Monday, 22 June 2009

More bonkers police behaviour

The Guardian newspaper has obtained footage of two activists being arrested for trying to document the policing of a climate change demonstration last summer.

Val Swain and Emily Apple, members of Fit Watch, a group campaigning against police surveillance of activists, were arrested after they tried to note officers' numbers and photograph them.

Unfortunately, the video has been edited and without viewing it in its entirety I don't want to jump to any conclusions. Whilst it is apparent that Val Swain was being arrested for taking the photographs, there is a cut which could easily mask some offence from Emily Apple, although from the audio that doesn't seem likely.

However, we do see that one of the officers refuses to give his number, which in itself is pretty shocking whilst Val Swain, we hear, was arrested for 'obstructing officers'. In what way was photographing the officer, who refused to give his number, an obstruction? Surely the officer was the one doing the obstructing?

The sad thing is this incident isn't an anomaly. At the G20 protests in London, one of my own friends was recording the numbers of police officers. When a cop noticed this he was hauled through the cordon and bundled into the back of a police van and searched, for no other reason that my friend can surmise, than to intimidate him. I was told to remove a scarf from around my face or be arrested, yet many of the riot police were unidentifiable. Press photographers trying to record the protests were asked to leave the area and threatened with arrest if they didn't comply.

I could go on.

The demonstrations against the G20 summit in London in April revealed the ugly face of the police to an unimpressed public but for many protesters such behaviour is already common knowledge and often experienced.

The above video from 2007 shows a police offer arrest (or, at least, about to arrest) a protester because he was filming an dispute with the police. From what I can gather it is not illegal to film a police officer unless it causes harassment or distress, as the officer implies, but in no way could the above protester be considered to be causing harassment or distress. He was simply recording the event and at all times remained calm and reasonable with the officers. Any distress caused would surely have been brought on by the officers' own draconian [and routine?] handling of the situation rather than any actions or words of the protester.

It's this kind of behaviour that Fit Watch is fighting and campaigning against by turning the tables, recording their behaviour, making sure that transparency prevails and the police are held to account. As much as the police don't like it, that's what happens in a democracy and they, and the government, have to like it or lump it.

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