion Narrows Further
“Getting to the heart of a matter requires assessing sources against each other – and currently Iâ€™ve seen no reports denying any of the statements above.”
Yeah – i still don’t think it can be assumed that the police weren’t employing agent provocateurs during that protest.
Also, the two party system is inherently flawed.
In 1993 the National Party won with 35% of the vote, then went on to legislate against the will of the people with absolute impunity. That isn’t democracy.
Agreed. But equally, it can’t be assumed that they were. Anyone with actual evidence – as opposed to probably well-founded speculation – that they were is free to come forward, and media coverage will protect them.
Yeah, I hate FPP as much as you do. But that’s not to say it’s as bad as a one-party system. And in any case – the UK has a meaningful third party, the Liberal Democrats, in spite of the major parties’ best efforts to maintain their duopoly.
It’s not just FPP, but the way UK Labour is no less right-wing authoritarian than the UK Conservatives, and certainly way to the right of the US Democrats, for instance. Sure, one can vote Lib Dem, but unless you live in one of around 5% of marginal seats, it will make absolutely no difference.
This isn’t just coincidence – when Labour did have distinct policies, it was subject to a massive campaign of vilification from the Murdoch, Black and Rothermere owned media. Once they took the hint and elected an “appropriate” leader in the person of Tony Blair, most of the hostile media rapidly changed their tune.
Rich, I requested that you not try to feed me a `the people don’t know what’s good for them’ line, of which this is one.
There are powerful and throughgoing biases in the media – and the UK media is especially bad. But the only people who sheet this home to a purposive ideological bias are those who are guilty of that very same bias themselves. It’s a nice, convenient explanation for a complex structural problem which, if properly analysed, might call into question the ideology of partisans who’d rather remain in their comfortable bubble of martyrdom. To blame the failure of British Labour on the media is to apologise for the failures of British Labour to properly do their job: convince the British public that their policy programme is more advantageous than that offered by the Tories. The nature of the bias is a factor all political parties have to deal with, and part of the political game is to normalise your policy agenda such that the media will run it. This has been done in the past, by parties on both sides. There’s no use in crying that it’s not fair and succumbing to the hopelessness which that breeds: successful political movements don’t cry, they do.
Lew – Good article, good analysis which you carry through in your comments. Agree with you on this and your responses to comments.
To pluck out the ‘agents provocateur’ comment and ignore the rest of the discussion: I think it is well-established that some police operations groups in the UK have sent in agents provocateur in these types of situations. But my experience is that the inevitable Black Bloc doesn’t need much in the way of provocateuring. (Not to misrepresent them – they’re a pretty complex group in and of themselves, and have their own composition of varied elements.)
Ultimately though, I point at the the media and police and almost every pundit with a public voice who unerringly frame approaching protests as riots in the making; this framing always goes substantially beyond what is reasonable. Furthermore, it fosters the conditions needed for things to escalate quickly. I think it is incumbent on the media and law enforcement to adopt more responsible policies in their treatment of protest, as they have much more power than the protesters do. (Not that police/media using a fully responsible frame would result in a fully responsible protest; but it would be nice to see such an improvement.)
That said, I think you’re right Lew that in this case the media (what little I can see from NZ) has trended anti-Police; but isn’t that in itself quite notable and exceptional? It seems so to me.
(Even George Monbiot, of whom I am guilty of bouts of hero worship, blogged of his experience at the protest and his argument against the police was embarrassingly bad.)
Here’s the footage of the policemen attacking Tomlinson
Of course one could argue that the police are entitled to decide where people are and aren’t allow to be, and to kill anyone who disobeys.
Brutal. I take it all back. Thank you, Rich.
Blimey. Thanks, Rich. That’s pretty sobering.