'Violence' sounds like a bad thing, so if we commit an act of violence and want to feel good then we must think of it as something different, something less unpleasant. I've been told that political violence is wrong by someone who, less than an hour later, was justifying the bombing of Dresden.
The fact is that everyone believes political violence is right if the case is strong enough. We've seen riots bring about positive change in this country on innumerable issues ranging all the way from the abolition of the Poll Tax to the right of farms to sell home made cider.
But it's interesting to see that the state makes accusations and connotations of certain foes being violent irrespective of their actual conduct. The recent report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary about Mark Kennedy describes his employers, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, as being concerned with countering people who
were not individuals engaging in peaceful protest, or even people who were found to be guilty of lesser public order offences. They were individuals intent on perpetrating acts of a serious and violent nature against citizens going about their everyday lives.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CLIMATE PROTEST VIOLENCE
One of Kennedy's main efforts in the UK was infiltrating climate change activists. So, as I said the other day, he was there from the start, actively participating in the first Climate Camp at Drax in 2006. On that occasion Kennedy was among the unarmed non-violent activists beaten and hospitalised by armed and armoured police. He was there with undercover officer Lynn Watson who had played a key organisational role in the Camp.
The following summer Climate Camp was near Heathrow airport. One evening a small group of riot police forced their way on site. There were only 20 or so, and what we didn't realise was that there were many more in vanloads waiting down the lane. It was an attempt to provoke violence and give them the excuse to come charging on in numbers.
However the police incursion was swiftly surrounded by a very large group of campers who did not react violently but chanted 'off off off' as they steadily shuffled the police back beyond the camp perimeter. We then fell absolutely silent and put our hands in the air; holding our ground but no baiting, no taunting, no threat, no words or movement of any kind. It was the single most powerful piece of non-violent direct action I have ever seen, and was all the more so for its total spontaneity.
Later on that week protesters marched out with a banner saying 'we are armed only with peer-reviewed science' (not the snappiest of slogans, but still a good point well made), and they had pages of scientific reports taped to their hands.
The police attacked, ordering people to the ground then kicking and beating them. Here are two mounted officers trampling an isolated woman who is trying to escape, still armed with her two sheets of A4 paper.
In June 2008 a group of activists stopped a coal train that was approaching Drax power station and started shovelling the cargo overboard (video here). All across the media this was described as a hijacking, which in many ways is accurate, but I can't help feeling that the word conjures up images of staff being bound and gagged, of threats and reckless danger. As was made clear in the subsequent court case, the activists followed railway protocol for stopping trains and had done a safety assessment before deciding to go ahead with the action. The judge called them 'eloquent, sincere, moving and engaging', and pointed out that the train driver had spoken of them being 'polite, orderly and responsible'.
In the summer of that year Climate Camp was at the proposed site of a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent. Kennedy was there co-ordinating transport for that too. The police put scare stories in the media about finding a 'cache of weapons' (padlock and chain, kitchen knives) and parliament was told 70 officers had been injured at the protest. Freedom of information requests later revealed that none of the injuries came from protesters but instead included injuries to police such as 'stung on finger by probable wasp'. (Is that better than being stung by an improbable wasp?) More on that stuff can be found here.
At Kingsnorth the police did, again, force their way on site in riot gear and beat people for being near the gate. Also, for days on end they would come and surround the site at 5am; one officer every few metres along a couple of kilometres of perimeter, a metre or two beyond the fence, in riot gear, standing silently awaiting orders. This - as was clearly intended - got everyone in the camp out of bed to come to the fence.
If you sealed off a housing estate or a festival with riot cops at 5am, giving no explanation, someone amongst the hundreds of outraged people inside would be likely to throw something. The police would then have an excuse to come on and beat that person, the violence would escalate, and you'd have a riot on your hands. Not even a housing estate in fact, you could probably do that in a shopping centre or at Last Night of the Proms and it would kick off. Yet at Climate Camp people behaved in a less violent way than average people would be expected to.
A few months later at London's G20 protests in April 2009, baton-wielding riot police waded into the climate demonstration. As at Heathrow, the activists neither retreated nor responded in kind. Instead, they put their open palms in the air and chanted 'this is not a riot, this is not a riot'. Again, the police incursion failed. Later on they kettled the protest before attacking it with baton charges and dogs.
THE REAL THREAT
Mark Kennedy had been heavily involved in organising Climate Camp for its duration, presumably alongside other undercover officers and informants. The police knew full well that the threat to the safety of the public, and thereby any possible excuse for bloody repression, was non-existent. That they responded with such violence shows it was not about proportionality or risk to life and limb, it was about threat to the status quo.
It's not a person's behaviour that is deemed unacceptable and gets them targeted as a domestic extremist, it's their politics. You can be a pensioner with no criminal convictions who protests against arms factories and you're a domestic extremist. Meanwhile those who do sow violence and hatred on the streets are treated differently if their views are less objectionable and methods less likely to succeed. In a leaked email last year Adrian Tudway, National Co-ordinator for Domestic Extremism, said that (unlike Climate Camp) the English Defence League are not considered extremist.
LET'S PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
Last week the Metropolitan Police finally admitted that they'd acted unlawfully in not telling people that their phones were being hacked by journalists at News International. Why would they not have warned people, except that they didn't want to disrupt the hacking or expose their part in it? This shows that the hacking is not the odd constable taking a few quid for accessing data; the cover-up implies that it was widely known, that this is institutional corruption.
Add what we know together and it is appears widely yet quietly acknowledged that we have an institutionally corrupt, institutionally racist, institutionally violent police force.