Words to a friend who was shocked by the level of police violence yesterday

I heard this evening that a friend of a friend from Manchester had his hand so badly battered by a cop’s baton that they amputated his index finger when he got to hospital. And no, it’s not an apocryphal story. From what I’ve heard, the treatment of this march was considerably worse than the previous ones. It looks like the post-Tomlinson restraint on the part of the police is well & truly over.

It’s very easy to be sceptical about the reality of police violence until you have been on the receiving end of it. I certainly was, but experience has changed my views. I’m not trying to make a generalisation about the police as people, merely commenting on observed group behaviour. I have no doubt that many cops are sincere individuals; some of them are no doubt thoughtful and even caring people. Whenever I encounter them as individuals I consider it a badge of faith to be polite and friendly towards them (although self preservation is also a strong motivating factor).

They are licensed in our society to employ violence against people. They are under-scrutinised. Some of them wait for provocation before they over-react, others do no. They follow orders. Often they are given orders which engender situations where violence is the only conceivable outcome – for example the gradually constricting kettle in Whitehall the other day, or getting mounted cops to charge crowds.

When this happens, the disparity in arms means that the other side will always suffer much worse injury. It is their job to ensure the writ of those in power. It is a matter of public record that they kill people who have done nothing, and do not face punishment. When the few psychopaths in their number go out of control, their instinct is to close ranks and protect those individuals. For all these reasons I fear them, though I do my level best not to hate them.

If you do not recognise that these ingredients create situations where people with legitimate political grievances who are not bent on violence will get seriously hurt, you are only fooling yourself, and you better hope that your rulers are wise and munificent individuals. Because when you find out they aren’t, your only choices will be to either know your place, or get used to the taste of truncheon.

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