Know Your Enemy

Last year, Ian Tomlinson was violently attacked by a policeman after quietly walking past a political protest which he wasn’t any part of. He died shortly afterwards, and (contrary to statements made by the police to the media) was not helped by officers upon collapse, although he received support from protesters. The Guardian notes that:

“Tomlinson died at the G20 demonstrations after being bitten by a police dog, hit with a baton and then pushed so strongly in the back by a police officer that he fell heavily to the floor.”

Video evidence exists to prove all of this. However, it’s taken around a year for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide that they will charge the police officer concerned with…nothing.

To say this news is deeply disturbing is an understatement. I don’t see a great amount of surprise amongst all the rage, however. The position of many is that it’s obvious that those in authority look after their own.

I really can’t say anything about the death of Ian Tomlinson that hasn’t already been said. The internet is full of anger, and messages of solidarity with his family. I, like any other human being with a sense of decency, feel that his death was utterly unnecessary and the whitewash that has followed is completely unjustifiable. I feel for those who were close to Ian, and wish them all the best in their difficult fight for justice.


Last week, an American friend of mine was pulled over by the police, who suspected her of Driving Whilst Trans. Despite being asked some threatening questions about the fact that she apparently didn’t look right, she managed to make it home safely, if shaken.

Her experience wasn’t unique. Trans people worldwide – like individuals from other minority groups – are often at risk of harassment from figures of authority, particularly if they’re perceived as looking different. The most tenuous evidence may be used to accuse (or even convict) trans people of crimes: for instance, if someone who they decide is a “man” dresses like a “woman”, then maybe they are attempting to solicit prostitution (this accusation was levelled at my friend). Woe betide the victim should they happen to have a condom on their person

Obviously these incidences vary from country to country, from region to region  (and in the USA, from state to state). There are places with laws that offer trans people particular protections, and with police forces who actively engage with minority groups. In my own area, the police force has an outreach programme to the trans community, and is attempting to record transphobic hate crime and incidences (as separate from homophobic hate crime and incidences). There are a lot of good people working within this force, and as an institution they’re heading in the right direction.

However, it only takes just one police officer to screw up for the system to be shown up as utterly rotten. I have friends with Indian ancestry who were regularly harassed by police in my supposedly liberal, prosperous hometown, and they knew they could do nothing about it. I know people who have been beaten with truncheons at peaceful rallies, and they’re perfectly aware that they’ll never get an admission out of the police, let alone an apology or (God forbid) charges being levelled against those responsible. In the face of police harassment or violence, we are usually utterly powerless.

Within most states, the police represent legitimised violence. If we’re going to have state violence, then it should at least be regulated and directed in such a manner that it is always focused upon protecting the individuals who happen to live within a state, rather than the apparatus of the state itself. This shouldn’t be a wildly idealistic idea: it should be the philosophy behind the organisation of police forces.

The police claim they’re on our side, and progressive police forces make a special effort to ensure that minority groups in particular know this. As long as innocent people can be killed without consequence though, we are all at risk of police harassment and police brutality, and those who look different are always going to be more at risk.

11 thoughts on “Know Your Enemy

    • Thanks – that was pretty blatant oversight on my part! I’ve been reading the new site and have updated my personal bookmarks, but haven’t got around to doing so on here yet…

  1. Police in your local area weren’t always good at taking reports though.

    After being attacked on a bus whilst on a bus with my boyfriend by a bunch of schoolgirls, there where a number of failings.

    One was taking my statement at the front desk, misgendering me, and writing the incident off because a friend of ours was known to them to be a “complainer”

    Be wary of the police, they might take reports seriously when around you, but ignore it after the fact, or even start a record about you, and how often you report things, and use said record to dismiss future reports.

    • Really sorry to hear you were treated like that. I wish I could say I was surprised 😦

      I don’t trust that they still are good at taking reports to be honest. It’s all very well and good to have community outreach and diversity training (and I really do believe that it’s a good idea to fund such things) but that never seems to always successfully filter down to frontline staff.

      I think this demonstrates that the problem therefore isn’t necessarily with police officers themselves (there are good cops and there are bad cops) but with the system they’re operating within. This can be seen in the fact that the IPCC were apparently arguing for a manslaughter charge against the officer who attacked Ian Tomlinson, a report which appears to have been ignored by the CPS…

      • Sadly I have a good idea why charges are rarely pushed against police officers.

        “if a police officer is always worrying about how this action or that action might land them in court, or even jail, they’ll be paralised and unable to do any effective policing”

        The press eat up statements like that, neatly ignoring the fact that the police should be thinking about their actions. They should always be thinking about what they are doing, and making sure they aren’t doing something utterly stupid.

  2. in uk
    get a GRC Gender Recognition Certificate
    this gives you full protection.
    If breached by police
    you get 300,000 compensation
    and policeperson gets jail time

    Most other places you are fucked
    so carry a Glock 9mm
    and don’t leave any witnesses. 😉

    • Misha, I believe this entry deals with lack of faith in the police, and crimnal justice system to do it’s job when it’s the police doing the wrong…

      If they can get away with murder, what makes you think they wont get away with other things?

  3. As a bit of political theory, it’s probably worth reading this:

    It ties together closely the idea of political power, violent police responses to dissent (a challenge to the state) and their questionable existance as “protectors” from our fellow public.

    Useful idea as a tool for critically analysing the structure of the state (and violence on behalf of it).

    Tie that together with the compounding ideas of normative gender/sexuality and national identity, and you get to see why in the most fiercely of nationalistic regions tend to be hotspots for criminalising (or at least policing) minorities.

Leave a Reply to transactivist Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s