The police in Britain – and London’s Metropolitan Police in particular – are on the defensive over their handling of the G20 protests in London earlier this month.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has received over 185 complaints about the policing of protests in the City of London on 1 and 2 April.
It has so far launched two investigations relating to the G20 demonstrations.
One is into the death of Ian Tomlinson.
The other relates to the video released of a police officer appearing to slap protester Nicola Fisher and then hit her with a baton.
Two police officers have been suspended.
Although experience shows that the IPCC cannot be trusted to hold the police to account, its actions reflect the mounting public anger over the police and government’s attacks on the right to protest.
Under the New Labour government, the police have been given extensive powers to clamp down on protest in the name of security and anti-terrorism.
The arrest of 114 climate change protesters who were holding a meeting in Nottingham last week – and the searches of many of their homes – shows the level of monitoring the police carries out against campaigners.
And it is not just activists who are monitored. Britain has the largest number of CCTV cameras per head of population of any country in the world, with more than 4.2 million.
Police forces across the country routinely share information on protesters, building up files on which demonstrations people have attended and who they associate with.
New Labour appears to be terrified of any form of dissent – and the economic crisis has made it even more nervous.
Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Met Police’s public order branch, warned in the run-up to the G20 of a “summer of rage” as those affected the economic crisis take to the streets.
But the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson’s has created problems for the police and the government.
It has led to pressure over the specifics of the policing of the G20 and raised wider questions about their role and tactics.
This debate has also helped to create pressure for previously unseen files on the Hillsborough disaster to be released.
Through their actions at the G20 protests, the police showed that their role is defend the privileges of the rich, and the law and order of a government that champions the bankers.
The home affairs select committee has also been forced to begin an investigation this week into the police tactic of “kettling” demonstrators.
This involves rows of police – often backed up by officers in riot gear, dogs and horses – hemming in large groups of protesters.
This can last for many hours and police often refuse people the right to leave, get water or go to the toilet.
The police then respond to any resistance with baton charges and force.
“Kettling” was used at the protests outside the Bank of England on 1 April, as well as at the climate camp protest in London on the same day, which the police then raided and broke up.
Many activists have seen this kind of aggression from the police over many months, but their sheer brutality has now been placed centre stage in the public’s attention.
We need to seize the moment to join together and push back the attacks on our civil liberties and right to protest.