I work closely with the police, and have a lot of tolerance for the difficult work they do. They see violence, anger and pain on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. I know many good officers, some who suffer from depression and anxiety caused by the events they have to deal with. I know some who deal with the difficulties they face with courage and professionalism way beyond the call of duty. I get frustrated by the way they are often characterised by those of us on the left.
However, we still have to challenge aspects of the police force that results in the casual nature of violence towards those with a legitimate right to protest. The policing of the our small 'anti-cuts to education' demo in Bradford this week illustrates this. Following the events in London, the police are dealing with demonstrators in the most extraordinary way.
Police followed the student protesters from the university of Bradford Student Union building, on the pretense of 'road safety'. 8 officers met our small band outside the city hall for our brief gathering. Students then decided to go to the entrance of Bradford College. Two police officers then aggressively pushed students back towards the door. It was so casual, so 'normal', as to be terrifying. A small protest which should have been seen as understandable and reasonable was met with force and aggression. The students involved and those who witnessed the attacks were shocked and disturbed. They never imagined that officers would so quickly turn from 'joky friendliness' to shocking aggression.
The group of a hundred or so protesters then went up to the atrium of Bradford University where they were met with a different approach. The security staff respected our right to make a point in the very institutions affected by the cutbacks and the rise in tuition fees. There was no need for violence, pushing and shouting.
On a national scale the problems are escalated. The government and the police wish to show that non-violent protest against the cuts are 'extreme' and anti-democratic. Police vans are inexplicably abandoned and allowed to be wrecked (bait) and there is a media focus on the one or two idiots who are not interested in 'non-violent' direct action. Under these circumstances, casual violence on protestors will become more widespread and tolerated.
We must do all we can to expose this 'normalisation' of force used against legitimate protest. Not least for the sake of police officers who are dehumanised by the process, and are a group that are also under attack of cutbacks.
Personally, I would love to see an occupation of the police stations that face cuts. I wonder how they would police such actions of solidarity with their colleagues? Would they push and beat us then?