police

That Mark Duggan photo? There’s more to it than meets the eye…

You’ve probably seen this picture of Mark Duggan, the young man shot by police in London last year, in the media over the past few months.

Duggan

When featured alongside clearly negative (and misleading) articles – the intention is arguably to present him as an angry, intimidating gangster-figure.

But here’s the full picture:

Duggan 2

As you can see, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Almost every media source crops out the key reason he looks not-entirely-happy in the photograph – he was at the grave site of his infant daughter. The only major media outlet that has used the full picture from my cursory search online was one in Ireland, The Journal.

Now, obviously news outlets always crop pictures to a certain extent, but to exclude absolutely everything from the image except his face – leaving him with only an out-of-context and seemingly menacing appearance – is manipulative and arguably bad journalism. Sections of the media – obviously primarily that of the right – have been keen to demonise Duggan since his killing, and this is just one small way of doing that.

I’ve taken this from a post shared on Facebook around a thousand times yesterday – a post that has for some reason now disappeared (correct me if I’m wrong/if it comes back):

This is the FULL VERSION of a picture used by the media to vilify #MarkDuggan. In this picture he is in a GRAVE-YARD, visiting the graveside of his infant daughter who had just died prematurely. If you look closely you will see he’s holding a granite-memorial stone in her memory.

Q: Is he supposed to be smiling in this picture?

I can’t imagine what it’s like to loose a child but i’m sure i wouldn’t be smiling about it. None the less the media seized upon this image, cropped & edited it to suit there agendas and yet never mentioned the context in which this photo was taken. Instead they used the grimaced look on his face to convict him in the public eye via a trail by media.

Empathy and the location alone tells me, this is the face of a man in mourning, nothing else. To infer anything else from this image would be mere conjecture.

Please share.

Statement: We Condemn the Crackdown on Campus Activism

This open statement from University of York students and alumni was drafted following ULU President Michael Chessum’s arrest on Thursday. To add your name, write in the comments box or email jm1053@york.ac.uk. Other university students and groups across the UK are encouraged to write similar statements and share widely.

We, University of York students, alumni and society representatives, condemn the arrest of University of London Union President Michael Chessum on Thursday 14th November and the broader clampdown on activism on campuses across the UK.

Though Chessum has now been released, we write to wholeheartedly oppose the police’s behaviour and indeed treatment of peaceful protesters in the UK today. Chessum was arrested after leaving a meeting with University of London management over the forced University takeover of the Union, the largest SU in Europe, which hundreds of students had marched against the day before.

It is understood that the arrest was in response to this demonstration, organised by ULU. Thousands of students are demanding the Union remain student-led and the response from both the University and the police has been incredibly heavy-handed.

We, joining with the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts (NCAFC) state our full support for Michael Chessum and the campaign to defend ULU.

We call for all charges against Chessum to be dropped and his highly restrictive bail conditions – preventing him from engaging with any protest – removed.

The arrest comes in the same week that the Guardian revealed that police in Cambridge have been attempting to recruit students as informants to spy on student union activities, and the activities of student environmental and anti-cuts groups.

This follows a number of recent crackdowns on student demonstrations and a worrying increase in collusion between the police and our institutions. This includes the recent arrest of ULU Vice President Daniel Cooper for challenging the police stop-and-search policy, the arrest of two Edinburgh students for being on campus and nearby Princess Anne without permission, and the heavy-handed and violent police response to student chalking. Moreover, new legislation is currently being passed to further curtail protests that ‘disturb local residents’ – effectively crushing freedom of assembly at any point it is deemed a ‘nuisance’ by the police.

At this time of police repression and the withering of our democratic rights it is vital that students stand firm to defend these rights. We demand the right to protest when, where and how we see fit. We demand the right move freely through our campuses. We demand the right to organise autonomously, free from management interference.

As a movement we cannot allow them to succeed in quashing dissent.

We call on students nationally to stand together to protect the right to organise freely without fear of intimidation.

Signed:

Nick Devlin – University of York Green Party Chair
Rachel Statham – University of York Amnesty International Co-Chair
Euan Raffle – University of York Amnesty International Co-Chair
Melissa Saviste – University of York People and Planet Chair
Dylan Wilby – University of York Amnesty International Social Secretary
Hannah Jeans – University of York Palestinian Solidarity society Co-Chair
Sophie Mak-Schram – Student Action for Refugees Co-Chair
Katie Mapp – University of York Oxfam Chair
Denise Wong – People and Planet Secretary
Elizabeth Sheerin- Vice President Politics Society
Josiah Mortimer – University of York Green Party Press Officer
Leon Morris – YUSU Campaigns Officer, York Vision’s News Editor
Shakti Shah – University of York Green Party Campaigns Officer
Dave Taylor – former student, York Green Party councillor
Emma Brownbill – former YUSU LGBT Officer
Josh Allen – community journalist, UoY alumnus
Helena Horton – student journalist
Harkirit Boparai – Applied Human Rights MA 2013
Sanja Billic – post-graduate student
Sarah Vowden – 1st Year rep Politics Society
Alice Kewellhampton – 3rd year student, University of York
Sami Al Suwaidi – 2nd year student
Robin Monckton-milnes – 3rd Year Historical Archaeology
Indrani Sigamany – PhD student, Centre for Applied Human Rights

