So, it appears now from Peter Francis’s allegations that the police may have sought to infiltrate and undermine anti-racist organisations, in relation to the Stephen Lawrence case. Well done to the GUARDIAN for bringing extraordinary and appalling police undercover operations to public attention.
But: it would be a serious mistake to see the allegations concerning the Lawrence case as merely the latest phenomenon of police-undercover-operations having been out of hand. We need to be clear that abuses of police power are by no means restricted to undercover operations, which have been attracting the lion’s share of the attention lately. Rather, such abuses are, I would urge, widespread on ordinary ‘day to day’ policing of protests.
My experience over many years in the animal-protection movement, in the anti-nuclear movement, in campaigning against aggressive wars, and in the climate movement, has repeatedly been that the police do not need to be undercover in order to act in deeply-dubious ways to undermine organisations seeking any kind of radical/left-leaning/green political change.
Here is one striking example, which I’d like to share with R’sR readers. At a demonstration against George Bush’s foreign policy and Britain’s acquiescence in it outside Downing Street, I was threatened repeatedly with arrest under the terrorism act for holding up a banner. This despite the fact that I was within a small fenced area specifically provided for protesters, and despite the fact that there was absolutely no credible terrorist threat emanating from my banner (The banner said something like “George Bush: war criminal”).
Thinking that maybe the arrest-threat against me was a rookie’s mistake, and that surely the police would not on reflection so recklessly abuse their authority, I queried the order (to take down the banner that I was holding) with the senior police officer on duty. He repeated the threat (and left me with little alternative but to take down the banner, to avoid being carted away from the protest-scene). When I inquired what reason there was for believing that my banner might conceivably be a party to some terrorist operation, I received the extraordinary answer that because my banner was quite large (about 5 feet across) I might be concealing a bomb behind it…
There is a long-standing culture of impunity, arrogance and aggression behind the police’s attitude toward organisations which threaten the status quo in this country. The obscene undercover operations uncovered in recent days and months are merely a symptom of that, and should not be mistaken for the prime issue, in themselves.
We need to be wary of a drift toward the criminalisation of protest in this country. ‘Kettling’ is basically a way of trying to put people off from protesting, by raising the ‘opportunity-costs’ of protest and forcing anyone thinking of marching etc to pass through a kind of physico-temporal ‘dragnet’; GCHQ is seeking to achieve total-monitoring of ‘radical’ groups etc. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jun/21/gchq-cables-secret-world-communications-nsa ); the Woolwich murder may yet be used to push through the horrendous ‘snooper’s charter’ (http://www.lbc.co.uk/snoopers-charter-musnt-be-knee-jerk-reaction-to-woolwich-72800 )… We need to remain vigilant at this time, with regard to the police, and more. That’s the price of liberty — and it is worth paying.