Thursday, 1 April 2010

Bullying bastard in uniform (one year on)

It's tempting to take one look at Sergeant Delroy Smellie - the copper who attacked a woman half his size last year at the G20 demo - and conclude that he is a sadist thug  who must be very happy in his work as a member of the Met's TSG. But I won't, because then I would be as guilty of stereotyping as the police and now the courts are, in assuming that anyone seen wearing Doc Marten boots, a keffiyeh, and a Bolivian-style woolly hat is in fact a violent threat to public order. Although you do have to question the motives of anyone who makes a career choice of serving in a specialist unit whose euphemistic initials cannot disguise the fact that they are primarily the riot squad.

I am not a part of the 'all coppers are bastards brigade': My own much-loved granddad was in the Met - although mainly the River Police - and I grew up on his anecdotes. These included the story of how he broke the jaw of a Canadian soldier at the VE-night celebrations in 1945. My granddad was a giant of a man who rowed and boxed for the police, so when he said that the Canadian was bigger than him and came at him with a flaming lump of wood pulled from a brazier, I have little doubt that his actions were justifiable. Equally though he would boast that in thirty plus years of service, much of it in the docks, he never drew his truncheon in anger.

According to the judge who acquitted Smellie - and she did this on her own because the case was heard without a jury - he was a 'highly trained and experienced' officer who had 'only seven seconds' to decide if the woman Nicola Fisher posed a threat to his safety.

Anyone with training or experience in close range confrontation would confirm that seven seconds in these circumstances is an eternity. It is ample time to be hit or stabbed several times. If this seems unlikely then watch the martial arts clip in  my previous post and imagine the consequences of one of the participants freezing for seven seconds. 

Or review the footage of Smellie's attack on the woman - Nicola Fisher - and see how he has a clear view for several seconds of her hands holding nothing more  threatening than a carton of orange juice and a camera. Without a doubt Fisher is shouting abuse at Smellie before his attack, but by no stretch of the imagination can it be argued that he had reasonable fears for his own safety, especially if he has experience and training in such situations. 

Just imagine the scenario  reversed and a peaceful protester sees a police officer approaching him with a raised baton -  and so delivers a pre-emptive jab to the copper's chin. Theoretically there is a legal basis to arguing that this was justifiable in terms of a perceived threat to the protester's safety. But good luck to anyone arguing that as a defence.

What we saw in court yesterday was again a attempt to take away the legitimacy of protest and the presumption of innocence  by implying that anyone protesting on the streets is automatically a criminal and the police justified in treating them as such. It may still be possible that not all copper are bastards - but there is a paranoid police culture that is self fulfilling and aided by the increasing use of robo-cop style equipment.  And what it adds up to is that, despite the fact that the police's actions can now be recorded and broadcast,* there has probably  never been a worse time to be a protester in this country since the establishment of a civilian police force in the 1820's.

* Ponder this: Approx 300 complaints of police brutality at the G20 demo' + one much publicised death = still no convictions of police officers a year later


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