More names forthcoming

Politics and Policing – Don’t Mix the Two

It’s a big deal in America. Elected mayors run the shots in cities like New York and Chicago, and this year seems to be the year that Britain seeks to create its own Michael Bloombergs and Rahm Emanuels. Bolton and Liverpool – not quite NY and Chicago – are soon deciding whether to have elected mayors, and inspired by a London mayoral race in full swing, it’s looking like they’ll get them. Opinion polls consistently put support for elected mayors at 55-75% of the population. But what of elected police commissioners?

The two planks of the government’s ‘localism’ agenda seem are vastly different things. Elected mayors were introduced in 2000 and referendums followed in around 37 areas over the next decade – most without success. Yet referendums for elected police commissioners haven’t even been suggested. Instead they are being handed down from above as embodiments of the ‘Big Society’. John Prescott is standing nearby – Humberside – with the compensation he was given from the disgraced News of the World. Not so much big society as big money.

The police elections are expected to cost £75m, but the biggest danger is not so much the cost, rather it is the politics. Within a few years the police force could go from impartial to politicised. Think about it. What platforms will these politicians be standing on? Whatever will win votes – i.e. the most draconian policing seen since Peterloo. And on turnouts likely to be even lower than mayoral ones, the positions could be well within reach of whoever is better organised, however extreme, be it the BNP or the Pirate Party.

Elected mayors work because local government is fundamentally political, as it should be. People want a strong figure to look to, to vote out when incompetent and to stand up to central government when necessary. But electioneering doesn’t make for sound thinking for an institution with the coercive potential of the police.

As the former head of the Gloucestershire force has said, the system ‘has been designed by politicians for politicians’. Party platforms will be at the centre of the debate, as we’ve seen with the flurry of politicians like Tony Lloyd MP and of course Prescott throwing their hats into the ring. Supporters will argue the new PCCs only control the police budgets. True, to an extent. But where will most of the pressure be for spending increases? Anti-terrorism and clamping down on anti-social behaviour. Both important areas – but what of domestic abuse and fraud prevention? It will be the less highlighted issues that will get ignored when votes are at stake.

When the government are handing down 20% real terms cuts to police budgets, it’s hard to see elected police commissioners as anything other than public punch-bags. Elected mayors are an important means of democratising what needs democratising. Elected police commissioners are a means of democratising what should definitely not be political. Let us keep the two separate.

[This article is taken from my latest piece for Nouse, the University of York student newspaper]

Politics and Policing – Don’t Mix the Two

It’s a big deal in America. Elected mayors run the shots in cities like New York and Chicago, and this year seems to be the year that Britain seeks to create its own Michael Bloombergs and Rahm Emanuels. Bolton and Liverpool – not quite NY and Chicago – are soon deciding whether to have elected mayors, and inspired by a London mayoral race in full swing, it’s looking like they’ll get them. Opinion polls consistently put support for elected mayors at 55-75% of the population. But what of elected police commissioners?

The two planks of the government’s ‘localism’ agenda seem are vastly different things. Elected mayors were introduced in 2000 and referendums followed in around 37 areas over the next decade – most without success. Yet referendums for elected police commissioners haven’t even been suggested. Instead they are being handed down from above as embodiments of the ‘Big Society’. John Prescott is standing nearby – Humberside – with the compensation he was given from the disgraced News of the World. Not so much big society as big money.

The police elections are expected to cost £75m, but the biggest danger is not so much the cost, rather it is the politics. Within a few years the police force could go from impartial to politicised. Think about it. What platforms will these politicians be standing on? Whatever will win votes – i.e. the most draconian policing seen since Peterloo. And on turnouts likely to be even lower than mayoral ones, the positions could be well within reach of whoever is better organised, however extreme, be it the BNP or the Pirate Party.

Elected mayors work because local government is fundamentally political, as it should be. People want a strong figure to look to, to vote out when incompetent and to stand up to central government when necessary. But electioneering doesn’t make for sound thinking for an institution with the coercive potential of the police.

As the former head of the Gloucestershire force has said, the system ‘has been designed by politicians for politicians’. Party platforms will be at the centre of the debate, as we’ve seen with the flurry of politicians like Tony Lloyd MP and of course Prescott throwing their hats into the ring.

