Socialist Worker

The rot goes deeper than one policeman

by Siân Ruddick
Issue No. 2147

It is a terrible indictment of the British police that the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests two weeks ago was entirely predictable.

The death came after weeks of police chiefs ratcheting up the rhetoric about “violent” protesters descending on the City of London.

Commander Simon O’Brien from the Metropolitan Police even told the press, “We’re up for it and we’re up to it.”

Even so, many who came to the G20 protests were shocked by the level of police violence.

Policing of protests has become increasingly heavy-handed in recent months as the economic crisis hits home.


The police obviously hoped that their scaremongering would frighten people away from joining demonstrations and drive a wedge between “ordinary people” and “activists”.

Over the past few months we have witnessed increasing police crackdowns on the anti-war protests, especially over Gaza, and the harassment of protesters at the climate camps at Heathrow and at Kingsnorth power station.

Some eyewitnesses have suggested the police at the G20 were out of control or lashing out under pressure.

But the police actions on the day were not an aberration. The officers were carrying out orders that came from the top.

They were carrying out the key role of the police – defending the state and the existing power relations in society.

The main job of the police is not to solve crime or regulate disputes between individuals. It is to defend a state founded on inequality.

As a result the police reflect the worst parts of society.

This is why the police service is riven with racism, sexism and homophobia – and why the police play a key role in the criminalisation of young people.

The police should be held to account for their actions.

Yet the official body that is supposed to do that – the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) – has already proven itself to be toothless.

In the case of Ian Tomlinson, the IPCC’s initial response was to accept the police’s first account of events – that officers had no contact with Tomlinson prior to his death.

The IPCC was set up in 2004 to deal with complaints against the police but is funded by the Home Office, the same government department that funds the police.


We cannot allow the state to stop our right to protest or intimidate us off the streets.

Only campaigning and mass pressure can ensure the police do not get away with this.

Experience shows that we will have to keep the pressure on if we are to stop the investigation into Ian Tomlinson’s death being kicked into the long grass of internal inquiries.

The family of Jean Charles de Menezes, the innocent man shot dead by police at Stockwell underground station in 2005, are still waiting for justice – after two IPCC investigations, a health and safety trial and a lengthy inquest.

We have to challenge the behaviour of the police, and the system they represent and protect.

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