Monday, April 06, 2009

police kettling: the shadow of death

The G20 protests brought a predictable response from the media, with the homing in on any rowdiness from the demonstrators and ignoring the frequent unprovoked and often savage outbursts of violence from the police.

After being at the October 1994 demonstration against the Criminal Justice Bill that turned into a riot, I bought all the newspapers the next day.

What surprised me was not that they showed bias (a 'lively crowd' or a 'baying mob'?), or that they all told different stories from one another, but that they even varied in their reports of verifiable hard facts. For example, The Sun said there were 11 arrests, The Telegraph said 26, The Guardian 39 and the Evening Standard 48.

I did a pamphlet comparing the different reports, analysing their bias and variations. The G20 presented another great opportunity to spell out this stuff, and I wish I'd had the presence of mind to do another pamphlet.

It also reminded me of a backburner project that maybe I'll do for next time, a 'tomorrows news' pamphlet to give out on the day. Do a page for each front page of the main papers, using their respective keywords, biases and stock images. The Daily Mail's 'Return of Rent-a-Mob', the Guardian's almost equally fetishistic front-page report augmented by their story on page 6 that has some hang-wringing and saying that the protesters might well have a point.

Anyway, one thing that was new in the G20 coverage was the considerable focus on the police tactic of 'kettling' - surrounding a protest and not letting anyone in or out for hours on end.

It stems from a view of protests remarkably similar to the the 1980s vision of football crowds as a security threat rather than a crowd of people to be facilitated. And, as with football in the 80s, it is compounded by the media's love of violence, confrontation and scapegoating.

Just as that attitude inevitably led to death in the form of the Hillsborough disaster, so kettling will lead to deaths of protesters.

I've written an article about it all called Police Kettling: The Shadow of Death


Evey said...

I am so sick of belligerent cops telling me they are "facilitating" a protest so now I take a printed definition of the word on demos:

fa•cil•i•tate (fə-sĭl'ĭ-tāt')
1. to make easier or less difficult; help forward (an action, a process, etc.)
2. to assist the progress of (a person).
(from the French faciliter, from the Latin facilis)
[Random House Dictionary 2009]

After I show that to the cop and ask him to explain to me how he is making things easier, I show him the other printed definition I brought along with me:

dou•ble•speak (dŭb'əl-spēk')
Any language deliberately constructed to disguise or distort its actual meaning, often by employing euphemism or ambiguity. Typically used by governments or large institutions.

In his 1989 book Doublespeak, William Lutz provides several defining attributes of doublespeak:
• misleads
• distorts reality
• pretends to communicate
• makes the bad seem good
• avoids or shifts responsibility
• makes the negative appear positive
• creates a false verbal map of the world
• limits, conceals, corrupts, and prevents thought
• makes the unpleasant appear attractive or tolerable
• creates incongruity between reality and what is said or not said

There are lulz to be had here. Oh those police, they don't like it when you try to be "clever".

Please copypaste.

merrick said...

An excellent idea Evey (although proving you're right to a copper doesn't make them change their behaviour).

Interesting you quote doublespeak, too. The term stems from Orwell's work in 1984. Although not actually coining the term 'doublespeak, it's surely what he meant in defining the B vocabulary of Newspeak as 'deliberately constructed for political purposes: words, that is to say, which not only had in every case a political implication, but were intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them'.

The real examination of this stuff comes in his earlier essay, Politics and The English Language. It's a powerful, clear and brilliant spell-breaker and should be compulsory for anyone who wants to think politically.

The police use of language has long been a fascination. Every copper, down to the lowliest flatfoot, loves to use long Latin-derived words. Whilst you or I might walk down the road and see something blocking it, a police officer would proceed along the highway in an orderly manner, whereupon they become aware that a considerable obstruction had erected.

There are several (related) reasons for doing this. Firstly, most obviously, they wish to make themselves look clever, and appearing educated strongly hints at cleverness.

Secondly, also about seeming clever but including a need for peergroup acceptance, they imitate those around them and this is how lawyers talk.

Thirdly, they are dealing with law, much of whose conventions stem from centuries-old dictats of Oxbridge graduates. (This is also why lawyers talk like that). The want to sound like they are of the law, so they use its terminology as everyday speech.

Add to this to the political purpose of language (as Orwell put it, 'to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind'), then you have all you need to make that 'facilitate' nonsense.

Evey said...

See very good analysis of how the police spin their tactics at

Anonymous said...

seems the police actually assaulted the man who died, knocking him to the ground a little before he died. What was the official spin on the death before this film came out? Protestors throwing missiles at police who were trying to help him? Some officers knew what had happened to this man we kept quiet. The guy who filmed the assault was an american banker. Why did he stay quiet so long? If this footage ha been shown that night or next on tv what would have happened! RA

catvincent said...

I'm linking to this on my Twitter news feed, hope it passes the word around.