Supporters will argue the new PCCs only control the police budgets. True, to an extent. But where will most of the pressure be for spending increases? Anti-terrorism and clamping down on anti-social behaviour. Both important areas – but what of domestic abuse and fraud prevention? It will be the less highlighted issues that will get ignored when votes are at stake.

When the government are handing down 20% real terms cuts to police budgets, it’s hard to see elected police commissioners as anything other than public punch-bags. Elected mayors are an important means of democratising what needs democratising. Elected police commissioners are a means of democratising what should definitely not be political. Let us keep the two separate.

[This article is my latest piece for Nouse (University of York student newspaper)]

Truro needs a student union more than ever

For those of you who are students at Truro College, it is obvious that many at the college are involved in local politics. But when myself and another fellow student found ourselves being escorted out of our lectures last week by senior management, to a meeting with two uniformed members of police, the intention seemed clear. Stifling any emerging activism.

The two officers in the meeting room were sitting happily with another member of senior management, and proceeded to effectively interrogate us about whether we were planning a demonstration, when it would be, and where it would be.

This was a meeting in college, with police, about what we were organising outside of college. The links between Truro College and local police are, I believe, close and politicised. And in a way, frightening. The college never hesitate to bring the police in on the slightest hint of a planned peaceful protest, despite it not being legally required that even the organisers contact the authorities. They have been all too willing to hand over any details to the police, and ‘warn’ them about local activity that students are planning. This meeting was just one of several we have been pressured to have with police, for almost every demonstration over the past few months. Being told by the police that they had ‘intelligence’ about another planned protest is almost inciting paranoia, and though not anything like the involvement of anti-terror police against the student movement in London, it is still somewhat worrying for all students, regardless of their political views.

It is understandable that a further education institution would want to be in liaison with the community police force, and despite some over-policing, the local force has been broadly supportive of our right to protest – perhaps even sympathetic when one considers the scale of police cuts Cornwall. But the barrage of calls and meetings, largely organised by the college, with police, has been verging on intimidatory. For a couple of FE students to be made without warning to meet with officers to disclose plans, existent or otherwise, for demonstrations, seems to be intentionally discouraging any exercise of our legitimate right to protest.

These are not isolated events. Members of the Student Council who have been participating in the demonstrations have been threatened with removal from their posts on the student body. However weak the student council is, this sort of interference cannot be tolerated. Elected members are being told they cannot march for their political views or they will be kicked off the council. An NUS-backed union would go a long way to stopping this happening.

At a time when young people are facing unprecedented attacks from the Tory-led government with the scrapping of the EMA, the tripling of fees, high youth unemployment and the effective privatisation of our education system, we need representation more than ever, we need to be allowed to express our political views without fear of recrimination, and we need an independent voice that does not have to submit to the whims of senior management.

Our attempts to form a union have so far been met with difficulty. We were refused a direct meeting with the Principal, and have been waiting for weeks for a meeting with the Director of Studies, who has several times postponed the planned meeting. It cannot wait any longer. The NUS are asking for delegates for the conference in just a few months, and ideally we need an SU before then. So we are asking all students, UCU/NUS members, activists and representatives to back our campaign.

There are some things deeply wrong with Truro College. The fact that there are more business-owners on the governing board than students, the lack of transparency in how the college is run, or the unfolding farce that is the poorly funded and powerless Student Council – these are all troubling issues, and for the many problems, there is a solution. Students need representation, independence and political freedom. We need a union.

Campaigners Condemn Met Violence – What Really Happened on the 9th

[A version of this piece appeared in the Socialist Worker on the 13th December]

There is a lot to say about the demonstration in London on the 9th. It has been attacked by those on the right as a protest of ‘wanton violence’ – but that statement could easily describe the actions of the real culprits: the Metropolitan Police. This is what I saw happening on the march and in Parliament Square.

A small group of around 10 students from Cornwall headed up to London by minibus, leaving at 2:30am and bringing placards, a megaphone and a Cornish flag to show that students here want their voices heard. We were part of the massive and growing movement defying the government and the Lib Dem’s broken promises.

Arriving at around 10am, we were met with instant support from workers and members of the public, with one woman shouting ‘go for it’, and we had several conversations on the way to the tube in Brixton from supportive Londoners.

At midday in Malet Street there were already several hundred gathered, and stalls had been set up distributing placards and left-wing literature. The vibe was good-natured, and though we did not get a chance to hear the speakers, the reaction from the crowd in response to EAN organisers, RMT executive members and other group representatives was incredible, spreading through the crowd with immense energy.

