Video evidence now proves that the man killed at the G20 demonstration, Ian Tomlinson, was the victim of an unprovoked attack by the police. The Labour movement must demand the suspension of the officers involved, the pressing of criminal charges, the organisation of effective workers’ committees to ensure safety on demonstrations, and the right to assemble freely without fear of violence.
On Wednesday 2nd April, paper-seller Ian Tomlinson was making his regular journey home. Along the way, the 47 year-old father of one became caught up in the G20 demonstration outside the Bank of England. He did not make it out alive.
Initial claims from the authorities stated only that an individual had collapsed and that demonstrators had tried to stop him from receiving medical aid.
Recently released footage however shows a seemingly unaware Mr Tomlinson walking with his back turned to riot officers. A policeman without shoulder ID and wearing a balaclava then proceeds to assault him from behind, striking him with a baton before violently throwing him to the floor.
At least one protestor can then be seen attempting to help him up, whilst his attackers stand on disinterested. Although he was able to get to his feet, he was to later suffer a fatal heart attack over the ordeal.
This is the first death by police hands at a demonstration in a number of years. The assault on an innocent bystander has sent shockwaves through the country, and raised widespread questions on police conduct.
Thousands of people thronged the streets of London on the first week of April to protest about the G20 summit and the economic crisis. On Wednesday the procession started out well enough, with protestors assembling outside the Bank of England at 11:30am.
Within half an hour police began enclosing protestors in multiple cordons – a process known as ‘kettling’. Minority anarchist elements then attacked a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland, with riot officers staging a series of violent incursions, in one instance charging a sit-down protest and knocking a woman unconscious.
Chris Strafford, a member of the organisation Communist Students who was there, said: “The police were exceptional brutal and trapped thousand of protesters. They then used baton charges to attack the demonstrators.”
Reporting via her blog, Vicky Tomson, who was also in the area at the time, said: “riot police ran into the mass of protesters, hitting people with both their batons and their shields.”
I was knocked to the ground and trampled underneath others who were trying to flee the police batons. A well-built man dragged me to my feet; it was painful but I’m grateful to have escaped with nothing worse than bruises.”
Police spokesmen are continuing to insist that only ‘hardcore agitators’ were targeted.
Later in the evening police attacked the Climate Camp gathering on Bishopsgate.
What had started out as a peaceful assembly with live bands, freshly cooked meals and an organic vegetable market ended in violence, with heavily armoured officers smashing into the crowd.
Several bystanders were wounded as police forced their way into the gathering, in the process lashing out with batons and shields.
Footage from the scene showed little attempt by the protestors to retaliate, with many holding up their hands and chanting “this is not a riot” to little avail.
Towards midnight officers forcefully cleared the remainder of the camp, this time accompanied by police dogs and several armoured vehicles.
The video footage of both incidents has sparked controversy. The Liberal Democrats have called for an investigation, with David Howarth, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesman, calling the Tomlinson assault a “sickening and unprovoked attack.”
Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has since stated that: “the images that have now been released raise obvious concerns and it is absolutely right and proper that there is a full investigation into this matter, which the Met will fully support.”
As this is being written, the policeman responsible for assaulting Mr Tomlinson has come forward. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has launched an investigation to whether charges should be brought to bear, although the officer responsible has not been suspended from duty.
Some could be forgiven for thinking of the case of Jean Charles De Menezes – the Brazilian electrician who was shot to death in London by Met officers in 2005. It was considerable time before those responsible were subject to any formal legal action, and even then it was on the grounds of health and safety legislation.
All involved, including those who commanded the operation as well as those that did the shooting, were exempted from criminal penalty.
The behaviour of the police at the G20 should prove alarming to anyone. Our fundamental right of assembly is being infringed upon by a police force that has become increasingly unaccountable.
Citizens should be able to convene in public for any political or cultural reason they see fit, without fear of being assaulted, or in this case killed, by rampaging officers.
Socialists therefore should demand the officer responsible should be suspended at once. Criminal charges then need to be investigated, with full compensation for the victim’s family.
A full inquiry must then be launched into other cases of police brutality on the day, as well as uncovering why the initial police statement to the press was so at odds with the truth.
Proper stewarding of future demonstrations must also be enacted by workers themselves. Individuals looking to commit acts of vandalism and engage police lines for the sake of excitement should be excluded. Physical defence against the kind of brutality seen on the 2nd April should however be fully endorsed, with workers’ committees set up to oversee the safety of protestors.
Steps need to be taken to ensure this never happens again. Bringing the police to accept responsibility, as well as countering the fabrications released into the press, must be a part of that. The death of Ian Tomlinson has proved yet again that the forces of the state are not neutral, but hostile – sometimes murderously so – to the working class movement. The sooner this fact is appreciated the better.
This article first appeared on Socialist Appeal.
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This post was written by Daniel Read