The march itself was entirely peaceful – thousands walking through the centre of London chanting ‘they say cut back – we say fight back’, with people waving out of windows and clapping the protesters on. But when we arrived at Parliament Square at around 2pm, the atmosphere changed. The police had already begun to kettle us, and horses were brought in without justification. Only then did some ‘violence’ break out, with flares lit and smoke-grenades thrown. Resisting this kettling technique, many broke out onto the main area of Parliament Square, where the kettling was then moved to. The protesters, meanwhile, resumed the positive vibe, with music playing and small groups sat in circles chatting.

On the other side, by Westminster Abbey, the police were agitating further. Nonetheless, the chanting and music continued, even with the condensed crowd being pushed ever further back by thick lines of police. Some tried to get near Parliament itself but the police presence was overwhelming, indeed excessive. As demonstrators realised that the kettling tactic was being extended across the Square, the fight back began.

Around 100 who got out of the kettle at first, and a spontaneous meeting was established to determine what the plan was – with ideas of occupying neighbouring Barclays bank. This was abandoned after police caught on and covered the area. Instead we resolved to refuse to be kettled ourselves, and a line of young people was formed, arm in arm, to prevent the mounted police infringing our right to peaceful protest and movement. It was an amazing moment, as the line of horses came forward and the police threatened to crush the human-wall. The line surged up with a song – ‘break these walls between us’, and the mostly female line of teenagers forced the police to back off. The response from the demonstrators at the Met’s retreat was ecstatic – we had won a small victory.

Though the police wall at the other end was not broken, some were allowed back in to join their friends on the other side. This was around 3pm, and soon the mood got more intense as several dozen extra horses were brought in, an intimidatory move designed to generate fear in the crowd. And then, without warning, they charged.

Over the course of the night several more horse charges occurred, and one protester from Cambridge was crushed underneath one, breaking her collar bone. Other disturbing examples of Met brutality such as police throwing a man off his wheelchair and batoning innocent school kids provide an insight into the attitude the London police have. One of the Cornwall students had his glasses ripped from his face and stamped on by an officer, and I saw a man being pushed back by a policeman into a construction hole where presumably roadworks had been taking place – the hole now uncovered and unsafe. Had he have fallen, it could have broken several of his bones.

But within the kettle, against all odds, the crowd continued dancing, talking and demonstrating. The hacker group Anonymous spoke from on top of the Churchill statue, and small bonfires were lit to keep warm in the freezing temperatures. Other groups sat with their laptops or watched from a height the thousands of people filling Parliament Square.

There was a darker element to all this. The police had provided no toilets, with even the Westminster underground toilets locked up. No water was distributed, and many had not eaten since the morning – despite hundreds being kettled until as late as 11:30 at night on Westminster Bridge.

Personally, my phone was broken and I could not find my friends for around two hours, and while climbing up a fence to get a better view to look for them, a policeman ran forward and threatened to pull me down, using insulting terms I won’t even go into here to describe me. There was no consideration for well-being. It was just provocative police action.

Our divided group left at around 7 to catch the minibus (which had been waiting two hours due to the prolonged kettling), shaken by the experience and what we had seen, and returning back to Cornwall for 6am. We had been charged at, kept confined for hours in the cold and refused the right to leave, and denied the ability to remain calm through the constant attacks of the Metropolitan Police.

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts have released a statement, saying the organisation ‘utterly condemns the violence inflicted on demonstrators by the police’ as shown by the large number of hospitalised protesters and personal accounts of what happened.

Students should and will not be deterred by the result of the vote or the tactics of the police seen on the 9th of December. Instead we will regroup, organise and fight back against the assault on social mobility, our generation and the working class by the ConDem government. There are more protests planned for the 13th to save EMA.

Dirty Police Tactics During Protests Exposed

New video evidence has emerged of police in London charging on horseback towards peaceful protesters. The video shows the line of police coming towards the crowd without clearing the way beforehand, resulting in several injuries and visible distress from the demonstrators, mostly students and teenagers as young as 14.

This video comes only a couple of days after the Met police denied using any such tactics. The kettling technique, which involves confining protesters for hours – denying people the right to leave, has already led to condemnation of the London police from many quarters after students were not allowed to exit the demonstration for as long as 8 hours. Access to water and toilets was extremely limited and insufficient, and the actions of the Met caused considerable trauma to many taking part.

Sky News have also released a video which questions the narrative that a police van in London was abandoned after police lives were under threat. The video instead suggests the van had been left there, while the demonstration was still incredibly peaceful, leading some to suggest the van was left as ‘bait’ to undermine the demonstration. A popular hashtag at the moment on Twitter is indeed #baitvan. The video can be found here.

We may see the use of such inflammatory police tactics rise in the coming months, and it is vital that they are highlighted and exposed.